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Annibale Carracci, Silenus gathering Grapes

Key facts
Full title Silenus gathering Grapes
Artist Annibale Carracci
Artist dates 1560 - 1609
Series Panels for a Musical Instrument
Date made 1597-1600
Medium and support Oil and egg on wood
Dimensions 54.5 × 88.5 cm
Acquisition credit Holwell Carr Bequest, 1831
Inventory number NG93.1
Location Room 37
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Silenus gathering Grapes
Annibale Carracci

Using an animal skin, two laughing satyrs with pointed ears and short tails lift a plump, drunken man to pick the grapes that dangle above him. To the right a young satyr clambers up a vine and reaches out for another bunch. The man is Silenus, teacher and companion of Bacchus, the classical god of wine.

This irregularly shaped panel was part of a musical instrument, probably a kind of harpsichord. Other panels in our collection – Young Satyr gathering Grapes and Marsyas and Olympus – perhaps come from the same instrument, or from a pair of instruments. They were possibly commissioned by the scholar and collector Fulvio Orsini, librarian and curator to the Farnese family, Annibale Carracci’s powerful Roman patrons.

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Panels for a Musical Instrument


These three panels were originally part of an early keyboard instrument, or possibly a pair of instruments, and show scenes of music-making and drinking. Silenus gathering Grapes and Young Satyr gathering Grapes are probably from the inside of the lid, and would only have been seen when the instrument was open. Marsyas and Olympus may have also belonged to the lid of the keyboard or to some part of the instrument’s case.

They were painted by Annibale Carracci in the late 1590s, perhaps for Fulvio Orsini, classical scholar and librarian/curator to the powerful Farnese family in Rome. The designs for some of the figures are based on classical objects owned by the Farnese.