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Diego Velázquez - The Drunkards

by Alexanda Tuschka

There sits the pale Bacchus in the midst of the convivial round. He, the god of wine, sits frontally opposite us, but averts his gaze. On his head he wears his attribute , a wreath of vine leaves. The alternative painting title "The Triumph of Bacchus" reveals: he has the actual control over the events. He is sitting on a wine barrel and is about to place a wreath on the head of the humble kneeling man in front of him. This ceremony is to be understood as a parody of a coronation act. The surrounding figures also appear lively, almost photographic. Two men look out of the picture background laughing and certify their presence to the viewer. Does the man on the left want to drink from his bowl of red wine himself, or is he even offering it to us? The man next to him has put his hands on his shoulders encouragingly, but looks at us and seems to say, "Well? Would you like to taste?"

The wine that Bacchus brought to the people indeed seems to have a liberating effect, because the entire scene shows an exuberant mood. Although the gesture of the two men is to be understood as an invitation, the characters have something dubious about them. The poor clothes and the leather skin speak for a hard worker's life, from which it is necessary to escape. These are opposed by the, already crowned, beautiful and god-like figures in the left background of the picture. Instead of drinking from a bowl, the man in the back drinks from a noble cocktail glass. Possibly the look of Bacchus also illustrates the future of his follower, who now, since he is crowned, may step over to the others in the left part of the picture. In addition, Bacchus thus makes room for direct eye contact with his neighbor, which the viewer can hardly avoid.

Diego Velázquez - The Drunkards

Oil on canvas, 1628/29, 165 x 225 cm, Museo del Prado in Madrid


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