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Bacchanal

by Justin Tse


artwork - "Bacchanal" by Enea Vico
Enea Vico, "Bacchanal", circa 1540. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This engraving by Enea Vico dated to around 1540 is based on a similar one done by Marcantonio Raimondi several years earlier. It depicts the end of a bacchanal and the aftermath of a rowdy, excessive feast. Bacchanals were celebrations in honor of the Roman god Bacchus, Dionysus to the Greek. Bacchus was the god of wine, intoxication, and hedonistic pleasures. With this in mind, the festivals in honor of Bacchus were extravagant and gluttonous celebrations with plenty of alcohol and revelry. The engraving suggests that bacchanalian festivities can easily turn from celebratory feasts into bitter anti-feasts and fall victim to gluttony and intemperance.


Most bacchanals depict the followers of Bacchus– humans, satyrs, and nature spirits– in the midst of a jubilant feast. This piece, however, chooses to shed light on the consequences of exorbitant overindulgence in feasting. The scene is bounded by two Terminus statues on each side. Terminus was the Roman god of boundaries and their markers. In special cases, statues of Terminus were used to mark borders such as in this engraving where he serves as a border for both the image and the celebration. It serves to separate this image of overindulgence from the happy celebration normally depicted in a bacchanal. There is a noticeable absence of any sort of food or drink in the scene. The woman left of center contemplates an empty bowl while Bacchus limply holds his empty wine vessel. Everything has been consumed in their wanton celebration, and some of those depicted in the scene are feeling the effects of this overconsumption. Satyrs are depicted unconscious or leaning on statues for support, and Bacchus himself is being supported by two disciples. Rather than being able to enjoy the contentedness of eating and drinking, these revelers are experiencing the consequences of exorbitant feasting.


This image is very similar to a scene from the film Chocolat, where a woman arrives in a small town and begins selling chocolate desserts that conflict the religious fasting of lent. While most of the townspeople partake of moderate amounts of the chocolates, the mayor, in a fit of wanton gluttony, consumes an entire storefront display of chocolate. He is found the next morning after having passed out due to his over-consumption. This duality of the townspeople and the mayor reflects the duality of the bacchanal. Most depictions show a joyous celebration where participants are able to enjoy the feast, whereas in this piece, the participants have turned to gluttony and over-consumption.


 

Works Cited:

“Bacchanal.” Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art


“Collection Online Print.” The British Museum, Trustees of the British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1873-0809-935


 

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