In this chaotic woodland party, men and women dance, drink, play music and behave badly. They gather around a statue of a red-faced satyr with horns, which may represent Pan, god of shepherds and herdsmen, or Priapus, god of gardens. Both deities are linked to the mischievous god of wine, Bacchus. Bacchanalian festivals were held in ancient Roman times to ensure a good harvest, and according to literary descriptions they involved lots of sex and alcohol. The goat, faun and the flower garlands we see here were part of the festivities.
These naughty partygoers look like actors on a stage: the musical instruments and masks in the foreground relate to these festivals' dramatic plays. The muscular figures and their flowing drapery convey Poussin’s interest in classical sculpture. The warmth of this scene is conveyed by the dusky sky and colourful draperies, now faded although once vibrant.
In this chaotic woodland party, men and women dance, drink, play music and behave badly. They gather around a statue of a red-faced satyr with horns that may represent Pan, Greek god of shepherds and herdsmen, or Priapus, god of gardens. Pan’s attributes are the shepherd’s crook and musical pipes, which we see here in the foreground. Priapus is often shown wearing the floral garlands that adorn this statue, and with exposed genitalia that represent fertility.
Pan and Priapus were followers of the mischievous god of wine Bacchus. This scene celebrates the popular Roman pagan tradition of Bacchanalian festivals that were devoted to Bacchus and aimed to ensure a good harvest. According to literary accounts these wild parties and banquets involved lots of sex and alcohol. Animals, like the ones we see here, were often sacrificed during these events and the garlands of flowers were made as offerings. These naughty partygoers look like actors on a stage, partly due to the frieze-like arrangement of figures. The musical instruments and masks in the foreground allude to the festivals‘ dramatic plays. The figures’ animated gestures and expressions invite us to join the party. The warmth of this scene is conveyed by the dusky sky and colourful draperies, now faded although once vibrant.
This picture shows Poussin’s interest in classical antiquity: the muscular figures and flowing drapery recall ancient statues, and the foreground vases are inspired by painted Greek pottery. The tranquil landscape with distant blue mountains may represent Pan’s native land of Arcadia in Greece.
Poussin drew upon the art he studied in Rome: his most important patron, Cassiano dal Pozzo, owned drawings of an ancient stone sarcophagus decorated with images of Pan in the Villa Doria-Pamphili in Rome. Here, the people and trees evenly placed across the painting imitate images on ancient relief sculpture. Poussin’s composition is also inspired by the work of Renaissance artists, such as Bellini’s The Feast of the Gods (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and Titian’s The Andrians (Prado, Madrid).
This painting was commissioned in 1636 by Cardinal Richelieu, the powerful French minister, for his chateau in Poitou. Its companion, The Triumph of Bacchus (now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City) and The Triumph of Silenus were also painted at around the same time and hung in the same room, the Cabinet du Roi. At some point before 1741 this painting and The Triumph of Bacchus were replaced with copies (now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours) and taken to England.
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