Michelangelo’s Bacchus: God of Wine & Lessons in Patience


Visitors to Florence would do well to sneak a peek at the sculpture collection inside the city’s Bargello Palace (Via del Proconsolo, 4).  Among other impressive pieces, this prison/barracks-turned-art museum holds Michelangelo Buonarotti‘s sculpture of Bacchus, the Roman God of wine!  This sculpture was the fruit of Michelangelo’s labors (and extremely tested patience) while invited by Cardinal Riario to Rome to carve a new sculpture for his already rather large collection, in the late 149os.  It depicts a youngish version of the God, standing with a staggered pose suggestive of wine-indulgence, while holding up an ornate goblet, presumably filled with wine.  In his left hand he loosely clutches a tiger skin and a bunch of grapes, which are being munched on by a small mischievous satyr just behind him. 

The completed sculpture, to which Michelangelo was so dedicated he even postponed his prestigious commission for the now world-famous Pietà scultpure, was actually in the end completed for a different patron in Rome.  This was perhaps the first moment of Michelangelo’s life in which he understood the full extent of the power imbalance between artist and patron, having spent a full unpaid year sketching, planning, and unsuccessfully proposing for the 7 foot block of marble that held his vision of Bacchus.  The Cardinal would never accept nor make decisions to grant him permission to realize the project, though his reasons were always unclear and he obviously never considered the frustration and inconvenience being caused to the artist.  Eventually Michelangelo’s patience paid off when Cardinal Riario relieved him of his project and allowed him to complete his piece for Jacopo Galli, a banker, friend and admirer of Michelangelo’s work, instead.

Aubrie Talarico

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