Andrea Mantegna (Italian, 1430/31–1506)
Engraving and drypoint
11 3/4 x 17 1/4 in. (29.8 x 43.8 cm)
Purchase, Rogers Fund, The Charles Engelhard Foundation Gift, and The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1986 (1986.1159)
This engraving, among Mantegna's most famous works, filled a prominent gap in the Museum's otherwise distinguished holdings of Mantegna prints formed in the early twentieth century. Bacchanal with a Wine Vat and the companion Bacchanal with Silenus (29.44.15), also in our collection, were inspired by the designs of Roman sarcophagi once in the collections of the Della Valle family and in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. While demonstrating Mantegna's refined knowledge of antique sources, these engravings above all attest to his boundless imaginative powers in reshaping imagery for a uniquely personal artistic vision.
Here, the drunken heroic figures gather around the wine vat populating the space with a funereal majesty—it conjures the deeper emotive content in the ancient associations between Bacchic rites and Christian mysteries. The unconscious youth at the center is held up by a gaunt mourning figure much like the dead Christ in the Pietà. Of all the possible explanations suggested by scholars, it is most likely that Mantegna produced his engravings as a means of making his inventions widely known beyond his circle of patrons in Mantua.