Bacchus by Caravaggio

Once again, Menarini pays tribute to the great masters of the Italian Renaissance with his multimedia project Pills of Art. 

Today, Florentine art expert Bernardo Randelli leads us on a discovery of one of Caravaggio’s most famous and emblematic masterpieces: Bacchus, an oil painting on canvas realized between 1596 and 1598 and preserved in the beautiful Uffizi Gallery in Florence.


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The popularity that this extraordinary work still enjoys today is not undeserved: the painting is rich in details that make it lively, vibrant and full of facets. Caravaggio departs from the traditional and idealized iconography of Bacchus and chooses to represent him as a young commoner of humble origins. 

An air of ambiguous sensuality seems to permeate the god of inebriation and sensual pleasure: Bacchus has heavy eyelids and wine-reddened cheeks reddened, and he holds the glass goblet with an unsteady hand, as we can deduce from the placing of his fingers and the vibrations of the glass. The dirty nails of the young god seem to point out his humble origins.

The natural elements of the composition are painted with particular attention and mastery. Bacchus has his head crowned with a cluster of vine leaves and grapes, and the still life in the foreground reflects the artist’s irreverent character and his love for realism: we can catch a glimpse of a rotten apple, an already dented pear, and a half-rotten peach, while the autumn fruits (fig, grape, and pomegranate) are intact, to remind us that Bacchus is also the god of the grape harvest, an activity that has always taken place in autumn.
Similarly, we find only a few fresh leaves in the basket, while most of them are already dry and withered, evoking the corrupting power of time, which is also reflected in the black ribbon held by the god’s right hand, a symbol of mourning.

As in most of Caravaggio’s works, the landscape is absent. The monochromatic background, illuminated only by a beam of light, reflects his desire to bring man back to the center of attention

A rebellious, unconventional and introspective artist, an undisputed master of the Renaissance, Caravaggio chooses to underline the humanity of his characters in all their limits and imperfections. It was precisely his unique painting style that forever changed the history of art.