Bacchus (1638-1640)

Rubens, Peter Paul (1577-1640)

Oil on canvas, 191 x 161.3 cm
Hermitage MuseumSaint Petersburg

Bacchanalia was a favourite theme in Rubens‘s work, although Bacchus himself was rarely the subject of his paintings. He saw the subject as reflecting the essence of life as a circle of life and death. Dionysius or Bacchus – son of Zeus and the Theban Queen Semele – god of the vine and winemaking and patron of the forces of growth in nature, was one of the most important and most respected gods in the Graeco-Roman pantheon. Unlike traditional representations of Bacchus as a slim youth with a handsome face, Rubens showed him as a corpulent, flaccid reveller. Seated on a wine-barrel as if on a throne, one leg resting on a tiger, Bacchus looks both repulsive and majestic. Bacchus was conceived by the artist as the apotheosis of earth’s fruitfulness and the beauty of man and his natural instincts. In terms of painting technique, Bacchus is one of the pearls of the Hermitage collection. Using a refined scale of colour gradations, Rubens achieved an effect of depth and a close link between the figures and the landscape, as well as a clear tangibility of form and a vibrant warmth in the human bodies. (SHM)