and a companion satyr eating a bunch of grapes. Now in the Bargello Museum in Florence, the statue group was originally made for the light-filled courtyard of Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome, the whole building originally owned by Cardinal Raffaele Riario (see a previous blog on the architecture of the courtyard):
As far as we know, Michelangelo's Bacchus was never placed in this courtyard, however, but remained in another Roman's antiquities garden, that of Jacopo Galli, who lived in a Palazzo nearby. Jacopo Galli's large palace no longer exists in Rome; it was torn down to make way for Via Vittorio Emmanuele in 1886. But we have Giuseppe Vasi's print of its location in Rome, carried out in 1774, that gives us a sense of how close Galli's palace was to that of Palazzo della Cancelleria:
1 is Palazzo della Cancelleria
2 is Palazzetto dei Galli, Jacopo Galli's house
In the second view from above, 5 is the beginning of Palazzo della Cancelleria and 4 the Jacopo Galli
house. The number 1 situates the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, which was part of the structure of the Palazzo, while 647 marks the light-filled courtyard.
In this photo below the name of Cardinal Riario is engraved into the travertine covering of his palazzo:
The Latin letters read: RAPHAEL RIARIUS SAVONENSIS (Raffaele Riario from Savona). His coat-of-arms is still on the building below the name, and you can see the five-petalled rose that was
the symbol of the Riario family as well as the cardinal hat and cross.
According to new research by Michael Hirst into Riario's accounts (he followed the money,) Michelangelo was paid for the statue of Bacchus entirely by Cardinal Raffaele Riario, who was one of the richest men in Rome.
Two portraits we know of Riario are:
Melozzo da Forli's of 1477, age 16 and Raphael's of 1512-14, age 54-6
Instead of living and working in the Cardinal's palace while he sculpted the statue, Michelangelo lodged and worked in the Palazzetto dei Galli, guest of Jacopo Galli.
The statue of Bacchus was in Jacopo Galli's garden until 1572 when it was purchased by a Florentine member of the Medici family and brought to Florence, which explains why it is now in the Bargello, the repository of so many Medici artifacts. It is an historical mystery why the statue was made in Jacopo Galli's house but paid for by his neighbor in Rome. Before we explore the reasons, let us examine the work.
The figure of Bacchus is life-size, but because he stands on a pedestal, he seems taller and imposing.
He holds in his right hand, lifted up as if toasting to something, a large decorated drinking cup.
He wears grape leaves, ivy leaves, and grapes in his hair, almost AS hair, and was one of
the models for Caravaggio's Bacchus a century later:
If Michelangelo had been asked to carve a study in inebriation in human form, he could not have rendered it more carefully or fully. The stance of Bacchus is unsteady, his weight is on one foot and his body is swaying as if he is trying to catch and recover his composure.
and his eyes look as if they are trying to focus on the cup and not succeeding,
certainly a state of mind familiar to all the undergraduates who have stood in front of him over the years. He is also the age of undergraduates, in his late teens, 18, Condivi says. His eyes gazing different directions, his unsteady gait, his lifting the drink in an unsure way, his mouth open as if wanting another taste, all contribute to the state of tipsiness or drunkenness that Michelangelo wanted to convey. Michelangelo could make the god of wine look disheveled, naked, off-kilter, because, as an ancient pagan deity, the figure did not have to adhere to the somber standards which the artist expected of his sculpted Christian subjects, such as Mary in the St. Peter's Pieta in Rome, begun after the Bacchus in 1498 for a different patron,
or of his Jewish subjects, such as Moses in San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, begun in 1513.
Serious moral authorities, these latter, not caught off balance by too much partying, caught off balance only by others' worshipping of idols, others' betrayal of goodness. That Michelangelo can switch from a pagan to a New Testament to an Old Testament subject with equally profound treatment is a testament to the historical and emotional range of his skill.
Two things to note about Michelangelo's Bacchus:
1) His presentation of the god is ORIGINAL. The precedent in ancient art for the figure of the god sculpted in this way does not exist.
Certainly ancient statues of Bacchic figures in Rome were available for Michelangelo to see, but none of them have the liveliness of his version:
Faun, Capitoline Museum Antinous as Bacchus, Vatican
but even it has none of that "maraviglioso gesto di muoversi dentro quel sasso" ("a marvelous gesture of moving inside that stone," said originally by Vasari about Donatello's St. George) that is true of Michelangelo's god. Michelangelo's Bacchus seems alive in comparison with all of them and has a spirit that radiates the love of wine for which he existed.
2) Jacopo Galli died in 1505, eight years after the completion of the statue. On his death one might imagine that Bacchus at that point would have been returned to Cardinal Riario, but the relatives of Jacopo Galli kept it. In 1517 Cardinal Riario was ousted from his Palazzo and forced into retirement in Naples, where he died in 1521. Even then, the statue did not revert to his heirs but remained with the Galli until it was brought up to Florence.We know that the statue was still in the Galli's antiquities' garden in 1532-35 because the Dutch artist Heemskerck made a sketch of it in situ:
You can see the statue standing in the middle of other ancient torsos and bas-reliefs; the satyr is there,
the head of the dead animal, and Bacchus is missing his right forearm, his penis, and the drinking vessel. Heemskerck also opens his mouth wider than the real statue, perhaps because the cup is missing.
We know that his arm and the drinking cup were restored in 1550, when Michelangelo was still alive, so it is probable that the artist himself restored it, but we have no documents telling us directly that that happened. In any case in the location surrounded by actual ancient objects, the statue would have
certainly provided Galli's guests with material for guessing which of the objects was modern, and would have opened up discussions about the artist's ability to rival ancient artists.
1) The Cardinal felt some responsibility for an incident in which Michelangelo was not properly paid for a statue bought by the Cardinal before the Bacchus.
2) But they both may have felt anxiety about the Bacchus because of another event that happened
in the summer of 1497, a scandal in Rome. One evening after a party of carousing in the
. We can imagine that the Cardinal