Divine Wine. A quote that well sums up centuries of history and mythology, embodied in the art and poetry of the many artists who, over time, decided to depict convivial scenes or the gods of wine. Authors of different sensibilities and from various art movements have linked part of their production to that mythological imagery that has permeated the history of entire population: the Wine God.
The most popular: God Bacchus. At the end of the 16th century, Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, painted a Bacchus that is now hung in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Maria Bourbon del Monte, ambassador for the Medici family in Rome and gift for Ferdinando I de ‘Medici, the painting is a mythological take on Horace’s feelings of friendship. The body of this god is well rounded and plump to symbolize wealth and abundance; with his left hand, he offers a cup of his precious nectar to the viewer, while in his right hand he clutches a bow at his navel. This is perhaps to symbolize the intense bond between God and mankind (homo copula mundi – Man is between the earthly and the divine -, according to the neo-Platonic philosophy so important to Cardinal del Monte, patron of Caravaggio).
Let us go a little forward in time, to 1616, the era of Baroque painting when the Flemish Pieter Paul Rubens painted his “Two Satyrs”, displayed in the Alte Pinakothek in Monaco. Minor gods of Greek mythology (in Roman they are known as fauns), the satyrs are represented as companions of Pan and Dionysus, in honour of which the “Bacchanalia” were organised, wild parties in which the thrill and the cult of wine were protagonists. The Satyr of Rubens stares at us wickedly, his scowling gaze emphasizing the excitement, lust and forbidden desires of the protagonist. The second subject, depicted further in the background is still drinking the grape nectar, the cluster of which appears clearly, clutched in the hand of the Satyr in the foreground.
If in a certain way it is the insight into the psyche of the Satyr to best feature in Rubens canvas, the Venetian Titian paints, instead, a “Dionysian” scene with wildly excited people singing and dancing in his ostentatious ” Bacchanal “of 1518, hung in the Prado Museum in Madrid. The painting depicts the celebrations in Dionysus’s honour (or Bacchus) just landed on the island of Andros, in Greece, where he is very much welcomed. There are references to the religious theme of Jesus changing water into wine, as in the Marriage at Cana; however, here we see a river, depicted in the background, flowing and changing into wine. Like in Michelangelo’s Drunkenness of Noah, the theme of nakedness is also addressed in Titian’s masterpiece, with the old man depicted naked, in an embarrassing pose. The moral of the painting is to banish excesses even when you are hungry for pleasure. Best known as a portrait painter, Titian here depicts a group scene, a “bacchanal” at its peak, with naked lustful and luxurious men and women, ready to love each other under the spell of alcohol.