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Bacchus, Ceres and Amor (?)

Hans von Aachen1595/1605

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Born in the Rhineland but trained by a Netherlandish master in Cologne, Hans von Aachen was the most important painter at the Prague court, apart from Bartholomäus Spranger. Like his rival, Aachen had spent a long time in Italy (Venice, Rome and Florence, ca. 1574 – 1587/88). Characteristic of both are the combination of Netherlandish surface treatment and the Mannerist proportions and postures of the figures, which date back to Parmigianino. Thus both artists are regarded as exponents
of one of the last manifestations of European Mannerism. It finds its expression here in explicitly courtly features, which were personally advocated by Emperor Rudolph II. The clear preference for erotic subjects is also a distinctive feature of Rudolphine court art. Ceres, the Roman goddess of fertility, dominates the foreground of the painting in a striking rear view. Her elongated limbs and the opposing movements of her torso and head are characteristic features of Mannerism. Bacchus, the god of wine, has approached Ceres from behind. He tenderly touches her, looking at
her in joyful anticipation, while she fixes her gaze on the viewer. The boy at the bottom left presents them with a basket of fruit and vegetables. Although the figure of the child has not been clearly identified as Amor, this interpretation would make sense: “Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus” – “Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus is cold” (or figuratively: “Without food and drink, love cools”). This quotation from the Roman dramatist Terence (ca. 190 – 159 BC) has become a proverbial phrase and is probably the key to understanding this emblematic picture. The “freezing” Venus, traditionally warming her hands by a fire, is missing. It is possible, however, that the narrow streak of light at the top left corner in the back, standing out against the stony background, is the reflection of this fire. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery, Vienna 2010

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