Young Sick Bacchus – Caravaggio

I expect by now you’re all sick of the left overs and the amount of drink you have in the house. Dreading tonight’s turkey curry, and another glass of sherry, so just imagine what it would be like if your life was just one party full of feasts and wine. As appealing as it sounds, i think it would take its toll very quickly.

It’s no secret that I love Caravaggio, his light techniques and painting style really appeal to me, and you can see the influence of this style there after. Much like a lot of artists, Caravaggio had a turbulent life, dying at the age of 39, he was a heavy drinker, womaniser and brawler, which resulted in him killing a man so he had to lived in exile due to the death sentence given after this act. While establishing himself again as a prominent artist, he also applied for a papal pardon for his sentence. He was involved in another brawl, which resulted in his face being horribly disfigured: as questions about his mental health started to circulate, from this is erratic and bizarre behaviour. He died suspiciously while travelling from Naples to Rome. While it was said that he died of a fever, rumours of murder or lead poisoning came about. I appreciate that is a bit of a whistle stop tour of his life, but you can read the biography of Caravaggio through any google search, so I didn’t want to ramble on, when I really want to talk about the painting.

Young Sick Bacchus, is known to be a self portrait of Caravaggio. Created after an illness which saw him hospitalised for six months. He then spent two years creating this picture. It’s an odd choice, to show himself as Bacchus, but could allude to his drinking and violent lifestyle. In case you’re unaware, Bacchus, or Dionysus, was the God of winemaking, wine, ritual madness, religious ecstasy and theatre, which does certainly link with Caravaggio’s life choices.

There are other tell tale traits in this picture. The colour of the skin, as an example, is yellow in hue, pointing towards jaundice. The colour almost matching the peaches which are on the table. The jaundiced Bacchus, reflecting the alcoholic Caravaggio, as he watched others around him in the hospital from the same affliction, experiencing liver failure due to cirrhosis. At this stage of Caravaggio’s life though, he was not dying of liver failure, as we know he recovered, therefor the jaundice has been put down to a couple of other reasons. Firstly the potential of hepatitis, or secondly syphilis. Both highly probably, we do need to note that his lips in this painting have a bluish hue to them as well, pointing to infection rather than cirrhosis. We know around this time syphilis was rife from other artists work, such as Bronzino’s An allegory with Venus and Cupid in 1545.

There are notes about the angle of the face in this painting, almost turned in a pained plea, it has been said that this look is one of hiding suffering. It is also noted that this angle shows a real talent for the preference at the time, the three quarter face, being very fashionable in the art world during the 1500s and was something that artists wanted to exhibit within their portfolio.

In true Caravaggio form, the background is dark, leading the audiences eye to main focal point. The technique is called “Chiaroscuro”, which means that the background is dark and somber contrasting the central piece which has interesting light play. We can see that the light falls over the Bacchus shoulder, highlighting the anatomically correct, muscular shoulder and arm. The toga, covering very little of his physic. You can see the shadows cast in his bare leg, indicating where the light is coming from. You can also see the light reflecting from the grapes in his hand. While the technique was developed by Da Vinci, Caravaggio really masters it and has made it his trade mark.

The grapes represent the wine associated with this god, the white grapes similar to the muscat grape which produces a wine of an orange to yellow hue, reflecting the jaundice, and the red grapes depicting red white if they were to be macerated. Heavy attention to detail on this fruits is present, showing a shrivelled grape in the bunch in his hand, which is a tribute to the Lombard school of painting.

How ever you see this bad boy of art, it is hard to deny his talent. The complexity and detail in his work, is still outstanding today, showing a true realism and emotional intelligence in his pieces.

What do you think of Caravaggio? Why not tell me in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?


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