Artworks
The Nurture of Bacchus
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Everyone loves Bacchus, but you want to know what makes a weird painting of Bacchus? A painting by Nicolas Poussin titled The Nurture of Bacchus in which everyone’s favorite drinking god is slurping up what appears to be some wine... as a baby.

Look at Baby Bacchus’s face, he’s giving off that "I just had the worst week of work and this wine tastes like heaven" vibe. Okay, maybe I’m inserting my own feeling into this painting, but isn’t that what art is about? I think Bacchus would approve of this interpretation.

Anyways, this story packs one hell of an art historical punch. Poussin was known to insert a moral or philosophical message into his very rational, neo-classical paintings. Poussin’s The Nurture of Bacchus draws on themes of classical sources such as Ovid’s "Metamorphoses" to produce an allegory of human destiny. Here Bacchus is at the center, drinking his presumed wine like a good little baby, while two other male figures surround him and some naked chick on the right-hand side lies in the foreground of the painting. Whoever these hunks and naked chick are, it would appear they should not be left in charge of a baby if this is what they're going to feed him.

The story of Bacchus aka Dionysus (his original Greek name which I will now use instead because it’s accurate and the Romans were just a bunch of copycats), is a juicy one and yes, of course Zeus and his penis find himself in trouble with Hera again. Dionysus (Bacchus) was the son of Zeus and Semele, a daughter of the King of Thebes. Naturally, Hera, the wife of Zeus was infuriated when (surprise!) her husband sowed his seeds yet again with another mortal. Long story short, Hera tricks Semele to prove her love and kills her, and Zeus is able to save baby Dionysus by sewing him into his thigh until he is born, which brings us back to Poussin’s painting.

After Dionysus is born by Zeus' thigh, he sends Baby Dionysus to be brought up by the Maenads or Bacchantes in Nysa, who we can assume are depicted in Poussin’s painting. Look closely at the man kneeling and supporting Dionysus while he drinks; he has hooves. This half-man, half-horse is a satyr, and according to Ovid’s "Metamorphoses," which is Poussin’s source of inspiration, Baby Dionysus is raised by satyrs and maenads in Nysa, a fantasy world in Greek Mythology. The chick lying in the foreground of the painting is believed to be a Bacchante (or Maenad in Greek), a female groupie of Dionysus, whereas the two man can be seen as nymphs helping Baby Dionysus gain his strength by drinking out of the goblet provided.

So now you know, Bacchus is Dionysus, Zeus (Jupiter is his Roman name) gets himself in a pickle with another hot mortal, Hera gets mad and finds a way to kill said mortal, and Zeus births another child out of one of his limbs. There you have it, the background story of Bacchus, the God of Fruitfulness and Vegetation. But let’s be real here, we know him as the God of Wine. Phew, Greek and Roman Mythology is cray and I need a drink.

 

Sources

Sources

  1. Bonfante-Warren, Alexandra. The Louvre. Southport, CT: Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, 2000.
  2. Beckett, Wendy, and Patricia Wright. The Story of Painting. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2000, p.216-218.
  3. "The Nurture of Bacchus." Dulwich Picture Gallery. Accessed September 05, 2018. https://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/explore-the-collection/451-500/....
  4. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Dionysus: Greek Mythology." Encyclopaedia Britannica.February 7, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Dionysus.
  5. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. "Maenad: Greek Religion." Encyclopaedia Britannica.August 26, 2010. Accessed August 30, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/topic/maenad.
  6. Gardner, Helen, and Fred S. Kleiner. Gardners Art through the Ages: A Global History. Boston, MA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2009, p.291-293.
  7. Sprinson de Jesús, Mary. “Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pous/hd_pous.htm (October 2003)
  8. Frances Gage, in French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Washington, D.C., (2009: 373-374.)