Bacchanal with Silenus; a frieze composition with ten figures around Silenus who is carried by two satyrs

Artist: Andrea Mantegna (Italian, Isola di Carturo 1430/31–1506 Mantua)

Date: early 1470s

Medium: Engraving with drypoint

Dimensions: Sheet: 12 in. × 17 1/4 in. (30.5 × 43.8 cm)

Classification: Prints

Credit Line: Anonymous Gift, 1929

Accession Number: 29.44.15


While the precise meaning of Mantegna's Bacchanals has eluded scholars, the most decisive event occurring in each is a coronation—an 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.