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I O N Y S O S
XVIth century XVIIth century XVIIIth century
Bartolomeo di Giovanni : The Wedding of Thetis and Peleus
The right side of the panel is filled by a bacchanal of maenads and satyrs, bordered by grey-bearded Silenus beside the belly of the Buddha, whose abandoned body is delivered to the pranks of dwarf satyrs. One of them nourishes, with the juice from a bunch of grapes, a horned and swollen-bellied Dionysos, gaunt cheeks and faraway gaze. The nebride (skin of a fawn), which he has knotted incongruously in the form of a belt, is the only clear sign by which he can be identified.
Mantegna, Lorenzo Costa : The Reign of Comus (1507)
This painting, commissioned by Isabelle d'Este of Mantegna, must have been the fourth allegory decorating her studiolo. It was painted by Lorenzo Costa, after the death of Mantegna, respecting the composition which Costa had planned for. The painting depicts Comus, the joyful god of festivities from Philostratus' Imagine : permissible pleasures are illustrated on the left-hand side of the painting, separated from the forbidden pleasures at the bottom right of the painting, by means of a diagonally positioned triumphal arch. The foreground possibly illustrates an episode from Dionysos' love life narrated in Nonnos' Dionysiaca (books 15 and 16) : the love of Dionysos and Nikaia, the Phrygian naiad. Dionysos is conveyed as a tender lover, similar to the one who won Ariadne's heart in Naxos. Nikaia is depicted sleeping, common in illustrations of Dionysos and Ariadne.
Leonardo da Vinci (workshop) : Bacchus
The Bacchus of Leonardo da Vinci's workshop is a muscular young man, self-possessed, with vine leaves at his feet, holding the traditional thyrsos with his left arm. His gaze is directed towards the observer - an image of seduction. His finger points more towards the mountain than the sky, setting of the frenetic oreibasia. Could it be that Bacchus, with his staff and his hill of mania, is contrasted to Moses, whose staff is used to guide the chosen ones, and whose mountain is the seat of Law ?
Polidoro Caldara (da Caravaggio) : Psyche received into Olympus (1524)
In the centre of the painting, Psyche is led by Hermes with Jupiter and Juno. To the right of the painting, Bacchus is depicted as a youth crowned with ivy, standing and pouring wine from an oenochoe into a cup, withdrawn in relation to the other Olympians.
Rosso Fiorentino : The Contest of the Pierides
This painting depicts both the confrontation of the gods who have been contrasted by Nietzsche: Apollo and Dionysos, the confrontation between two art-forms.
Rosso Fiorentino draws his inspiration from a passage of Ovid's Metamorphosis Book V : The nine Pierides, daughters of Pirus, challenged the nine Muses on Helicon to a singing competition which they lost. In the centre of the painting, Apollo, with Athena positioned to his left, commands the transformation of the Pierides into birds. To Apollo's right, there is a rear-view of the defeated Dionysos.
Hendrik van Balen (about 1575-1632) : Feast of the gods
In this Feast of the gods, Bacchus is not present at the table of the Olympians : he is seated on a sort of sculpted stone, crowned with ivy and dressed in a royal blue drape, letting a satyr pour him wine into a cup, which is offered to him by a putto with skin which is greyish against the warm colour of dionysian flesh.
Pierre Paul Rubens : The council of the gods for the alliance of France and Spain (1621-1625)
In this council, logic hardly reigns : while Mars seems busy with Apollo and Vulcan (of course) chasing Giants from the council room, Dionysos whispers an argument in the ear of a goddess which seems to be based on persuasion if we examine the god, or rather seduction if we examine the face of the goddess.
Nicolas Poussin : The childhood of Bacchus (about 1630)
Faced with this fading myth, we can appreciate the merit of Poussin's art, who skilfully illustrates the youth of Bacchus (Dionysos) in "The chilhood of Bacchus" (about 1630), in a narrativity told from the painting's right to the left : The fair child crowned with ivy, sleeping on the visionary body of a mother who is not his own, the goat-kid shielded from the inquiring anger of Hera, then the older child introduced to wine by the satyrs, under the protective gaze of a spinner (perhaps Fate who extracts him from death ?) before finding the other spinner abandoned by Theseus. This fate is told from right to left yet can also be read emotionally in the opposite direction, as if we move from an obvious image which identifies the god (the intemperate drinker) to an image which reinstates his humanity (the victim of hybris propelled to Semele by Hera : see her divine lover in danger of losing his child and life).
Nicolas Poussin : Bacchanal with woman playing a guitar - The great Bacchanal (about 1630)
This second painting is surprising in its interpretation of Bacchic inebriation : the abandonment to wine echoes the abandonment of the infant fed on milk ; furthermore, a child is depicted in the foreground, at the feet of the one thought to be Bacchus, while two drinking companions seem to watch delicately over the god's slumber.
Here too, mythology is lowered to the level of mortals : five youths, three children and two women celebrate the grape harvests in an innocent scene, the inspiration behind all the "déjeuners sur l'herbe" (Picnic on the Grass).
Johan Georg Platzer (1704-1761) : Bacchus and Ariadne
The mythological argument appears in this painting "as the pretext for an exercise in skill by accumulating objects and figures, depicted with the miniaturist detail of an artist marked by the painting of the Dutch XVIIth century genre, and moreover the artist of love scenes set in contemporary Viennese society." (© Louvre.edu, text by Claire Barbillon).