Artworks
Bacchus

Sr. Contributor

The name's Bacchus. Drunk Bacchus.

The painting was commissioned by Cardinal del Monte as a gift to Ferdinando I, Grand Duke of Tuscany and a leaf on the Medici family tree. Del Monte was an early belieber in Caravaggio's talents, providing constant commissions to the artist throughout his early years in Rome. Fun fact: Many of Caravaggio's paintings for the cardinal had a big emphasis on the scantily-clad boy motif. The cardinal, it may not surprise, had an interest in the male form. Supposedly, some of his parties would feature young men dressed as women frolicking about as entertainment. That come-hither look in Bacchus' eye has the subtlety of Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball. The wanton twinkle in Bacchus' gaze wasn't lost on the 17th century crowd, either. The painting hung around the Medici's Florentine palace for only a couple years before Ferdinando's daughter-in-law, Maddalena d'Austria, had it wrapped up in thrown in storage.

Bacchus himself was based off of one of Caravaggio's besties: Mario Minniti. You can see Mario featured throughout some of Caravaggio's early hits. Mario was an aspiring artist in his own right. Success came only when Mario moved away from the big city to the more provincial environs of Sicily. He and Caravaggio remained ride-or-die pen pals, though, reuniting later in life after Caravaggio straight-up murdered a rival on the mainland. While Caravaggio was famous, his fame held no get-out-of-jail free cards. Mario help Caravaggio appeal to the highest powers in the land for a pardon while offering his old master-cum-murderer a chill place to let the heat die down.

Caravaggio, per usual, packed this painting full of Easter eggs that we're still finding today. A cleaning in the 20th century revealed a self-portrait by Caravaggio hidden in a reflection on the wine jug. You can get a close-up look at detail, Minniti's dirty fingernails, and everything else if you track down the super-high-resolution copy of the painting produced by none other than HAL9000. The company is responsible for ultra-high-res images of paintings like da Vinci's The Last Supper with 3000-times greater clarity than whatever "high-quality" dumpster camera you're using. 

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Bacchus (Caravaggio)

Bacchus (c. 1595) is a painting by Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610). It is held in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

The painting shows a youthful Bacchus reclining in classical fashion with grapes and vine leaves in his hair, fingering the drawstring of his loosely draped robe. On a stone table in front of him is a bowl of fruit and a large carafe of red wine; with his left hand he holds out to the viewer a shallow goblet of the same wine, apparently inviting the viewer to join him.

Bacchus was painted shortly after Caravaggio joined the household of his first important patron, Cardinal Del Monte, and reflects the humanist interests of the Cardinal's educated circle. It was not in the cardinal's collection at his death, and may have been a gift to the Grand Duke in Florence. It was unknown until 1913. When it was found in a storeroom of the Uffizi Galleries, it had never been catalogued or framed.

Bacchus' offering of the wine with his left hand, despite the obvious effort this is causing the model, has led to speculation that Caravaggio used a mirror to assist himself while working from life, doing away with the need for drawing. In other words, what appears to us as the boy's left hand was actually his right. This would accord with the comment by Caravaggio's early biographer, the artist Giovanni Baglione, that Caravaggio did some early paintings using a mirror. English artist David Hockney made Caravaggio's working methods a central feature of his thesis (known as the Hockney-Falco thesis) that Renaissance and later artists used some form of camera lucida. The model for Bacchus might have been Caravaggio's friend Mario Minniti, whom he had used before in The Musicians.

It was discovered upon closer investigation that Caravaggio included a miniature self-portrait of himself painting the subject in the reflection of the offered glass.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Bacchus (Caravaggio).