Michelangelo’s Statue of a Drunk

Bacchus is Michelangelo´s first important statue and one of the few he ever finished; and many of the people who love his work are sorry he did it.

Bacchus (1497) by Michelangelo (203 cm), in the Bargello Museum, Florence, Italy; a Wikimedia Commons photo published here

The empty, foolish look in the young Bacchus´s face, the way the head sits on the thick neck—as if it were stuck on wrong after having fallen off; the stiffness of the leg that carries the weight; the strange mixture (“A blend of sexes”, says Vasari) of brawn and flab—you would have thought Michelangelo was incapable of making such errors, such aesthetic errors. How could the man with the soundest artistic judgment of all times have let those pass? Sublime figures he left unfinished; this one he finished all too carefully and polished into silliness.

It´s just this figure, along with a few of the painted demons and damned on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, that turn a critic like John Ruskin away from Michelangelo. “What is the most important thing in a figure?” he says. “The face. We can´t relate to the rest of the body as we can the face. That´s the window to the spirit inside and it gives the whole character to the work. Michelangelo´s faces—look at them—are all coarse, unintelligent. They are the face of vice, even of crime.”
Even Michelangelo´s other biographer, Condivi, admits that “the eyes are dim and lewd”.
Stendhal thought the face was “coarse and without charm.”
Shelley, the English poet, wrote: “The countenance of this figure is the most revolting mistake of the spirit and meaning of Bacchus. It looks drunken, brutal, and narrow-minded, and has an expression of dissoluteness the most revolting.”

What went wrong? Perhaps Michelangelo made the mistake that nearly all artists make until they learn their lesson: to listen too closely to the customer instead of to themselves alone. Jacobo Galli wanted the figure for his garden. He no doubt wanted to evoke good old Roman decadence. The idea may have been his—he may have encouraged Michelangelo to do the foolish thing: to make a drunken statue of the god of wine—to make him look dizzy and off-balance. Michelangelo had been looking frantically for ways to put life into his figures and he may have let himself be convinced that Galli´s idea would work. The “blend of sexes” had often been done before—Bacchus is often represented as chubby and lewd. But a figure that looks tipsy?—that would be curious, funny.

The work looks very much like Roman statuary from the worst period. Up to then, everything the young Michelangelo had done (now he was twenty-two) was a take-off on, or a frank imitation of, Roman art. Cupids were obviously in fashion and he did Cupids. “You who did the Cupid so well, could you do me a Bacchus?” Galli asked him. “Look at the Bacchus on this old sarcophagus—that will give you an idea.”
And while Michelangelo was working on the clay model Galli marvelled at it left and right but said: “Why don´t you make him drunk? He´s the god of wine, isn´t he? Did you ever see a statue of a drunk? I think that would be marvellous. But you´re the artist—I don´t understand these things. I suppose that couldn´t be done.”
And did Michelangelo say: “ You better believe it can be done. I´ll make him stagger. I´ll make him stinking drunk, spilling his wine and ready to heave”?


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44 Responses to Michelangelo’s Statue of a Drunk

  1. wrjones
    wrjones says:

    Why do we insist our heros do no wrong? And for our artist heros we expect they started out creating perfect pieces from childhood. There can be no learning period or none of those just plain mistakes along the way.

    Sports nuts are the same. They want Tiger to win everytime until he dies. If he 3 putts there is something not right in the universe.

  2. 100swallows says:

    Right,Bill. It is anyway unbelievable that anyone aged 23 could come up with the Pietá. He couldn’t have been carving more than about five years, and he lost some of that time as an exile in Bologna. Bernini began even earlier, though he had a father who taught him from childhood. There’s a very good St. Sebastian he did when he was seventeen.

  3. Frank Lin
    Frank Lin says:

    This could be a poor effort, but my inclination would be he was just doing the best he could with bad instructions. As a graphic designer I’ve been in many situations where the client (the person who is paying me) wants things done in a way which isn’t groundbreaking, even ass-backwards, but being fixed on this path, my only resolve was to do it the best way possible in this direction…

  4. 100swallows says:

    Hi Frank. Yes, remember that the market demand in those days wasn’t so much for original work as for things that looked old Roman, like they had been dug up. Michelangelo had just gotten into trouble for sculpting a Cupid, aging it, and then trying to palm it off as an antique work. Of course he had to make a living somehow. Vasari said he was great at imitating styles–even of children’s drawings. This Bacchus does look like a strange antique and his banker client was delighted with it.

  5. iondanu – I am a visual artist of Romanian origin (a draughtsman, painter, photographer and digital artist) living now in Canada.
    iondanu says:

    I thought this was one of his first works, that he was just trying his hand…I agree with Bill, all artist have bad days and I know some Van Gogh – and some Van Gogh which could be falses – pretty horrible…

    As for aging the statues I remember (well I hope) a scene in Zola’s novel “L’Oeuvre” (yes, the one which put and end to the friendship with Cezanne) where claude lantois (?)the main character visits a sculptor friend who was “aging” some works of his pissing on them… It seems it gives a nice patina…

  6. 100swallows says:

    No, Danu, this was not his first try at all. He had done a few statues like those two small saints in Bologna–and an angel holding a candelstick which his admirers would gladly attribute to just anyone else if they could. Also that Cupid which he sold as an antique.

    Sculptors work for months on a statue, so a “bad day” can’t really be used as an excuse for a lousy statue. Of course they might make a sketch in a single day but they would correct it or throw it out later after consideration.
    Artists have always come up with all kinds of uses for urine. I’ve seen a lot of marble peed on but I never thought whether it looked old as a result. Of course the acid in urine would make a patina on bronze.

  7. erikatakacs – Canada – I am a figurative sculptor working in paper pulp.
    erikatakacs says:

    I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as the beginnings of a great talent, almost ready to bloom. Just look at the hands, the grace of the fingers, beautiful toes. What’s missing is the agressive, exagerrated proportions. And in this Bacchus I see that yes, he could do women if he wanted to. The face is quite feminine as it should be in a young Bacchus. If he’s tipsy, it goes with the theme. Nice to see the evolving of an extraordinary talent. The sculpture has a presence.

  8. rich says:

    In your Laocoön elucidation you had given us some answers as why this figure didn’t “open his mouth for the biggest, loudest shout” any sculpture had ever uttered.
    That time already “Der Schrei” came to my mind, “The Scream” – that famous painting by Edvard Munch – as an opposite example.

    This time, again I remembered that painting, feeling tempted to dub this Bacchus “Der Rülpser”… “The Belch”.

  9. 100swallows says:

    Erika: It’s true that most of the quotes were by nineteenth-century writers with moral objections to the look of the Bacchus. Nobody today would even use the word “lewd”–it sounds almost funny. My idea was to make people look at these statues and jolt them from their piety with some reasonable negative judgments. But it’s easy to find beautiful details everywhere. In fact, I had to look hard to find a photo that brought out the bad in the statue (to show its awkward stance).

    However: I do think the Bacchus is clumsy as a design and the idea of bringing the two sexes together didn’t come off, at least the result is not beautiful. You say it shows that Michelangelo could have made a beautiful woman. I don’t see that. The more I look at Bacchus the less female I see. Do you mean the high waist and the overhanging pectoral muscles? Maybe the softness of the flesh instead of muscles. We know Michelangelo could make a beautiful woman’s face.

    And as to the real spirit of Bacchus or Dionysius that Shelley talks about, I’m not sure anyone knows what that is or was by Roman times, let alone Renaissance times. To a cinquecento banker like Galli I guess Bacchus was just a drinking Master of Ceremonies or a voluptuous plaything.

  10. 100swallows says:

    rich: That’s a good title, all right–The Belch. Now you can start a philosophical argument about why the artist didn’t actually make him wretch a little. He could have puckered his mouth and had him stretch his throat to release the gas. “Aesthetic reasons,” old Galli would have explained. In fact, the whole face is unexpressive, which might have been one of its merits for Winckelman and his Greeks but seems a flaw if the figure is to be good illustration. Imagine how Bernini would have made it. Of course Michelangelo was trying, in spite of his instructions from Galli, to be supremely beautiful, so he makes a bland, harmonious girl’s face. I still hate the way the head sits on the neck.

  11. rich says:

    I’m with you 100swallows”! I’d rather put a “Gartenzwerg” in my garden than this statue. The way the head sits on the neck…. and anyhow, I find Shelley’s right.

  12. Pingback: Sculpted Eyes « The Best Artists

  13. Naz says:

    You’re all a bunch of idiots. Michelangelo’s Bacchus was revolutionary in that it was a portrayal of a god in an ungodly manner. He was purposefully being controversial by making all the slight altercations with the tipsy stance and the tilted head. By no means was it a mistake or him being influenced by his commissioner. First Galli wasn’t even the one who commissioned, he ended up with it because it was rejected by Cardinal Raffaele Riario. Second Michelangelo was very arrogant and stubborn and would never have someone make him do anything, and third, he was a genius who thought out his works carefully and was deliberate. Personally I found the statue to be an amazing sight when I saw it in person, there is no other statue like it, quite original.

  14. 100swallows says:

    Naz: Thanks for your time and for trying to educate fools. Portraying a god, especially Bacchus, in an ungodly way was common in classical times. Did you ever see even Zeus himself looking fat and with his organ wagging on a Greek urn or two? Michelangelo could easily have seen examples–perhaps whoever commissioned the work even showed him one.
    His tipsy stance and tilted head may have been clever and well thought-out but they have repelled or disappointed some people for centuries.
    I suppose you know that Michelangelo’s intentions are anyone’s guess–there is nothing on record but Vasari’s and Condivi’s writing.
    According to Hellmut Wohl, you are right: the Bacchus was commissioned not by Galli but by Cardinal Riario. But he doesn’t give a source and Condivi says it was for Galli. All along I have stuck to the two biographies read by Michelangelo himself unless I saw clear proof that they were wrong.

    Yes, he was stubborn and arrogant. But how old was he when he carved the Bacchus–21? At that age no one is entirely above influence–just the opposite. And even an artist as independent as Michelangelo had to listen to his patron.

    My little skit was meant to disturb people who have never considered him as any but a “genius”–i.e. some unintelligible or fairy-tale creature. Sure, it was cartoonish.
    After reminding you of all this, I would finally say that you are probably right, that the Bacchus was Michelangelo’s own brainchild–his responsibility. My speculations might also have been an attempt to relieve him of some of that, given the aesthetic “failure” of the statue. I wonder which of us admires him more?

  15. beti says:

    Look at the Greek statues please. Most of them have dumb faces. (either dull or childish)
    The reason might be the models were too tired of standing. But I don’t think that the sculptors were copying exactly the living models. They were making dull faces more probably because a clever face would make the spectator feel a bit disturbed when he looks at the marvelous body and get a pleasure from an object.
    Feel judged, inferior, powerless, dull? may be all these are to make the spectator feel better and not inferior, powerless etc before the beautiful object.

  16. 100swallows says:

    beti: I’m sure you are right: the Greek statue faces weren’t portraits and the reason they look stony isn’t that the models were tired! But I can’t go along with your idea that the sculptor made them “dull” out of courtesy to the viewer–so he wouldn’t feel inferior. I think you were on the right track with what you said above. The body was a beautiful object and any show of internal life might “disturb” the viewer’s perception.

  17. Showing extremes of emotion was not common in Greek statuary until Hellenistic times. Prior to that, beti, you are right that they appear to be “dumb”. Detached or aloof might be a better words. Most, but not all, were certainly not portraits, but idealized representations, meant to portray perfect examples of god-like humanity.

    Michelangelo’s Bacchus is not idealized, but I cannot believe that this depiction is a mistake on the artist’s part. It’s probably more in keeping with other images I’ve seen of the drunken satyr theme. We know that he had a keen interest in ancient statuary which probably littered Rome at the time. He might have seen some of this. I have no reason to believe that Michelangelo ever saw the Barberini Faun, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barberini_Faun, but the look of overindulged abandonment is typical for this type of, dare I say, garden art. That was discovered in the 1620s if wikipedia is accurate. As viewers today, we can’t look at ancient art with our own modern sense of morality. While the Faun appears to be decadent, as does Bacchus, for the ancients, he was communing with his god, the god of wine. They would have seen it as a spiritual, religious experience. Similar to Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa as she swoons in the holy presence.

  18. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Brenda, for this link to the Barberini Faun. I had forgotten about that figure. That’s a novel comparison between his high and St. Theresa’s ecstasy in the Bernini figure. It doesn’t seem quite right but I need some time to put my finger on the difference.

  19. Der Gothmann says:

    Knowing what I know about Michelangelo, it is altogether possible that he may have simply tried to please both the customer and his own spirit as a bit of a troublemaker.
    In fact, if one studies the history of Bacchus, he is a near direct theft from the Greeks and the Greek god Dionysus, who was not at all pleasant half of the time and caused the mother of the king of Thebes to tear apart her own son in madness – thinking that he was a lion.
    Bacchus was, (as Dionysus was,) the god of wine, carnal and innocent pleasure and whims of fancy. This was not excluding the sudden whim of a bout of violence.
    So it is not unreasonable that Michelangelo’s Bacchus was a rather accurate representation of a lewd, bloated and drink filled youth who felt the need to wallop someone for the sheer merry hell of it.
    After all, the Classical gods were far more like rowdy children and adolescents in their nature than wise omnipotent beings, so Michelangelo’s Bacchus is (to me certainly) a rather good sculpture of a god who represents exactly what he looks like, (or vice verce!)
    The stance, femininity and awkward position of limbs and head are a very nearly perfect image of a foolish boy who is to bladdered to control himself.
    I think Michelangelo saw it as a good oppertunity to put a contoversial and character-fuled twist on a recognized classical figure – not only for the customer’s pleasure, but his own Dionysian whims of fancy.

    Anyway, that’s my opinion…

    • 100swallows says:

      Thanks, Gothmann, I agree about Michelangelo’s accurate and troublemaking portrayal of Bacchus. Stendhal and Ruskin, who knew he was lewd and silly and flabby, objected to the artist’s emphasizing just those characteristics. But we all know he was a dissolute No Good. What was Shelley thinking of, I wonder. Anyway, it seems to me that the more obvious objection to the figure is an aesthetic one: it is ugly–a terrible thing for a great artist’s figure to be.

  20. Matuga says:

    Why are so many people shocked and outraged by anything they deem to be ugly? Everyone knows how truly “ugly” a dissolute drunk can be. It took much courage for Michelangelo to portray Bacchus the way he did. The problems in the world today cannot be explained in pretty pictures and sculptures depicting innocence but who is going to want to PURCHASE art showing villages being bombed or famine or drought? After the drought has passed and the earth has repaired itself and lusciousness abounds once again, then, people will hang reminders of a past terror. Michelangelo portrayed Bacchus exactly the way he should have portrayed him. Those who criticize that statue speak loudly about themselves and their attitude toward drinking to excess.

    • moodytoo says:

      Botticelli’s drawing of Satan or Chagall’s painting of The Flaming Angel both represent depravity but are things of beauty. If something can be beautiful but evil, it can also –like that statue of a drunk — be ugly and evil at the same time, see?.

    • 100swallows says:

      Matuga: Thanks. You seem to believe that art should reflect or have as its subject “the problems of the world”. No wonder then that you disagree with art as fantasy or flight.
      Beauty to the Greeks was an idealization, a perfection of the objects they “imitated”. Ugliness was imperfection. One didn’t have to be a “Romantic” to find Michelangelo’s Bacchus ugly in that sense, even without the moral connotations (or even moral purpose) that Victorians gave aesthetics.

      Remember how the German philosophers like Lessing thought that serenity was key to Greek beauty and tried to find out why Laocoon didn’t shout. The “truth” that Laocoön would have shouted is subjugated to the “truth” of “beauty”.

      Renaissance artists including Michelangelo subscribed to this Greek view of art as perfection. Nature provided the raw material (the raw “truth”) and the artist created beauty by selecting it and shaping it according to the concept of perfection in his mind.

      As world cultures mix, the Greek aesthetic which dominated Western art for so long is now seen as just one more.
      The social criticism (or other critical responsibility) that you seem to want to give aesthetics is something fairly new. I think of Goya.

      It’s true that those people I quoted on the Bacchus are all from the same period. But they were about the last to be critical of Michelangelo and, since they are very respected writers in English and French literature, I thought reading them would jolt people into taking another look at his work.

  21. Matuga says:

    Stendhal, Ruskin and Shelly were romantics. Enough said. The modern era, for all its seeming sophistication, is still being seduced by the Romantic period through advertising and therefore still craves beauty over truth in art.

    • Rich says:

      “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, –
      that is all Ye know on earth
      and all Ye need to know.”

      Jonny Keates

      • 100swallows says:

        Rich, I too have carried around that Keats quote since school days. He is one of the great English poets, after all. I kept making his equation and wondering in what way it could be true.
        I just went to reread the poem and still found those end lines puzzling and inappropriate. Right when Keats should have given a clinching bottom line of clarity he sticks in this high-sounding scramble of abstracts which looks like the crowning cherry of some other poem mistakenly applied.
        Now I see at Wiki that T.S. Eliot wondered too:
        “… on re-reading the whole Ode, this line strikes me as a serious blemish on a beautiful poem, and the reason must be either that I fail to understand it, or that it is a statement which is untrue. And I suppose that Keats meant something by it, however remote his truth and his beauty may have been from these words in ordinary use. And I am sure that he would have repudiated any explanation of the line which called it a pseudo-statement … The statement of Keats seems to me meaningless: or perhaps the fact that it is grammatically meaningless conceals another meaning from me.”
        T. S. Eliot, in his 1929 “Dante”.

  22. anagasto – madrid, spain
    cantueso says:

    But that is not true. I would not want to give examples.
    The best is to assume there is no formula relating truth and beauty.
    Nietzsche thought they were enemies. He came close to saying that beauty was a lie. IMHO that is nonsense
    Machado thought that the Angel of Oblivion made beauty possible. That is very well figured out.

    • 100swallows says:

      Cantueso: If Kant thought art is kept around by hypocrisy then it’s no wonder Nietzsche would then come along and say it is a lie. That’s very good about Machado’s Angel of Oblivion that makes beauty possible. We need that Angel for more things too.

      • anagasto – madrid, spain
        cantueso says:

        I have a bad connection and so can’t right now go and find out what Kant said. However, I think it was not art, but civilization that (he said) needs hypocrisy to survive with the help of many people’s lipservice.

        The principle would probably also work for art, at least in the short run. A fake admiration e.g. for Michelangelo keeps Michelangelo in place just like real admiration.

        • I see! That would explain how the art galleries plan their sales. I often thought it must be really difficult to sell a dead fish in a tank for good money or relatively good money, depending on the size of the fish.

          • audi76 says:

            No, it isn’t so difficult, but often expensive, because, if you set up your fish for let’s say 100000000,- and nobody buys it, you’ll have to send your cousin or somebody to buy it “for an anonymous investor”, because otherwise you risk getting downgraded. And you have to advertise.

  23. Ken Januski says:

    Keats was right. Thanks Rich for reminding us.

    I don’t say this as some a priori dictum but more as my conclusion after years of experience. The mistake I think is in thinking that something that is ugly is true. That is true romanticism I think and has been with us for over 100 years. Picasso complained of the ‘cult of ugliness.’

    In the end I think anything that is painted, sculpted, drawn by an artist that is honestly felt and convincingly created ends up seeming both true and beautiful. I realize ‘convincingly portrayed’ is exceedingly vague. What I mean is that the audience feels that it shares the artists vision. So the artist has convincingly expressed himself. Obviously that can be in many, many forms and it’s what allows for continued change in art. Not necessarily progress, which is another romantic notion I think, but change. Often an artist needs to change the form of his work in order to be true to his vision and feelings. The end result I think is both truth and beauty.

    • Rich says:

      I agree, Ken. Nice remark you made about “true romanticism of the ugly”, kind of an inverted kind of romanticism that has beset our days.

      “To philosophise I dare not yet” seems to be another line by Keats.
      “Truth is not merely a dry statement of facts or ideas to or by the intellect; it can be a splendid discovery, a rapturous revelation, a thing of beauty that is a joy for ever.”
      I read that somewhere.

      By the way, as devastating as it may be, isn’t a vulcano is a thing of beauty, for instance?I’ve seen some recent pictures of the Icelandic vulcano. From an artist point of view, even a Tsunami is a beautiful thing. Perhaps it is this what Matuga means when speaking about “truth in art”.

      • Ken Januski says:

        I’ve never seen a volcano nor a tsunami but I have been impressed with the power of nature as seen in geology for at least 10 years now. If anything can make a human feel small it is geology. At the same time there is something liberating in that, like seeing your true place in the universe. I’ve never spent much time on aesthetics, especially over the last 25 years, but my guess is that some of the artists and poets who were struck by the ‘awfulness’ of nature were looking at some of the grander examples of geology.

        I’m waiting for Swallows to say something here. I vaguely recollect, perhaps incorrectly, him not
        being completely enthralled by the awful in nature.

        Hans I’m afraid I just don’t know enough about poetry, a great failing of mine, to say much about Keats or Eliot.

    • 100swallows says:

      Ken: Here I am–“servidor” [your servant], as they used to say in Spanish. You would ask before joining a line who was last and the person, instead of saying “me!” would humbly say “un servidor de Vd.” “I’m looking for Mr. Sanchez,” you’d say and he’d answer “Servidor“.

      That’s good about the mistake of calling ugly true. But I can’t agree with Keats—or at least I don’t understand what he means (see my comments to Rich and Hansjörg). I see problems not only with “convincingly created” but with “honestly felt”.
      Of course you are right that much depends on whether the viewers share the artist’s vision.

      I agree that in great art truth and beauty seem to go together but that may be the result of the artist’s skill at trickery. Remember Degas’ saying art was a trick (deception): create according to your fancy, then clothe the thing in as much truth as you can.
      Of course one could say that though the artist ignores the initial “truth” (hard facts) of nature, he creates a “higher truth” (the truth caught and preserved forever in the amber of beauty) with his work. An example: fables, though essentially untrue because animals don’t speak like humans, do offer a great moral truth. But I hate Keats’ mix of truth and beauty: one of them alone is hard enough.

      Aesthetics was an old and respected branch of philosophy but philosophers (of the few that remain) have neglected or ignored it for more than a hundred years. I don’t think they’ve taken up truth after Kant either. So you aren’t the only one who has stopped working on it.

      As for the awfulness of nature, that’s another kind of beauty. I thought we were talking about artistic beauty, which is man-made. I wrote something here: http://100swallows.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/beauty-makes-you-a-slave/

      Right now Kant’s “horror” in nature comes to mind as an element of beauty. And Leonardo’s almost frighteningly high and leaning mountains, even in the Mona Lisa, and his drawings of storms and floods. And some impressive views of great chasms and storms by American artists. These are all a late, a Romantic, idea of art as strong emotion—very different from the serenity of the classical ideal.

  24. hansjörg34 says:

    ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know

    Personally I think the Ode on a Grecian Urn is very beautiful, but Wikipedia quotes T.S. Eliot as saying “this line strikes me as a serious blemish on a beautiful poem”, and that made me doubt or at least withhold my own judgment.
    A blemish? I am not an Eliot fan, nor am I acquainted with some of his later works, but his remark strikes me as unnecessarily blunt. I saw him as of a more gentle nature.

    • 100swallows says:

      Hansjörg: Thanks. You beat me to the draw. I had seen those same lines of Eliot’s at Wiki and written my answer to Rich, above. I agree, it was surprising to see Eliot say those things, though I didn’t hear him as too blunt or rude. What do you think Keats means by those last lines? That beauty is more enduring than truth or is a permanent truth (a joy forever)? But in the poem he had been saying that the urn’s pictures were wonderful because they showed only the hope side of life (half the truth!), the upside, the part before fulfillment, before death. I keep thinking of Frost’s definition of poetry (the same, he says, as for love): “it begins in delight and ends in wisdom”. If truth is that “wisdom” at the end of experience, then Keats’ beauty is not equivalent to (full) truth but only to promise or hope.

  25. Jeff says:

    You guys have to be kidding me.. It was his first attempt to do anything that was not secular. Just a couple things this article is wrong about- The Patron hated the statue but Michelangelo loved it, This statue uses stylistic choices that were are reminiscent of ancient Rome during Augustus.. If you would like to read a real article on this work look up Ralph Lieberman- Regarding Michelangelo’s Bacchus

    • 100swallows says:

      Jeff: Thanks. I found Lieberman’s article very interesting and so am putting in this link:

      I don’t inderstand your “it was his first attempt to do anything that was not secular.” Not secular—the Bacchus? Do you mean because Bacchus was a god? But surely in the Christian world of the time a pagan figure has to be considered “secular”. In any case Michelangelo had already sculpted the Cupid, another god—the figure Baldassare del Milanese fooled the Cardinal with.

      It was the Cardinal who ordered the statue but Galli who ended up with it. I guess you are speaking of the Cardinal when you say “the patron”. Galli seems to have kept it in his garden for years and to have convinced Michelangelo that he appreciated it. Lieberman assumes that if the Cardinal (and Keats and Ruskin and Stendhal and many others) had noticed or understood how revolutionary the figure was, they would have loved it. But I for one, even having seen Lieberman’s fine photos and having been shown the figure from unknown sides, wouldn’t want it in my garden. There are really fine and surprising details and the carving is almost miraculous. But I can’t love it merely because it was experimental and novel for the time. It lacks depth. It’s more like something Bernini would do.

      “Stylistic choices reminiscent of ancient Rome during Augustus.” Is that the error or the truth? I said the figure was reminiscent of Roman sculpture from the worst period and so it struck me. (I wouldn’t call Augustus’ time the worst!) Lieberman says there are no surviving statues of Bacchusses looking or acting drunk—only reliefs. I never doubted that Michelangelo was capable of something new. I have changed my mind about him after reading all his letters. Seeing how original and independent he was already as a young man, I would no longer maintain that a tipsy statue was his patron’s idea rather than his own.

  26. Patrick Kern says:

    I find it very peculiar, the mass negative reviews and criticisms of this work by Michelangelo. To me, the critics seem to resemble the character of Pentheus from Euripides classic play, “The Bacchae.” Pentheus viewed Dionysus, or Bacchus, much like all of the critics seem to view this statue…as evil, brutal and a threat to society. Thus leading to the persecution of Dionysus, much like the persecution of this work my Michelangelo. Although I have never seen the statue in person, I find it a striking vision of the God. To me, it is more of a Dionysan image than of Bacchus. It is more Greek than Roman…maybe that is why so many did not take to it. The critics really show a deep lack on understanding for the character and myth of Dionysus, which often leads to tragedy…according to the Myths of course:) The face is what I find the most spectacular, as it is the face of an actor. It seems the face could transform into anyone, or anything, as the God was patron of the theater, and was said to have done many times…another fact the critics sorely missed. It really is amazing how much this statue is hated!! I absolutely love it!!!

  27. lauren says:

    pretty clear that almost everyone here gets off on criticizing their superiors. ever read “the bacchae”?

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