Although it is now known that Michelangelo’s Bacchus (1496-1497) was commissioned in 1496 by Cardinal Raffaele Riario (1460-1521), the Cardinal of San Giorgio, the earliest sources by Condivi and Vasari claim that the Bacchus was commissioned by the banker Jacopo Galli. These claims are fueled visually by Marten van Heemskerck’s drawing The Garden of Jacopo Galli (1532-1535) and textually by Raffaele Maffei (in 1506) who describes the Bacchus in Galli’s house. But most importantly, they are supported by Michelangelo himself, who didn’t refute these claims in Condivi’s texts. Johannes Wilde was credited as the first art historian to suspect that the Bacchus was commissioned by Cardinal Rafaele Riario. This suspicion was then confirmed some 50 years later by Michael Hirst’s publication in 1981 of the cardinal's bank accounts. In addition to these accounts, Michelangelo’s first two surviving letters provide more evidence of the Cardinal’s commission. This exhibit considers the evidence that correctly identifies Cardinal Riario’s patronage to the Bacchus and explains what lead to the misunderstanding. A timeline of the events related to the Bacchus (now located in the Bargello Museum) helps explain enigmatic aspects of the sculpture's patrons. 


Denise Chen