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Nicolas Poussin, A Bacchanalian Revel before a Term

Key facts
Full title A Bacchanalian Revel before a Term
Artist Nicolas Poussin
Artist dates 1594 - 1665
Date made 1632-3
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 98 × 142.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1826
Inventory number NG62
Location Room 31
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Bacchanalian Revel before a Term
Nicolas Poussin

In this wild party, men and women dance around a term – a carved bust of a bearded and horned man. This is traditionally identified as Pan, god of woods and fields, flocks and herds, although the statue could also be Priapus, god of gardens and fertility, who wears floral garlands and exposes his genitalia.

The grapes and dancing suggest that this is a Bacchic festival, like those held during ancient Roman times to encourage a successful harvest. In art and literature, partygoers at these events enjoy excessive drinking and fulfil their sexual desires, suggested here by the discarded vessels and exposed skin. The nymphs or frolicking female followers of the god Bacchus are accompanied by a lustful satyr, with horns and hairy, goat-like legs.

The idealised bodies, rigid draperies and the careful arrangement of the dancers reflect Poussin’s study of ancient sculpture. Boldly coloured fabrics contrast with the dancers' skin tones and the woodland foliage.

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