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Bacchic Scene
Poussin, Nicolas
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Poussin, Nicolas

Les Andelys, Normandy, 1594 - Rome, 1665

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Bacchic Scene

1626 - 1628. Oil on canvas.
On display elsewhere

In a lush, wooded landscape on the banks of a quiet river, a nude woman, sitting on a richly colored red cloak, gestures to two male figures posed beside her. Supporting a glazed jug in her lap, she points to the standing nude boy, who pours wine from a golden ewer into the mouth of a kneeling satyr. Wearing a grapevine belt and a crown, the satyr, a half-man, half-goat creature associated with unbridled lust and wine, braces himself to accept the drink. An unused drinking cup rests alongside the woman, as does a small crook, possibly identifying her as a herder. With her direct gaze and gesture, the woman commands the viewer´s attention and guides us to the main narrative action. The Prado´s 1834 inventory calls the picture A female cowherd and a satyr, given a drink by a Cupid. Yet the youth has no wings (a typical attribute of Cupid), and a leopard skin -a prime attribute of Bacchus- hangs from a broken tree limb just above the boy. If this scene is about the infant god of wine, the female figure may be one of the nymphs of Nysa, who were entrusted with the care of the infant Bacchus. In this way, the composition could be considered Nicolas Poussin´s original rendering of the story of the discovery of wine, and as such would join a group of his paintings that take the infancy, education, and nurture of Bacchus as their subject. One of three nearly identical versions, this painting was likely executed by Poussin between 1626 and 1628 -a period of intense work in Rome, when the artist focused on subjects from antique poetry and mythology such as Ovid´s Metamorphoses and Philostratus´s (c. 170-c. 247 CE) Imagines. Among the many small paintings on these themes from the late 1620s, a number depict three or four nude or seminude figures -nymphs, satyrs, and Olympians- situated in a pastoral landscape. Poussin´s interest in this subject matter developed from his engagement with Rome´s elite intellectual circles, including the Italian court poet Giambattista Marino (1569-1625), who first invited Poussin to Rome in 1624, and the antiquarian and patron Cassiano dal Pozzo, who served as secretary to Cardinal Francesco Barberini. During this period, Poussin also embarked on a close study of Titian´s Bacchanals in the Roman collections of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1632). He borrowed a number of visual motifs from the Venetian painter, inspired to pursue the classical challenge of ut pictura poesis (as is painting, so is poetry), as well as explore more broadly a range of bacchic themes and the depiction of nudes in the landscape. But while Poussin demonstrated a keen interest in Titian´s warmly colored, sensual subjects, his handling of the composition and the figures is far more restrained. For instance, in the present painting, the nymph´s solid body, rendered in a contrast of cool and red tones and controlled brushstrokes, adheres to an idealized, classical model. These qualities complement the calm, organized structure of the group in the landscape. The fact that Poussin returned to this subject -with slight variations- on several occasions attests not only to his own evolving approach, but also to the popularity of these themes within learned circles. This painting´s ownership history is unknown until the 1720s, but it is traditionally thought to have been owned previously by the painter Carlo Maratta (1625-1713), a near contemporary of Poussin in Rome. Around 1724, it was acquired by Philip V, grandson of Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715) and the first Bourbon king of Spain, as part of a group of 124 Italian and French seventeenth-century paintings for his new palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso in Segovia, then under construction. Philip engaged the painter Andrea Procaccini (1671-1734), a disciple of Maratta, to assemble this collection of choice pictures, which remained largely intact at La Granja after Philip´s death. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, they were divided between two Madrid institutions: the Real Academia de San Fernando and the newly founded Museo Nacional del Prado. This painting was placed in the sala reservada likely because of the female nudity, along with the notions of alcohol-fueled revelry it must have aroused (Text drawn from Loughman, T. J.: Splendor, Myth, and Vision. Nudes from the Prado, 2016, pp. 138-141).

Technical data

Inventory number
Poussin, Nicolas
Bacchic Scene
1626 - 1628
Height: 74 cm; Width: 60 cm
Royal Collection (Jacques Meijers Collection, Rotterdam, 1722, n. 4; Acquisition of Felipe V; Collection of Felipe V, Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia, 1727; Collection of Felipe V, La Granja Palace, 1746, n. 451; La Granja Palace, 1794, n. 451; La Granja Palace, 1814-1818, n. 451)

Bibliography +

Inventario de Fernando VII, Real sitio de La Granja de San Ildefonso, Madrid, 1814, pp. 16.

Inventario de las Pinturas del Museo Hecho a la Muerte del Rey, Texto fotocopiado, Madrid, 1834, pp. 74.

Dussieux, Louis, Les artistes français a L'etranger, Lecogne Fils et Cie, París, 1876, pp. 82.

Mabilleau, Léopold, La peinture française au Musée de Madrid, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, abril, París, 1895, pp. 308 y 312.

Nicolle, Marcel, La peinture française au Musée du Prado, Perrin et Cie, París, 1925, pp. 33.

Sánchez Cantón, Francisco Javier, Salas de Pintura Francesa, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1925, pp. 14.

Blunt, Anthony, The Paintings of Nicolas Poussin. A Critical Catalogue, Phaidon, Londres, 1966, pp. 138.

Gaya Nuño, J. A., Historia y guía de los museos de España, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1968, pp. 413.

Lafuente Ferrari, Enrique, El Prado. Escuelas italiana y francesa, Aguilar, Madrid, 1970, pp. 310.

Onieva, A. J., La Mitologia en el Museo del Prado, Offo, Madrid, 1972, pp. 45.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Bermejo de la Rica, A., La Mitologia en el Museo del Prado, Editora Nacional, Madrid, 1974, pp. 112.

Rosenberg, Pierre, Nicolas Poussin. 1594-1665, Edizioni Dell'Elefante, Roma, 1977, pp. 132.

Blunt, Anthony, Nicolas Poussin. 1594-1665, Stadtische Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf, 1978.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 517-518.

Fernández Miranda y Lozana, Fernando, Inventarios Reales. Carlos III. 1789-1790. Vol. I, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1988, pp. 24.

Oberhuber, Konrad, Poussin: the early years in Rome : the origins of french cla, PhaidonChristie's, Oxford, 1988.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. 285.

Mahon, Denis, Nicolas Poussin: I primi anni romani, Electa, Milano, 1998, pp. 74.

Aterido Fernández, Ángel; Martínez Cuesta, Juan; Pérez Preciado, José Juan, Colecciones de pinturas de Felipe V e Isabel Farnesio. Inventarios Reales, II, Fundación de Apoyo de la Historia del Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2004, pp. 445.

Wright, Christopher, Poussin: paintings, a catalogue raisonné, Chaucer Press, 2007, pp. 46.

Aldecoa, Christiane de, Nicolas Poussin (1595-1664) Quatre enfants nus et deux chiens. Préparatifs pour la chasse et amours à la chasse., Les cahiers d'histoire de l'art, nº 9, 2011, pp. 42-43 [35-43].

Longhmann, T, 'Nicolas Poussin. Peter Paul Rubens. Bacchic scene'' En:, Splendor, Myth, and Vision : Nudes from the Prado, Clark Art Institute ; Museo Nacional del Prado,, 2016, pp. 138-141 n.17.

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1030.
Nicolás Poussin. / 1030. Una ninfa con un sátiro. / Este esta bebiendo el licor que le suministra un Cupido. / Alto 2 pies, 8 pulg; ancho 2 pies, 2 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1030.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 2049.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1972. Núm. 2318.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 2318.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1996. Núm. 2318.

Inv. Felipe V, La Granja, 1746. Núm. 451.
Una Pintura origl en Lienzo , de mano de Nicolas Pusino, que representa una Muger desnuda, un Satiro bebiendo, y un Cupido en accion de ayudarle. Tiene tres quartas, y seis dedos de alto; otras tres menos dos dedos de ancho. Marco dorado bronceado Tallado de medio relieve ... 1

Inv. Fernando VII, La Granja, 1814-1818. Núm. 451.
{20217} 451 / Lienzo, de tres pies y quarto de alto, por tres de ancho, una muger desnuda un sátiro y un Cupido = Nicolas Pusino

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, La Granja, 1794. Núm. 451.
[2257] 451 / Otra [pintura] en lienzo de tres pies y quarto de alto, por tres de ancho, marco tallado y dorado representa una muger desnuda, un Satiro, y un Cupido en tres mil setecientos cincuenta reales. Nicolas Pusino ... 3750

Inv. Testamentaría Fernando VII, Real Museo, Sala Reservada, 1834. Núm. 46.
CUARENTA Y SEIS. Una vacante y un sátiro: A este dá de beber un Cupido. / El Pusino. Frana. / L. / 4160

Inscriptions +

Cross of Burgundy or Cross of Saint Andrew, collection’s mark belonging to Felipe V. Front, lower right corner

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

Poussin and Love
26.11.2022 - 05.03.2023

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
15.03.2022 - 28.08.2022

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
16.09.2021 - 13.02.2022

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
15.04.2021 - 26.07.2021

Splendor, Myth and Vision: Nudes from the Prado
Williamstown MA
12.06.2016 - 10.10.2016

Primer año romano de Nicolás Poussin
26.11.1998 - 01.03.1999

Early Poussin in Rome: the Origins of French Classicism
Fort Worth
24.09.1988 - 27.11.1988

Location +

Lyon - Musée des Beaux Arts de Lyon (Temporary Exhibition)

Update date: 26-11-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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