Bacchus by Michelangelo

par Jacques Tcharny

Isn’t Bacchus by Michelangelo a more interesting subject to deal with? Michelangelo Buonarotti, passed into history under the name of Michelangelo (1475-1564), being one of the two most famous artistic geniuses of all time (the other is Leonardo da Vinci), we do not will not present or give any biographical information concerning him.

The Bacchus is a sculpture in white marble, with a height of 203 cm. The work is kept at the Bargello National Museum in Florence.

Created at the age of 22, in 1496/1497, this youth work shows all aspects of the diverse talents of a gifted genius. The statue is a direct size (3 *).

What can be seen in the treatment of the feet: the one on the left, bearing, does not reveal the sole of the foot, otherwise there would have been a risk of the sculpture collapsing.

Olécio partenaire de Wukali

In the same way the right is in contact with the base only by the toes: because of this, the latter are, slightly, more elongated than it is necessary. But Michelangelo’s art is such that the viewer does not realize it. Only professionals: experts, restorers, seasoned collectors or museum curators, see it.

Another detail denouncing the direct size: the place where the animal skin is detached from the leg shows, inside this precise zone, that the artist has partially hollowed out the intermediate space.

The broken penis is missing. The broken right hand and the cup were put back in place, following a very old restoration (before 1530).

On a thick marble base, therefore intended to strengthen an important statue, a naked figure, the Roman god of wine, Bacchus, a crown of vine branches on the skull and forehead, lifts a cup filled with his favorite beverage , appearing to “toast” something or someone. Lost gaze, wagging head, open mouth, forward-facing pelvis, the drunken god seems on the verge of collapse as the pose becomes precarious.

The contrapposto (1 *) is individualized: Bacchus leans on his left leg, while raising the cup with his right hand. His right arm forms an acute angle freeing the elbow. The right leg marks an exaggerated fold, making the balance unstable. Therefore, he needs a marble buttress: here the small fauna located behind Bacchus. This young satyr is all smiles. He greedily swallows a grain of the bunch of grapes in his left hand.

Under the same conditions, Greek sculptors of Antiquity set up a truncated column or, at best, a tree stump. The solution chosen by Michelangelo clearly demonstrates his creative superiority over his colleagues in past times.

A well-arched camber animates the sculpture at the level of the thorax and the belly. It is because its center of gravity is placed very high because Bacchus is tottering: it is shown completely tipsy. What was unheard of at the time: no one had ever dared to show a drunk ancient god. The idealization of the subject was the rule from Greece and Rome. Here again we can measure the enormity of Michelangelo’s creative power. Its superiority is abysmal vis-a-vis the sculptors of Greco-Roman Antiquity.

The most glaring naturalism takes possession of this being with the rolled eyes, with the shaky body appearing on the point of collapsing if it did not have the support of the small fauna. We can see an animal skin in his left hand: it delicately lands on the fauna, uniting and merging into the block of marble constituting the young satyr. It’s amazing, incredible ingenuity: the artist used a single block of marble to create his work.

We will also note the quality of the rendering of the fingers of the hands: fine, slender, long, or even too long in the case of the index because, here too, direct pruning implies the obligation to stabilize the Bacchus.

It is necessary to turn around the statue to grasp it, and appreciate it, the exceptional qualities: freedom of attitude, attractiveness of the polish of the flesh, grace and flexibility of the induced movements, gentle spontaneity of the balances, harmonious fullness of the forms.

Yet some critics have spoken of lasciviousness, limpness, androgyny, Bacchus … Michelangelo was homosexual, it is common knowledge. But to interpret from this angle all unique creations like this, of strength, power, creativity, out of the ordinary, is stupid, absurd and unworthy of a historian who respects himself and respects his readers.

This sculpture is a demonstration, a model of balance and harmony that goes far beyond the classical Greek style. Nothing like this has existed before. No one has ever been able to match it since.

Its naturalism is spiritualized, without the slightest idealization. The energy, discreet but obvious, which emanates from it is one of the particular characteristics of Michelangelo’s work.

The artist trapped the work of his soul: never had drunkenness been represented with such truth. This is THE truth of drunkenness. In this sense we can describe this statue as revolutionary, heralding a new era.

(1 *) the ancient Greek contrapposto is the game of opposition of the limbs: the raised right arm involves the left leg stretched to maintain the balance of the body, while the left arm and the right leg are at rest.
(2 *) Direct cutting consists in directly cutting the stone, here the marble, without going through intermediate steps. Michelangelo worked marble only in direct carving.

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