Young Sick Bacchus
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Young Sick Bacchus is a delightful synthesis of art’s most romantic themes: hangovers, malaria, and ambiguous cases of hepatitis.

Best of all, it’s a self portrait. Who doesn’t see themselves as a sickly Roman god with jaundice?

You may know Bacchus for his jubilant drunk promenades and unhealthy love of “grape juice.” Triumphal Procession of Bacchus and Bacchus and Ariadne spring to mind as classic depictions of the age old merrymaker in all his inebriated, nude glory. But have you seen the jolly god of revelry the morning after?

Caravaggio’s Bacchus looks particularly withered, suggesting that even divine wine guzzlers are susceptible to Sunday morning headaches. His haggard appearance has sent historians in circles struggling to diagnose his ailment. Some point to Caravaggio’s mysterious six month stint in a Roman hospital in 1592, shortly after his move from Milan. Others argue that the bed rest addressed a nasty leg wound from a horse kick. Bacchus’ yellowed skin and eyes suggest jaundice, leading some historians to diagnose poor Caravaggio with a case of malaria or acute infective hepatitis.

No matter his affliction, for years Young Sick Bacchus was one of many masterpieces belonging to Giuseppe Cesari. Unfortunately, the Pope’s spoiled nephew Scipione Borghese coveted Cesari’s extensive collection for himself. Having a Bishop of Rome in the family has its perks, especially when he’s a man of dubious morality. Paul V would go down in history as Galileo’s harshest critic, forbidding the astronomer from expressing his ludicrous suspicions that the sun did not revolve around the Earth. It seems Borghese took advantage of his uncle’s corruption, because Cesari was detained in 1607 for a fabricated offense. The charges? Illegal possession of the “arquebus,” a formidable weapon and the rifle’s medieval great-grandfather. The payment required of Cesari to secure his freedom was his art collection, including Young Sick Bacchus. It’s hard not to notice the recipient of Cesari’s confiscated property: all the loot went straight to Scipione Borghese.



  1. Aronson, Jeffrey K. and Manoj Ramachandran. “The diagnosis of art: Caravaggio’s jaundiced Bacchus.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 100, no. 9 (September 2007): 429-430. 10.1177/014107680710000921.
  2. “Caravaggio: Sick Bacchus.” Boston College. Accessed November 27, 2017.
  3. “Galileo Galilei.” Wikipedia. November 24, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2017.
  4. Graham-Dixon, Andrew. Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane. Penguin UK, 2011. Google Books.
  5. “Self-Portrait as Bacchus (Sick Bacchus).” Galleria Borghese. 2016. Accessed November 27, 2017.
  6. “Young Sick Bacchus.” Wikipedia. November 19, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2017.