Triumphal Procession of Bacchus
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cschuster's picture

Sr. Contributor

They're going streaking! And then getting the drumpfs.

Van Heemskerck whipped up this doodle soon after his return home from a life-changing trip to Rome. The Eternal City was Maerten's happiest place on Earth. When he was back in the Netherlands and needed to advertise his painting services, he cribbed a design from his notebooks and came up with this based off a few sketches he made off Roman sarcophagi. That's right, this is the kind of thing Romans of means wanted their dead bodies associated with when mouth breathers like van Heemskerck came a-gawking centuries later. 

There's a little more to the story than what you see in the painting, but not much. Bacchus is returning home with his buddies after their successful conquest of India. Bacchus, of course, is a huge lush, so he's pissed before they even make it all the way back home to that dome on the hill. Getting a purple nurple on the way, it seems. Everyone's followed Bacchus' lead and gotten super sloppy. One guy's doing a balls out cartwheel. Another's just given up on life and bent over to take a drumpf (drunk poop), which a baby is so kindly holding up a mirror for us to see. 

Time for a weird truth: This painting was supposed to make you think about Jesus Christ. Not in the sense that it's good these pagan idols were overthrown kind of way, but in the sense that Bacchus is analogous to Christ. In ancient Rome, Bacchus was the Christians' safe word for talking about Christ in public. Early Christians needed a stand-in god to talk about in front of crucifixion happy Romans and to coordinate things like mass and marriages and such.

The only Roman approved deity that they could stomach was Bacchus. There's the wine connection, of course, since grape drink was central to Christian services. But then there's the story about Bacchus where he goes to India, as in van Heemskerck's painting, to overthrow a dastardly earthly kingdom. All the pooping and cartwheels and nipple pinching is, therefore, perfectly holy.

mhoutzager's picture


Bacchanalia were drunken orgies organized by the Romans to celebrate the wine god, Dionysus.

When the bacchanalia got out of hand, the buzzkills at the Roman Senate banned them.

Key features of this bacchanal:

1) One of the putti (mischievous little boys) is holding a mirror up to a drunk's rear end.

2) Men and satyrs outnumber a lot.

3) In addition to nudity and drunkeness, there is a lot of music/noise being made.