Michelangelo Bacchus

Michelangelo Bacchus

Bacchus (1496-1497) is a marble statue by Italian Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo. The statue is 203 centimeters tall and depicts Bacchus (Dionysus), the Greco-Roman god of wine, in a shaky pose that suggests drunkenness.

It was commissioned by Raffaele Riario, a cardinal and collector of ancient sculpture, but it was rejected by him and bought instead by Jacopo Galli, a banker to Riario and friend of Michelangelo.

Together with the Pietà, the Bacchus is one of only two surviving sculptures from the artist's first creative period in Rome. Today, the sculpture is in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence (Sala di Michelangelo).

Michelangelo Bacchus Figure

Bacchus is depicted with rolling eyes, his swaying body almost falling from the rock on which he stands. Behind him sits a faun eating a grape that slips from Bacchus' left hand. With a swollen chest and abdomen, the figure represents (according to Giorgio Vasari) "both the slenderness of a young man and the fleshiness and curves of a woman."

And his androgyny has often been emphasized. The inspiration for this work seems to be a description from Pliny the Elder's Naturalis historia. There, a lost bronze sculpture by Praxiteles is described as depicting "Bacchus, drunkenness, and a satyr."

The sense of insecurity (instability) based on the high center of gravity can be found in numerous later works by the artist, for example, the David and the figures in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Bacchus wears a wreath of grapes and ivy leaves (The plant was sacred to the god). In his right hand he holds a chalice of wine and in his left the bellows of a tiger, an animal related to the god through his "love of the grape" (for its love of the grape, according to Michelangelo's biographer Ascanio Condivi).

The hand that had held the chalice was broken off and the penis chiseled off before Maarten van Heemskerck saw the statue in the 1530s. Only the chalice had been restored in the early 1550s.

The mutilation may also have been done to give the figure the appearance of greater age, especially since it was placed from the beginning between a genuine ancient torso and fragmentary Roman reliefs in Jacopo Galli's Roman Garden.

Such concessions to "classical" sensibilities, however, did not convince Percy Bysshe Shelley of the work's fidelity to "the spirit and meaning of Bacchus". He wrote that "it looks drunken, brutal, and narrow-minded, and embodies the most repulsive expression of licentiousness."

(It looks drunken, brutal, and narrow-minded, and has an expression of dissoluteness the most revolting.) Art historian Johannes Wilde summarized the reactions by saying, "in short... it is not the image of a god."

History of Michelangelo Bacchus

The statue was commissioned for the garden of Cardinal Raffaele Riario. Riario originally wanted it to add to his collection of classical sculptures. But Riario rejected it, and around 1506 it found its way into the collection of Jacopo Galli, who was a banker for both the cardinal and Michelangelo, and who designed a similar sculpture garden at the Palazzo della Cancelleria.

It is first attested there by a drawing by Maarten van Heemskerck (1533/36). The statue was acquired for the Medici in 1572 and brought to Florence. The hand was replaced by a later sculptor.