Lot 158
Spring Auction: European Fine Art 2018

Flemish or German School (late 16th Century)

The Triumph of Bacchus

pen, black ink, blue and grey wash, heightened with white chalk on paper, watermark eagle, shaped, 18x29 cm

-Collection Mr. John Thane (1748-1818), London, L.1544.
-Collection Mr. William Esdaile (1758-1837), London, L.2617.
-Collection Mr. Antonius Wilhelmus Mari Mensing (1866-1936), Amsterdam. His auction, Frederik Muller, Amsterdam, 27-29 April 1937, lot 771.

The lively scene depicted in this drawing is a triumph of Bacchus (Dionysus), the god of wine and fertility. Surprisingly, a mid-16th century Florentine cameo with the same composition is known in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (inv. no. ANSA XII 4) (fig. 1), this could indicate that the drawing is a copy after the gem. However after close inspection it is clear that there are some small differences between the two works of art, for example the putto drinking from the jar on the right, a detail which is not depicted on the cameo. In their catalogue on cameo’s of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (1927, p. 114, no. 192, ill. Tafel 27), Fritz Eichler and Ernst Kris already supposed that the depiction knows it’s archetype in an unknown plaquette of Guglielmo della Porta (ca. 1500-1577). It is possible that both the drawing and cameo would go back to this common source. This theory is strengthened by the appearance of a little satyr drinking from a platter on the ground depicted on a known bacchanal plaquette by Della Porta (fig. 2), a figure which also occurs in this triumphal scene of Bacchus (lower left).

The central focus point is a young naked Bacchus seated in his chariot. He is decorated by a winged woman holding a crown above his head and in his hands Bacchus carries the cornucopia (horn of plenty) a sign of splendour. The frieze-like composition of this bacchanal and its celebratory subject matter must have been inspired by the relief sculpture on antique Roman sarcophagi. The whole drawing testifies to the passion of the artist for classical antiquity and is a great example of Renaissance image culture. Due to the drawing style, the origin of the artwork could be found in northern Europe. This is extremely intriguing especially if the drawing would be made after an Italian plaquette. This indicates how visual culture in the Renaissance was transmitted between Italy and northern Europe.