Allegory with Bacchus

Bastianino (Sebastiano Filippi)

Ferrara, c.1532 – 1602

Oil on canvas, 132.5 x 97cm

Inv. PROPRIETÀ DELLA FONDAZIONE CARIFE, IN DEPOSITO PRESSO LA PINACOTECA (OWNED BY THE FONDAZIONE CARIFE BUT HELD IN CUSTODY BY THE PINACOTECA)

The Pinacoteca Nazionale, Ferrara

The main figure, crowned with flowers and wheat whilst bringing a crystal vase full to the brim with wine to his enormous mouth, combines the iconography of the pleasure-seeking Bacchus with allegorical representations of Joy, who compels man and even beast to join in the merriment. Both the enchained monkey and the black servant with the spindle in her turban are symbols of lust that are often associated with Dionysus. The chattering magpie was also associated with the cult of Bacchus as it was sacrificed to the God as a reminder of how wine loosens the tongue. The symbolic meaning of the two children, however, remains obscure. This amply sized canvas is the only known profane easel painting by Bastianino and may have been commissioned by the Este family. It joins the ranks of paintings such as The Baffoon at the Galleria di Modena, one of the works through which Dosso Dossi introduced a comical strain into court painting. The cloudy, almost rough application of paint that characterised Bastianino’s mature work also deliberately recalls the broad forms and blurred edges of Dosso’s paintings.