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Possibly by Anthony van Dyck, Drunken Silenus supported by Satyrs

Key facts
Full title Drunken Silenus supported by Satyrs
Artist Possibly by Anthony van Dyck
Artist dates 1599 - 1641
Date made about 1620
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 133.5 × 197 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1871
Inventory number NG853
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Drunken Silenus supported by Satyrs
Possibly by Anthony van Dyck

This uproarious crowd of mythical characters is noisy and ill-behaved, but meant to make you smile. The old man who has lost his clothes in the revels is Silenus – in Roman myth, the teacher and mentor of Bacchus, the god of wine. In the seventeenth century, the Roman myths were popular as subjects for painting. Flemish artists in particular found Silenus a personification of everything ribald, exuberant and funny. He made an appealing subject, giving artists the chance to paint an old man, naked and drunk – comic but sometimes touched with pathos.

The picture came from Rubens’s studio in Antwerp and it seems to have been a joint effort by several young artists working there. But the superb rendering of Silenus’ bloated, happy face and the folds and bulges of his solid, glowing flesh strongly suggest that they were painted by the young Anthony van Dyck.

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