Androgyny, eroticism and drunkenness

"Myth: a traditional story containing ideas of beliefs about ancient times or about natural events (such as the four seasons)" [Oxford Dictionary]. When one thinks of a myth the immediate progression of thought corresponds to the Greek and Roman mythology of the gods. A myth in modern times is known as a story which frequently involves supernatural elements that expresses a moral concept or determines the mysteries of the past. Ancient Greek and Roman civilisations founded a tradition of myth that embodies their beliefs about history, the world and religion, and thousands of years later we have incorporated these myths and ideas into our art, literature and culture.



The background of Bacchus

Bacchus, also known as the Greek god Dionysus and sometimes even by the name Liber Pater, was the Roman god of wine, revelry, ecstasy, madness, merriment and drunkenness, and his symbols were the grape vine, ivy, thyrsus and the goat. He represents not only the intoxicating power of wine, but also its social and beneficial influence. Bacchus was, naturally, a very popular god with believers of both Greek and Roman mythological religion and his festivals were amongst the most interesting and wild, undoubtedly his connections to parties and orgies contributed. His father was Jupiter, the lord of the sky and supreme ruler of all of the gods, and his mother was the mortal princess Semele. Bacchus is not one of the only gods who has a mortal parent; unlike the norm he did not become a demigod or a hero but became a certified constituent of the Olympian pantheon. After being deserted on the island of Naxos by Thesus, the daughter of King Minos of Crete, Ariadne, married Bacchus. Unlike other gods, Bacchus had no obvious or fixed character, and he could be portrayed as masculine or effeminate, young or old, or even sober or drunk, and sometimes even in an erotic fashion. In crossing such boundaries he personally took on the central attribute of the cults which were centred around him: the transgression of social norms, traditions and boundaries. This can relate directly to art in the Renaissance...EXPAND

Predominantly Bacchus is presented as a young man in the Renaissance, usually intoxicated which we can tell by his rosy cheeks; sometimes unstable stance; and his knowing grin or smirk. However, when compared to more classical presentations of Dionysus, he is presented as much older, much wiser with a full beard; the contrast between the two is significant and one could even assume that they are a contradiction of each other as Dionysus seems to be much more knowledgeable. Overall, showing the good and the bad side to wine, of which all of us are affected.

To understand the god Bacchus and the mythological connotations relating to him, we must understand the influence that the Greek mythology had upon the construction of the Roman equivalent. The direct relation to Bacchus, the god of wine, was Dionysus, and throughout history the information on both has been combined, with most historians believing that as a rule of thumb we can regard them as almost the same figure, particularly in reference to the classical literature and the representations of Dionysus and Bacchus being almost identical. By no means are the Roman and Greek mythological religion identical, but for the purpose of this dissertation the classical literature and representations present Bacchus and Dionysus in an almost identical light, and so they will be treated as such. However, this does throw up questions regarding why it was that artists in the Renaissance chose to depict Bacchus and not Dionysus in their compositions? The simplest answer to this would be that the society as a whole was more enamoured with the Roman version, and perhaps that since the Roman mythology had come after the Greek version it had merely stayed in popular culture, with no one feeling the need to revert back to the Greek original. Nevertheless, so-and-so believes that...[EXPAND].

I think it is also very important to contemplate the use of both Greek and Roman gods in religion, and particularly their significance in the Renaissance era.

Naturally, during the Renaissance, Catholicism held a high position in both popular culture and society, especially in Italy which was one of the vital areas during the cultural rebirth of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. No doubt the fact that Rome -the epicentre of Catholicism- was the capital of the country held great significance, but also a key factor in this was the pontiff who was not only the ruler of religion, but also of society in Italy at this time.

Chapter One

Representation of Bacchus in Classical Literature

In this Chapter, I want to assess the literary sources for both Bacchus and Dionysus, and begin to understand their place in the Renaissance culture and their influence on pictorial representations of the god. Then I will go on to discuss the position that the Roman mythology had in the Quattrocentro, and the creation of the Roman religion and the effects of the religion itself in regards to how the god Bacchus was represented at a later time.

One of the most notorious classical literary sources is Ovid's Metamorphoses. A set of fifteen books, which are fundamental to Roman mythology, Ovid's poems describe the creation and development of the world. Remaining one of the most popular works of mythology, it was completed in the first century AD, and understandably had a remarkable influence on art, literature and culture continuing even to this modern day. The fifteen books are a catalogue of human nature and mortal sufferings, in addition to a large selection of transformations hence the title. Some of his tales are his opinion on central stories from Greek mythology, whilst others are lesser known, however consistently throughout the books there is the topic of love. The references to Bacchus in Metamorphoses are in books III and VII.

The vengeance of the gods is the central theme to book III - in which the birth of Bacchus is described - here it is first introduced that the character of the gods is juxtaposition between superiority and similarity to the human race. One of the most prominent examples of suffering in Ovid's epic is the unavoidable fate of Semele, Bacchus's mother. Juno cleverly disguised herself as an old woman to get Semele into a position in which she can humiliate her before she contributes to her death. Under the guise of Semele's nurse, she questions if Jupiter did father Semele's unborn child, and persuades her to ask Jupiter to promise her one thing, which is later discovered to be to reveal himself in his true form which he uses to make love to Juno. Her fate is sealed as Jupiter, sworn to his promise, makes love to her with such power she is incinerated as her mortal body cannot handle the intercourse he has with his goddess wife.

"Come to my bed as you come to your wife,

when Juno embraces your body divine in the pact of Venus!,

Jupiter wanted to gag her lips, but the fatal words had already been uttered."

The very act a god desired from her is used by another god as a tool for her demise.

Similarly to Virgil, Ovid exposes the irate and scorned character of Juno, the wife of adulterous Jupiter. Juno is portrayed as supremely cruel and her punishments are not instantaneous reactions to anger but premeditated to inflict maximum suffering as it meant Bacchus had to be brought up without a mother. Juno even said "I must target the woman and destroy her if I am to merit the mighty title of Juno." Nonetheless, Juno is suffering continuously as she will never be enough for Jupiter who frequently chooses mortal women over her divine self.

43 BC -17 AD. Fasti is a complex poem, which takes as its central framework the Roman calendar in the late Augustan period, with main reference to its religious festivals and their origins. The principle mention of Bacchus in this piece is when Ovid turns his attention to the plight of the goat, which due to its eating of the vine was usually sacrificed to him. According to .., the story of Bacchus and the goat unfolds as a drama, and even almost as a mini-tragedy.[1] The text states that "from this vine there will come something which can be sprinkled on your horns, when you stand at the altar". This is describing what a Bacchic ritual of sacrifice entails, which was extremely popular at the time of writing, with Bacchanals being attended with high popularity. Lines 395-6 describe the guests of a Bacchic revelry as divine and lewd, with Pans, Satyrs, nymphs, and Silenus and Priapus all attending.

29 BC. Regarded as one of the most talented poets of his era, Virgil is most known for his book the Aeneid, which tells the story of Rome's legendary founder. Diversely, Georgics describes agriculture in relation to labour, sloth and WHAT? The second book discusses agriculture as mans resistance against the hostile world particularly in reference to trees, and it contains didactic narrative about vines and the sacrifices of goats to Bacchus. Thought to have been published in 29 BC.

Homeric Hymn to Dionysus

522 BC. Named after the supposed author, the Homeric Hymns are now not thought to be written by Homer, however the name remains as for a long time the ancients believed that Homer did. The Hymn to Dionysus first extensively details the birth of the god, and then goes on to the origins of his festivals.

Euripides, Bacchae

In 407-6 BC, Euripides one of the great Greek tragedians wrote the infamous play The Bacchae shortly before he died in Macedonia. The play entails Dionysus' return to Thebes, his birthplace, to clear his mother's name and to punish the city's government for refusing to allow the population to worship him. Dionysus was said to drive women mad because of the ecstatic frenzy which took hold of them during their worship of him, and amazing descriptions of this are present in Bacchae, with Pentheus's mother attacking and killing her son. Euripides presents Bacchus as a terrible force to be reckoned with, and not always in a positive view which the majority of other classical sources do. The play was a favourite of the Romans in the centuries following the decline of the Greek Empire, and it persisted through the period of Medieval Europe and was among the first classical plays translated into vernacular languages during the Renaissance. So, undoubtedly, artists during the Cincequento would have knowledge of this play, even if they had not read it themselves they most likely would have seen it in the theatre.

Lucian, Dionysus (1-2)

125-180 AD. A short piece detailing Dionysus's visit to India, and was written long after the other literary sources.

Ovid, The Art of Love (I:525-64)

43 BC -17 AD. In Ovid's Art of Love, we find him giving counsel to a male who wishes to win a mistress on how to acquire and hold her, and giving advice to the mistress on how to satisfy her lover. Even in that relatively tolerant period in time Ovid found himself exiled for his boldness of speech.

The poems of Catullus

84-54 BC. As Catullus's longest poem, Poem 64 first describes the marriage of Peleus and Thetis along with the desertion of Ariadne by Theseus, and lastly tells of the marriage of her to Bacchus.

Furthermore, there are numerous other mentions and descriptions of Bacchus in additional classical pieces of literature. Including, in Apollodorus (180-120 BC) 3.14: 7 where Dionysus teaches Icarius how to make wine, and the negative consequences of the consumption of excessive amounts are told. In other parts of the book it goes on to describe Dionysus's various other adventures and activities. Pausanias, the Greek traveller and geographer also mentions Dionysus in his Description of Greece, where the Calydonians had become raving like they had drank at a ritual for Dionysus, and at another time the ritual partakers had become so violent from wine that they killed the Dionysian priest. Additionally, Herodotus (484-425 BC), a Greek historian, wrote of Dionysian revelries, sacrifices and worship of the god.

Interestingly, it is worth contemplating Plato's Laws, in which he states that men over the age of forty may drink as much wine as they wish in a Dionysian style, as the wine from Dionysus relieves the 'crabbedness' of old age.

"Shall we not pass a law that, in the first place, no children under eighteen may touch wine at all, teaching that it is wrong to pour fire upon fire either in body or in soul ... and thus guarding against the excitable disposition of the young? And next, we shall rule that the young man under thirty may take wine in moderation, but that he must entirely abstain from intoxication and heavy drinking. But when a man has reached the age of forty, he may join in the convivial gatherings and invoke Dionysus, above all other gods, inviting his presence at the rite (which is also the recreation) of the elders, which he bestowed on mankind as a medicine potent against the crabbedness of Old Age, that thereby we men may renew our youth, and that, through forgetfulness of care, the temper of our souls may lose its hardness and become softer and more ductile ..."

This quote raises many interesting thoughts, with the foremost being that this seems to be the first time that an age limit has been placed on the drinking of wine, and it is also intriguing that his law prevented drinking from the age of eighteen, as it is today.

Chapter Two


Personal opinion will no doubt factor in why one believes that artists have such different versions of the god Bacchus. But surely, if the artists in the Renaissance all have the same classical sources they should at least have a similar rendering of Bacchus? In this chapter I will try to make sense of the different types of depictions, and answer some of the questions which will be raised when looking at the adverse types of compositions.

The first question to be addressed is how is Bacchus displayed in Renaissance paintings and sculptures? The variety of the type of individual presented to the viewer is astounding, with not just the usual variants of clothing and height, but much more vital information being altered such as age and sobriety.

The deities of ancient Rome had been imperative to Italian culture, with temples, priests, rituals, and religion being a predominant part of everyday life for the Romans. It had consequently almost completely disappeared when Christianity replaced Roman theology and had spread all over Europe. Yet, in the Renaissance there was a revived interest in classical mythology, and the Roman deities took precedence in popular culture, not so much in the religious form it had before, but more in common interest and intrigue. The widespread thought is that the re-emergence of the Roman gods and the revival of classical mythology is due to the humanist scholarship and the rediscovery of ancient texts an relics, however, I believe that some sort of contribution to its resurgence is no doubt due to the public's interest in the topic, and without this interest there would not have been a need for the highly popular mythological paintings abundant in the Renaissance era. The acceptance and approval of Roman mythology was no doubt assisted as the imagery and literature did not directly challenge Christianity directly, the ancient gods were viewed for pleasure, while the Christian God was still worshipped and believed in. In that light, you could continue down the line of thought of if this now falsified religion was being distributed in popular culture it was proof that broadly spread traditions could simply be false, and may have contributed -however small- to the Protestant Revolution. However, that is another issue in its own right.

Androgyny and adolescence

In Apollodorus's Bibliotheca III: 4. 3, "Zeus undid the stitches and gave birth to Dionysus, and ...conveyed him to Ino and Athamas, and persuaded them to rear him as a girl. But Hera indignantly drove them mad, [to which they killed themselves]...But Zeus eluded the wrath of Hera by turning Dionysus into a kid, and Hermes took him and brought him to the nymphs who dwelt at Nysa in Asia."[2] This account is meant to focus on how Ino and Athamas were driven mad, however it is also highly important that before this they had raised Dionysus as a girl. It is understandable then, to presume that this contributes to the feminine connotations still attached to Bacchus to this day. Furthermore, this was not such an unusual thing to happen, as Achilles is said to have been dressed in his youth as a girl at the court of Lycomede, the king of Scyros, to also save his life.[3] However, Archilles was still represented as a very masculine man, and it was even said he only agreed to dress as a female when he realised that it would be a successful way to get to the King's daughter. The traditions of cross-dressing may exemplify reminiscences of an aged custom of dressing boys as girls in order to avert danger or even death from said boy. According to some, Bacchus was even thought of as the god of transsexuals and hermaphrodites. It is also important to consider cross-dressing, particularly in relation to Bacchus as having homosexual connotations. In fact, if one might dare, there could be some suggestion of something more in the close and lifelong friendship of Bacchus and Silenus. There are suggestions of a same sex relationship between Dionysus and Ampelus, and also between Dionysus and Prosymnus, however such is not mentioned in the classical texts themselves.

In Ovid Metamorphoses III: 314-5 it states that Bacchus was "confined to the nymphs of Nysa, who hid him in their cave and nurtured him with milk"[4]. It is defiantly worth considering whether this could possibly have contributed to why Bacchus is considered as so effeminate. Undoubtedly, if a young boy was raised by numerous females and without a male role model present, traditional female characteristics would be more prominent and perceptible. Perhaps it could even give suggestions to us as to why Bacchus is often presented as being so adolescent; many of the classical sources tell stories of Bacchus as either a baby or a young child, particularly so with the literature which would have been most available in the Renaissance, like the Metamorphoses and the Homeric Hymn to Dionysus. So it could be said that the average typical Renaissance person would have a subconscious opinion that Bacchus was not fully grown yet, and could defiantly have contributed to why he may have been presented as an adolescent.

In some regard, it can be said that Euripides' Bacchus shows that the forces of nature and chaos are out of control of the world of man, and those who try to interfere will be punished, and by its support of the power of the Bacchantes it is therefore taking a feminine view.


Although Bacchus is never directly related to sex or anything erotic in the classical texts, there are many connotations throughout, especially in the Bacchic revelries which have a semantic of an orgy, not to mention the erotic subtleties pertaining to Ariadne. Most notably, in regards to Ariadne, the revealing of the calves is a gesture which invites sexual interest, and Ariadne is described to have done so to Bacchus in Fasti, and it was most likely her dishevelled look which attracted him. Though Ovid does not evoke the same kind of imagery anywhere else in his poetry, it fits his general keenness to point up the sexual attraction of the legs.[5]



Chapter 3


During this chapter, I will analyse a variety of paintings, engravings and sculptures from the Renaissance of which the topic includes the god Bacchus. I wish to draw direct correlations to the classical literature which I have outlined earlier, and come to some sort of conclusion regarding which texts and sources the artists may have selected. I also wish to highlight the vast differences in the type of renderings of Bacchus, which vary from effeminate to masculine; drunk to sober; adolescent to old man; and sometimes even erotic. Many questions are raised as to why different artists choose to make the bold statement of a different and sometimes even controversial portrayal of the god, does it have anything substantial to do with the influence of previous depictions, or could the way they themselves interpret the classical sources prove to be the answer to the drastically different representations?

When assessing the representations of Bacchus, it is important to also consider the numerous motifs and other mythological figures which are related to him. Particularly during this period, it would be very difficult to find a piece of Bacchic artwork which does not include vine leaves or grapes. This is no doubt due to them being one of the most significant factors that when confronted with an artwork including his figure, the viewer can understand the individual to be Bacchus. In the majority of scenes a thyrsus is displayed additionally, although not always by Bacchus himself, this could be due to.... In compositions, Bacchus nearly always surrounding by a large amount of figures, which often include maenads, Silenus, Satyrs and occasionally... A plausible explanation could be the presumption that Bacchus is directly included in Bacchanals, parties and orgies. [EXPAND]. In numerous paintings created during the Renaissance a popular theme was of Bacchus and Ariadne, whether it was the scene of their first meeting, or of the subsequent marriage. Furthermore, during analysis of the representations of Bacchus, it is vital to remember that the manner in which he is presented by the artist will reflect the topic of the scene he is in.

Panthers are also a common motif in Bacchic compositions. This is due to... They can reflect numerous differing things like ... A reason in which artists chose to use them could be... [EXPAND]

Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne, 1520-23

A traditional painting, but with an innovating topic for the time, Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne, 1520-23, created a new experience for the viewer which had not been seen before. By collaborating his stylistic and well known Venetian colour and style with a new mythological scene that had not been witnessed before in the Renaissance, Titian proved himself to be a truly original and unique artist.

After being abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos, where this painting is set, Ariadne in disbelief looks into the distance searching the horizon for him. Bacchus, leading the set of revellers and maenads, leaps from his cheetah drawn chariot towards Ariadne, offering her himself as her husband and the sky as a wedding gift, and he promises to make her a place amongst the stars.

The painting draws on the passages from the classical poets Catullus and Philosratus, mentioned earlier and additionally on Ovid's section in the Art of Love. However, George Holmes believes that the synthesis of classical sources in the painting may have been inspired by Ariosto, the famous Renaissance poet's work[6].

Bacchus's leap seems very odd as it is particularly awkward and very static and contributes to him looking out of place. There is a chance that this is deliberate as Titian would have undoubtedly wanted to draw the viewer's eyes immediately to the god.

This is a very effeminate presentation of Bacchus by Titian. He has very shapely legs and thighs. He also does not have any substantial musculature, especially on the torso which is unusual mainly as the ribs are visible. Moreover, his shoulders do not appear to be very broad or muscular and his whole body frame foes not fit in with the stereotypical 'perfect' male body of the time. For example, if we look at Michelangelo's David, 1501-4, the disparity between David's figure and Bacchus's is notable. Most artists in the history of the male nude think of the male nude as muscular, active and powerful beings and have painted them as such. Particularly so with Michelangelo, as when we look at the depictions of the ignudi on the Sistine Chapel ceiling which are magnificent in their differences and complexity of poses that display their musculature exquisitely. Moreover, there is a stark contrast between Bacchus's figure and the two men centre-right. His figure is much less muscular, and figura serpentinata is not used on him, and in a certain sense it reaffirms his femininity to the viewer.

The numerous feminine features on the Titian's depiction of Bacchus's face draw many similarities with the portrayal of Ariadne. There is no stubble visible or even any sight of sideburns, his eyebrows also not very noticeable or thick, and combined with the nose being very small and attractive, it contrasts with the more well known pictures of men who are usually much more masculine, robust and rugged. The chin and jaw-line are very delicate and not obviously defined, and appears to be in a heart-shaped face which lends itself to femininity. The ears are petite and reflect both Ariadne's and the nymph with the tambourine; this appears to have been deliberate by the artist which indicates to us that he is deliberately presenting Bacchus as androgynous. Additionally, his strained neck is noticeable as he stretches to see Ariadne. This is all the more remarkable as not only is this very feminine, but the neck is seen as very erotic on a woman. Furthermore, one is not able to see a noticeable Adam's apple. Interestingly, Bacchus's mouth is open, which would suggest that he is mid speech - perhaps calling out to Ariadne. Again, this is highly erotic on a woman as it gives indications and connotation of sex, both in regard to oral and kissing.

Bacchus's hair is long, wispy and a dark blonde shade, and almost identical to Ariadne's, which is almost definitely not a coincidence. This contributes dramatically to him appearing effeminate. EXPAND ON HAIR

His nipples are very small, which could have an erotic significance. They are very dissimilar to the man wrestling with a snake, whose are over twice the size.

The size and height of his figure indicate that he is still a teenager as it is not dissimilar to Ariadne's and is considerably shorter than the man wrestling with the snake, even though he is further back in terms of the perspective of the scene.

The man (or two men?) on the donkey seem to be in a very inebriated state, and perhaps here Titian is showing the effects of alcohol to the viewer. This has a direct parallel to his painting Bacchanal of the Adrians, 1518-19, which illustrates what appears to be an older Bacchus drunkenly passed out on a mound, although it is often disputed to be Silenus, the god's faithful companion and mentor.

When looking at the painting, eyes are drawn to the red cloth billowing around Bacchus to effectively show movement and the viewer begins to wonder its significance. Is it to maintain his dignity, as perhaps nudity was not approved of in Alfonso d'Este's Camerino d'Alabastro. What is the significance of the deep red colour? Traditionally red was used in Renaissance paintings to denote power and stature, and often in religious paintings to denote divinity. For example in one of the most famous Renaissance religious paintings, Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper, 1497, Jesus is portrayed wearing red robes and is the focal point of the composition. It is also in stark contrast to the vibrant red which Ariadne wears, which compliments the royal blue of her garment. Perhaps connotations were wanted by the artist.

His hands are similar to Ariadne's, but they do appear to be quite manly.

In the background of the scene a man is struggling to carry what seems to be a barrel of wine. This could be symbolising numerous things. Perhaps the toil that school could have on you life, or how hard an addiction is to struggle with.

There is a visible divide in the scene between Bacchus and Ariadne and the procession of people on the right.

The shadows on Bacchus's torso hint at there presence of breasts and a smaller female body with a visible waist.

After what we have looked at in the classical texts, and the followers of Bacchus being present, it is obvious for us looking for any indicators of an orgy of pleasure. There are a number of phallic symbols present in the piece, such as the branch in the man's hand on the far right, which could signify a sexual sub context. Furthermore, the partly nude females with exposed breasts add an erotic and sensual element to the piece. Combined with the meat and wine being shown, along with the musical instruments and dancing, it suggests that the scene is showing the beginning of a party or bacchanal - possibly to celebrate the marriage.

The male wrestling with the snake could symbolise the turmoil that comes with alcohol, possibly even addiction. Other than the absence of a bald head, the man looks very similar to Time from Bronzino's Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, 1545, perhaps Bronzino drew inspiration from Titian's painting.

The baby satyr's rope is defiantly a phallic symbol. This appears to me to be unorthodox as it is sexualising an infant. Again this is raising the point of adolescence being displayed in paintings of Bacchus which are obviously either erotic or include heavy consumption of wine.

It is also worth looking at the cheetahs, and what is deemed to be a mirror image. Could that signify anything and why would Titian choose to show this? It possibly could be an indication of other similarities, like of Bacchus and Ariadne. The cheetahs are very lifelike, which is no doubt partly due to Titian having observed them in Alfonso's personal menagerie.[7]

In the background behind cheetahs there is a man and a dog? What significance?

Again, there is a satyr present in the painting. Satyrs were woodland creatures who accompanied maenads in Bacchanal revels. They were renowned for the lascivious appetites and mischievous behaviour. They were frequently mentioned in the literature from antiquity as being associated with fornication, and completely correlate with the Bacchic facet of excess. When looking at ...PAINTING we can see the erotic connotations which are coercing with Satyrs, and so when looking at their presence in Bacchanal scenes it is easy to understand the sexual undertone and sensuality they bring to the piece.

The undergarment of the maenad with symbols is showing and lots of leg is being displayed. It is also very suggestive.

If Paoletti and Radke's assumption that Ariadne could hardly have been reassured by Bacchus's "noisy parade of carousing nymphs and satyrs"[8], then another negative effect of the excessive consumption of alcohol could be being presented.

The male figure trying to escape the snake hold has consistently been compared to the Laocon statue which was discover by Julius II, and displayed proudly as an exemplary piece of antique sculpture. CHECK.

Behind the Laocon figure the male is brandishing an animal's leg, which looks to have been freshly torn from the socket. This correlates directly with the ancient literature which discuss the Bacchanal's including a frenzied tearing of a sacrificial animal.

"Titian reserved his most splendid effects for his protagonists, whose alluring, pearlescent flesh and brilliant blue and red draperies assure their primacy even amid so much potentially distracting, carnal delight."[9] Here, Paoletti and Radke unconsciously point out to us the unnerving similarity between the representation of Bacchus and Ariadne in the painting. Even though they are trying to draw to our attention the pure skill and delicacy the artist possessed when portraying the central characters, they indicate to us that with them both having 'pearlescent' skin and being highly alluring, Bacchus acquires femininity through association.

The baby satyr is the only person in the painting looking at the viewer. Why is this? Symbolic? Semantics?

The painting is signed by Titian on the amphora that lies in the lower left foreground.

Here Bacchus is shown as very muscular, strong and in the prime of his life, not long out of adolescence but an adult nonetheless. COMPARE TO HURCULES?

The focus is on the romance and love in the scene, not on the wine and the effects of it.

Titian's The Bacchanal of the Adrians, 1518-19

First of the three mythological paintings Titian was commissioned to compose for the Alfonso d'Este, The Bacchanal of the Adrians 1518-1519 is a truly individual piece, in which the artist effectively combines landscape, perspective and the true revelry of a Bacchanal. Described as "an uninhibited scene of intoxicated abandonment",[10] it is easy to see how this painting may condone the excessive drinking of wine and the pleasures associated with it, as quite obviously the focus of everyone in the scene is on pleasure and joy.

The composition is set on the island of Andros, a place according to classical mythology that was so favoured by Bacchus that wine sprang from the earth instead and ran in a stream. Men and women celebrate happily in an idyllic landscape; drinking; dancing; and singing. The artist illustrates the mythical scene of the arrival of Bacchus back to the Isle of Andros in Greece, with some critics arguing that the islands inhabitants are awaiting his arrival, indeed the unfurled sails of the ship can be seen in the background of the piece, which may well be Bacchus's. This work is the most enthusiastic and most accomplished depiction of a pagan feast produced during the Renaissance. Gods and men gathered together celebrate wine. The sleeping female nude, most likely a maenad, has fallen victim to the effects of wine and has lost all of her inhibitions. Written in French on the script of music at the front of the painting are the words, "He who drinks and does not drink again, knows not what it means to drink," referring to the enjoyment of wine by god and man alike. They are from a canon identifiable as a song for four voices attributed to Flemish composer Adriaen Willeart [11], who was active at the time of composition working in the Court of Ferrara

In order to execute this work, Titian drew his inspiration from the elder Philostratus's description of a famous painting from antiquity in Imagines I: 25.

The attitude of the nude in the foreground is derived from a classical sculpture, Ariadne Sleeping, 50 BC, which is a Roman copy of a Greek sculpture, and was housed in the Vatican at the time of composition. CHECK. Unknown exactly who the female figure is, Hartt and Wilkins believe that the nude is Ariadne[12], however Holmes argues that it is inface a "beautiful nude nymph".[13] However, it must be taken into account that if indeed the boat in the background is Bacchus's surely his wife, Ariadne, would be onboard. Behind, the Bacchantes, the entwined followers of Bacchus create an agile, sinuous composition as they drink and make merry.

Titian signed the work on the breast of the female in the red garment in the centre of the scene. Some say that this is a portrait of Violante Titian's mistress.

The colouring and movement of the figures are magnificent.

An older presentation of Bacchus lies intoxicated and passed out on the hill, although it is also disputed to be Silenus, Bacchus's faithful companion. Bacchus is caught in a shaft of sunlight so as to draw the viewer's eye to him; however it also draws to the attention of the viewer the effects of alcohol. Indeed, Bacchus had consumed so much wine that drunkenly passed out and could not continue enjoying the party.

Inflamed with wine, ecstasy and love, the Adrians dance, gather in couples or sleep.

In the centre of the piece, the little boy unashamedly urinates. It brings up the problem of adolescence and drinking. Surely this would have been frowned upon as it seems as though the child has lost all of his inhibitions -which is a characteristic of excessive consumption of alcohol- and therefore underage drinking.

The depiction of a drunk Bacchus shows one of the most commonly drawn and known Roman gods in a very humanly situation, which was different and innovative for the time. Titian is also showing him in a position in which nearly every viewer would be familiar with and have happened to at least once in their life.

Perhaps the picture is to show the negative effects after the consumption of too much wine and is therefore showing a contrast in the before and after. It could be interpreted as depicting the downfall of a life lived purely for pleasure, partying and alcohol. Perhaps there are even some religious undertones present.

Titian may possibly be portraying himself in Bacchus (displacement), maybe subconsciously.

The movement of the figures in the composition, the juxtaposition of nude and clothed, of male and female, creates a revel in which even the landscape seems to participateonly a Venetian could have created such a pagan, earthy, and hedonistic glorification of life. CHANGE

Both Bacchus and Ariadne and The Bacchanal of the Adrians are extremely unique and magnificent pieces in their own right, which were effectively composed for the patron's demands. Nevertheless they are two very different interpretations of Bacchus by the same artist, for the same patron, and it makes one consider why exactly is it that Titian decided to portray them so diversely. It could be suggested that after the first had been completed, Titian's stance had changed and he was expressing the god of wine with his latest attitudes and thinking. One could even go on to say that maybe his attitude towards alcohol had changed which affected his representations, but due to the short amount of time between the two compositions being created this is unlikely. Another view is that for the Bacchanal of the Adrians the artist may have been experimenting with perspective and space, and thought that by placing Bacchus on the hill it would be an effective way to show his skill and certainly every viewer would be looking for the god in the self-titled picture.

Personally, I think it is most likely simply due to the Bacchus and Ariadne painting having the context of being a bittersweet love story, Titian decided to depict Bacchus more as a love-sick hero rather than the god of wine in his full glory. Therefore, for the Bacchanal of the Adrians he would have taken a completely different tact. It seems that when composing the paintings, Titian tried to stay faithful to the classical literature of the events, and undoubtedly he was more interested in displaying the god as his interpretation of the texts described, than his personal perspective.

Michelangelo's Bacchus, 1496-7

Again, as in Titian's Bacchus and Ariane, Bacchus is effeminate, with no hair visible on his chest and he almost has breasts.

Is Bacchus feminine as he is a god? Places him as different to rugged and hard-worked human men as he does not have to do any labour?

The effective portrayal by the artist of a true Bacchanal, with all of the ritualistic elements and revelry shows the precedence of pleasure. Indeed the use of instruments here, assist in this image. "Bacchic sarcophagi give a vivid and almost audible impression of the raucous instruments played by satyrs and maenads in their wild frenzy." So, yet again inspiration has been derived from antiquity.


If, we are right to believe that a myth is quite simply a story which serves a purpose, either to explain the origins of something, to serve as a warning, or as an example or symbol, we must contemplate the true purpose of both the story of Bacchus and the depictions of him from the Renaissance. It seems that the mythological story of Bacchus covers all three of these symbols; he created wine, and therefore is showing the origin of the beverage; the negative effects of wine are outlined in both the literature and paintings, and serve as an adequate warning to the viewer; finally, Bacchus is a symbol in the sense that he shows us that pleasure is necessary to enjoy life, however not in excess as it can become a detriment to ourselves and others around us.

The story of Bacchus is easy to understand, involving strong and simple emotions and clear relationships, especially in regard to his mother and wife Ariadne.

  1. S. J. Greene, Ovid Fasti 1: a commentary, 2004, Brill, Boston, Pg 168
  2. Apollodorus's Bibliotheca III: 4. 3
  3. Apollodorus's Bibliotheca III: 13. 8
  4. Ovid Metamorphoses III: 314-5
  5. Greene, pg 191
  6. G. Holmes, Renaissance, 1996, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, Pg. 232
  7. Paoletti & Radke, pg395
  8. Paoletti & Radke, pg395
  9. Paoletti & Radke, pg. 396
  10. G. Holmes, Renaissance, 1996, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, Pg. 231
  11. Hartt & Wilkins, Pg. 642
  12. Hartt & Wilkins, Pg. 642
  13. G. Holmes, Renaissance, 1996, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, Pg. 231

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