Monday, 18 July 2011

Bite 130: Caravaggio - Bacchus, c. 1595

Bacchus, c. 1595, oil on canvas, 95 x 85 cm, Uffizi, Florence
With the healthy glow of youth and the rosy cheeks of liquor, Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and ecstasy, garlanded with vine leaves, reclines before a still-life of fruit and wine. 

Endowed equally with mythical symbolism and realism, the adolescent Bacchus regards the viewer with a quizzical, tipsy expression. His fingers are dirty as one hand delicately holds a glass of wine out to us. 

Like many of Caravaggio's paintings it can be seen in overtly homoerotic terms, the other hand seeming about to invitingly pull the ribbon holding his robe closed. The passive tilt of the head and sideways glance appears equally inviting.

Yet the decision to include rotting fruit complicates this reading, hinting at themes of mortality and the inevitable loss of youthful vigour. With this in mind Bacchus' look takes on an altered significance, simultaneously teasing, and mournful.