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Key facts
Full title The Triumph of Silenus
Artist Nicolas Poussin
Artist dates 1594 - 1665
Date made about 1636
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 142.9 x 120.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1824
Inventory number NG42
Location Gallery B
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Triumph of Silenus
Nicolas Poussin
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This playful scene celebrates Silenus, companion to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and drunkenness. Silenus, a naked old man with a bald head, sits slumped on a throne to the left, supported by two men. Too drunk to stand, he balances one leg precariously on a tiger. He is surrounded by revellers who remove their clothing and enjoy the festivities. The flute player stares towards us, inviting us to join the party. To the right, a shepherd seduces a female satyr, who symbolises lust. Behind them, two centaurs with human bodies and horses' legs attack an ass. The composition is complex and sophisticated, with trees and rocky cliffs framing the scene.

This was one of three bacchanalian scenes Poussin painted for the powerful French minister, Cardinal de Richelieu (1585–1642). The painting’s uneven finish, with some figures quite coarsely executed but objects in the foreground rendered meticulously, had led some scholars to consider this a copy after a lost work by Poussin. Recent conservation treatment and technical analysis point instead to this being Poussin’s original.

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