Bacchus

He leaned against the wall holding a wine glass. With that tilt of head and feral demeanor I was suddenly reminded of Caravaggio’s Bacchus-- the one with a flushed face. Already painted onto a canvas with a white walled backdrop and wearing slacks I asked if he would agree to a new picture instead, as the god of wine. What's more, he'd been drinking nearly a bottle of it every night.

The Hockney/Falco theory had been fresh on my mind from teaching. I knew what David Hockney thought about Caravaggio’s use of visual aids and had just seen his Hollywood studio recreation of the Bacchus painting. He made a compelling case demonstrating Caravaggio's would-be handling of the active hand, as the sitter offers the glass of wine. This would have been an especially difficult part of the painting. Hockney used a stationary piece of glass to trace where the hand had been in the original pose. When 'Bacchus' would return for more sittings he would be able to reposition the hand exactly where it had been. This eliminates any sort of finding with the brushwork. The lines look harder and more accurate.

My Bacchus instinctively held the glass close to his body rather than the more burdensome outstretched arm. I hoped this slight convenience would mitigate some of the challenges faced by my most admired 16th century artist. The hand proved to be the most demanding part of the picture anyway. Another challenge was his ever-changing complexion from drinking alcohol over the course of an evening (red, pale, green). Then there were the frequently shifting folds of the red fabric, and the grapes, rotting.

He sits languid and seductive (if even a little silly) in a type of condemned abyss; he beckons us there. It was summertime and hot. Wine flows, old wine and fresh wine. Fittingly, he’s shown the sole of his foot.

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Bacchus, 2006, oil on linen