The Triumph of Bacchus by Diego Velázquez
“The Triumph of Bacchus” by Diego Velázquez depicts Bacchus surrounded by drunks. The work represents Bacchus as the god who rewards men with wine, releasing them from their problems. Bacchus was considered an allegory of the liberation of man from the slavery of daily life. Commisioned by King Philip IV, Velázquez had studied the king’s collection of Italian paintings and especially the treatment of mythological subjects. In this work, Velázquez adopted a realist treatment of a mythological subject, an approach he pursued during his career.
The composition is divided into two halves. On the left, is the luminous Bacchus figure, and the character behind him is represented in the traditional loose robes used for depictions of classical myth. The idealisation of the Bacchus’s face is highlighted by the light which illuminates him in a classical style. The right side of the composition presents drunkards of the streets that invite the viewer to join their party. There is no idealisation present in their darker worn-out faces who wear the contemporary costume of poor people in 17th-century Spain. The figure kneeling in front of the Bacchus is younger and better dressed than the others, with a sword and boots. The light which illuminates Bacchus is absent on the right side. There are also various elements of naturalism in this work, such as the bottle and pitcher which appear on the ground.
Diego Velázquez was a Spanish painter, who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV, and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. From the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Velázquez’s artwork was a model for the realist and impressionist painters, in particular, Édouard Manet. Many modern artists, including Picasso and Dalí, have paid tribute to Velázquez by recreating several of his most famous works.
Bacchus is the Roman name for Dionysus the Greek god of wine, ritual madness and theatre in ancient Greek religion and myth. Wine played an important role in Greek and Roman culture, and the cult of Bacchus or Dionysus was the main religious focus for its unrestrained consumption. His festivals were the driving force behind the development of Greek theatre.
Did you know?
- At the time of this painting, Bacchus was considered an allegory of the liberation of man from the slavery of daily life.
- An inspiration for Velázquez was Caravaggio’s treatments of religious subjects combining central figures in traditional iconographical robes with subsidiary figures in contemporary dress. This picture shows the drinkers in contemporary dress.
- This painting is popularly known as the Drunks, why was the King of Spain interested in this subject?
- Are the men looking directly at the viewer inviting us to join?
- Are we being invited us to join?
The Triumph of Bacchus
- Title: The Triumph of Bacchus
- Spanish: El triunfo de Baco o Los Borrachos,
- Artist: Diego Velázquez
- Year: 1629
- Medium: oil on canvas
- Dimensions Height: 165 cm (65 in). Width: 225 cm (88.6 in)
- Museum: Prado Museum, Museo del Prado
- Name: Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez
- Born: 1599 – Seville, Spain
- Died: 1660 (aged 61) – Madrid, Spain
- Nationality: Spanish
- Movement: Baroque
- Notable works:
“The habit doesn’t make the monk.“
– Spanish Proverb
Photo Credit: Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons