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Caravaggio, Bacchus (1597)

Uffizi Gallery, Florence


Author: Michelangelo Merisi called Caravaggio
Title: Bacchus
Date: 1597
Technique: oil on canvas
Dimension: 101 x 89 cm
Location: Florence, Uffizi Gallery

Bacchus was painted by Caravaggio around 1597 commissioned by Cardinal del Monte. The modern story of this painting are incredible: ranked among the works of less value, the canvas was abandoned for years inside the warehouses of the Uffizi Gallery, and was brought to light only in 1913, when Matteo Marangoni noticed its extraordinary quality and considered it a copy of an original Caravaggio work. Already in 1916, however, following the intuition of Roberto Longhi, scholars recognized the hand of Caravaggio observing unique features of Bacchus.
The tracts of the young pagan deity closely resemble those of the “The Lute Player” and “The Fortune Teller”. The full-face Bacchus shows pink cheeks and deep brown eyes.
The vine leaves with their autumnal hues, decoration for the hair, have a close relationship with the leaves of the “Basket of Fruit”, also quoted in the fruit variety of  still life placed in the foreground.
According to  Giovanni Baglione, one of the earliest biographers of the master, this work was painted by Caravaggio looking himself in a mirror: that's why Bacchus holds the cup in his left hand. The pose, the feature of a face , dirty fingernails: details best suited to “dull and sleepy boy of Roman tavern” (Longhi) than to a deity.

Photo Shoot

Image Size: 3.426.237.936 pixel (54.876 x 62.436)
Colour Depth: 16 bit for Channel
Shooting: February 2010
Shots: 198

Camera Body: Nikon D3X
Pictures Acquisition Software: Nikon Camera Control Pro 2
Quality Control and Postprocessing Software: Nikon Capture NX 2

Image used with permission from Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities with thanks to the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico, 
the State Museums of Florence and the management and staff of the Uffizi Gallery.

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Michelangelo Merisi calling Caravaggio (Milan 1571 - Grosseto 1610)

He was born in Milan 29 September 1571. He starts his career as apprenticed of Simone Peterzano, Lombard painter who gives Caravaggio his first art education. The Lombard painting, characterized by a focus on reality and a study of light, that sinks its roots into leonardesque heritage, exert a great influence on Caravaggio who, in these first years of training, comes into contact with Venetian painting too.
Was in Rome however, that Caravaggio assert himself as the great painter. In the workshop of the Cavalier d'Arpino, the most successful artists in Rome, Caravaggio particularly painted "flowers and fruits", typical subject of Lombard painting on which, thanks to years of training in Milan, now he has some experience. “Young Sick Bacchus” and “Boy with a Basket of Fruit” are works of this period that shows the great attention to detail with a naturalistic study of the relationship of light and shadows.
The meeting with Cardinal del Monte (occurred around 1595) gives a change in career and style of Caravaggio. These were the years of some great masterpieces: “The Lute Player”, “The Cardsharps”, “Penitent Magdalene”, “Basket of Fruit”, “Rest on the Flight into Egypt”, to mention only the most famous. In 1599 Caravaggio gets the commission for the decoration of the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of St. Louis of France. The “Calling of Saint Matthew”, “San Matthew and the Angel “and “Martyrdom of Saint Matthew”, achieve considerable success and increase the fame and commissions of the master. Between 1600 and 1606 Caravaggio is the most favorite painter in Rome. Although he continues to attend squares, taverns and to be involved in brawls and drunkenness. On May 1606, during celebrations for the anniversary of Paul V election, he kills Ranuccio from Terni, a member of an influential Roman family. So he begins a long exile, to escape justice, and he is forced to leave Rome to Naples first and then Malta (1608).
He paints here a huge canvas “Beheading of Saint John the Baptist”, for the new oratory of Knights of St. John of Jerusalem Order, that inducted him as a member. But new turbulent events force him to flee the island. He escapes to Syracuse, Messina, Palermo and then Naples, under the protection of the Colonna family. Is 1610 and after few months, during which he painted the “The Denial of Saint Peter” and two “John the Baptist”, Caravaggio goes to Rome, hoping for the grace by Paul V.
In July of that year Caravaggio arrives to Porto Ercole in Tuscany where, for a sudden fever attack, dies at the age of thirty-nine.