Drunk Silenus, Ribera

Drunk Silenus, Ribera
Drunk Silenus, Ribera

Throughout the Modern Age culture and art spread throughout Europe, in this sense we must highlight how one of the greatest advances that occurred after the Middle Ages was cultural diffusion. Although it is true that broad layers of society at that time were still completely illiterate, the creation of universities was a turning point that allowed culture and knowledge to be secularized. The spread of humanist ideals caused many people to become interested in art and want to have small artistic objects, so it was very common for copies of large artistic productions to appear or even the painters themselves to make engravings that had had a special reception among the public in order to sell them to those who could not afford a canvas.


The work we are analyzing here is one of those examples in which the canvas was so successful that engravings were made of it. It is a piece known as Drunk Selenium of the Spanish painter based in Italy, José de Ribera nicknamed El Españoleto. The original work was an oil on canvas dated at the end of the 1920s, specifically in the year 1626, which means that, to date, it is the oldest work signed and dated by Ribera on record.

In reality, there is not much information about this piece sincethe first news about it places it in Flanders, in the private collection of a well-known Dutch merchant, Gaspare Roomer. According to the experts, Roomer must have acquired the work after the artist's death, so the artist could not have been its original client. In doubt, it remains to be seen whether Ribera created the canvas on his own initiative or there was an unknown client.

The canvas depicts Silenus, one of Bacchus's followers, who appears lying on a blanket while lifting his cup - actually a shell - for a servant to fill it for him. To his right appears Pan who crowns him with vine leaves and further up in the upper corner the god Apollo is depicted looking lustfully at a beautiful nymph. A careful iconography appears on the canvas with objects such as a conch shell announcing the early death of Silenio or a tortoise symbol of laziness.

As we have already pointed out, Ribera himself made engravings of the canvas, although in them the image of Silenio is inverted due to the stamping and the darker background here has been replaced by a natural landscape.

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