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Bacchanalia

Peter Paul RubensCirca 1615

The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

Rubens turned to the theme of Bacchus in the min-1610s and created a whole series of works. Place of honor among them belongs to his "Bacchanalia" (c. 1615), which delighted his contemporaries and which he did not part with to the end of his life. The painting is based on the myth of the god of the fertile forces of nature, vegetation and viniculture Dionysus-Bacchus and his companions, the sileni, satyrs and bacchante.
In the Middle ages Dionysus-Bacchus personified autumn, the grape harvest, and represented the month of October on the calendar. Rubens made use of a treatment known to the Flemish by depicting the Bacchanalian celebration as the last feast of nature before the winter sleep. The gross bodies of old Silenus, Bacchus's teacher, goat-footed satyrs and fat satyresses in Rubens' painting resemble over-ripe autumn fruit that has soaked up all life's juices. The figures form an ellipse so that the celebration seems to repeat itself endlessly, like the eternal renewal of nature full of ebullient life-creating forces.
In Rome Rubens saw an antique sarcophagus with Bacchanalian scenes, which subsequently entered the collection of Cardinal Altempis, and made drawings of it when painting his "Bacchanalia". By a stroke of good fortune the sarcophagus was brought in 1843 by Count S. S. Uvarov and is now on display in the same museum as Rubens' painting (see Room 4).

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