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The Nurture of Bacchus
Nicolas Poussin
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The infant Bacchus, god of wine, drinks from a bowl into which a satyr squeezes grape juice representing wine. Paintings commonly show Bacchus as a drunken adult, but to show him drinking alcohol at this young age is unusual. Ovid’s Metamorphoses describes how Bacchus' aunt Ino watches over him. She is probably the seated woman in blue; her husband, Athamas, is the man holding Bacchus. The two embracing infants are their sons. The story has a tragic outcome when the jealous goddess Juno sends Ino and Athamus insane and Athamus kills one of their sons. Poussin may be alluding to this sad story through the dark clouds in the background and the goat, since goats who had eaten grapes were sacrificed.

The muscular poses in this painting show Poussin’s study of classical sculpture. The colourful draperies and subtle foliage shades are inspired by sixteenth-century Venetian paintings.

Key facts
Artist Nicolas Poussin
Artist dates 1594 - 1665
Full title The Nurture of Bacchus
Date made about 1628
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 80.9 x 97.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by G.J. Cholmondeley, 1831; entered the Collection, 1836
Inventory number NG39
Location in Gallery Room 29
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