Andrea Mantegna (Italian, Paduan, 1430/31–1506)
plate 11 3/4 x 17 3/16 in. (29.9 x 43.7 cm)
Anonymous Gift, 1929 (29.44.15)
While the precise meaning of Mantegna's Bacchanals has eluded scholars, the most decisive event occurring in each is a coronationan act that, by Mantegna's time, was often linked with the recognition of poetic gifts. In this engraving, the figure being crowned is clearly Silenus, the tutor of Bacchus, known for his wisdom as well as his drunkenness. In representing Silenus, any artist living in Mantua, the city of Virgil's birth, would have had in mind the poet's sixth Eclogue, in which Silenus is roused from drunken sleep by two satyrs and a nymph, bound with his own garlands, and forced to sing. His song of the creation and the ways of nature incited the fauns and wild beasts to move in a stately dance.