Michaelangelo's Drunken "Bacchus"

Poem by Carolyn Raphael

Rome, 1497. The Florentine banker, Jacopo Galli buys young Michelangelo's marble statue of “Bacchus” from Cardinal Raffaele Riario, who commissioned it but refuses to accept it on “moral” grounds. Today it can be seen in the National Museum of the Bargello in Florence.


I understand, Your Eminence. The skill

Is not in question here: the vine-wreathed head,

The wine cup, and the little satyr slyly

Purloining grapes behind the young god’s feet—

Familiar echoes of the classical style.

But where is dignity—the heritage

Of Dionysus, who, said Aristotle,

Set down the cornerstone of tragic drama?

This Bacchus is a drunken youth, no more—

Reeling, with parted lips and vacant gaze.

His flesh is soft, not muscled like a god’s;

The figure is androgynous and most

Unseemly for a cardinal’s collection.

Have no concern, Your Eminence. Let me

Remove the Bacchus to my garden. There

He will be chastened by authenticity:

My treasures gleaned from ancient Greece and Rome.

American Arts Quarterly, Spring 2012, Volume 29, Number 2