National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Infant Bacchus Giovanni Bellini (artist)
Venetian, c. 1430/1435 - 1516
The Infant Bacchus, probably 1505/1510
oil on panel transferred to panel
overall: 50.1 x 39 cm (19 11/16 x 15 3/8 in.) framed: 72.7 x 61.3 x 8.3 cm (28 5/8 x 24 1/8 x 3 1/4 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
On View
From the Tour: Giorgione and the High Renaissance in Venice
Object 1 of 7

Bacchus is typically portrayed as a young man wreathed with vines, his body slouched with the intoxicating effect of drink. This young child, who wears an ivy wreath and holds a wine pitcher, must also represent the god of wine. As a god of agriculture, Bacchus was sometimes depicted as aging along with the seasons, in much the same way that the new year comes in as a baby and goes out as an old man. In winter, when crops were just starting to grow, Bacchus took the guise of a young boy—as pretty, Roman poets said, as a curly-haired girl.

Bellini used this same figure in the Feast of the Gods, also in the Gallery’s collection. In that painting, made for Alfonso d’Este of Ferrara, the youth of Bacchus might suggest the duke’s winter wedding to Lucrezia Borgia. Not until Bellini was close to eighty years old could he be persuaded, even by strong-willed patrons such as the Este family, to paint mythological scenes. He preferred instead the religious subjects and portraits that had occupied his long career. Remaining open to innovation, however, Bellini’s style, and ultimately his subject matter, responded to influences from younger artists, including his own pupils.

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