Caravaggio:
Sick Bacchus


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  • Oil on Canvas: 1593
  • 67 x 53 cm
  • Galleria Borghese, Rome

Among Caravaggio's early works, this painting belongs to the small group which has always been seen as self-portraits. The livid colors of the subject's face, his teasing smile and the mock seriousness of his mythological dignity all reinforce the attempt to undermine the lofty pretensions of Renaissance artistic traditions..

Caravaggio here makes no attempt to paint the god Bacchus, but just a sickly young man who may be suffering from the after-effects of a hangover &emdash;appropriate for the god of wine. There is no mistaking the artist's delight in the depiction of the fine peaches and black grapes on the slab, the white grapes in his hand and the vine leaves that crown his hair, but the artist is not content merely to demonstrate his superb technique: he wishes to play an intimate role and only the slab separates him from the viewer.

His appearance is striking rather than handsome: he shows both that his face is unhealthy and that his right shoulder is not that of a bronzed Adonis, as convention required, but pale as in the case of any man who normally wears clothes.

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