Provenance and Formal Analysis


Michelangelo's Bacchus, 1496-1497

Bacchus is one of the earliest sculptures Michelangelo carved in Rome in 1496-1497. It stands in contrapposto at 203 cm tall, 76 cm wide and 86 cm deep.[1] Commissioned by Cardinal Raffaele Riario, the Cardinal of San Giorgio, the Bacchus was to be placed in the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome. However, the sculpture was never placed there and instead was bought by the banker Jacopo Galli and displayed in his sculpture garden. In 1570-1571, the Medici family bought the statue for 240 ducats.[2] In the seventeenth century, it was transported to Florence [3] and then transferred to the Uffizi Gallery.[4] In 1871, the Bacchus was moved to the Bargello Museum, where it is displayed today.[5]

Michelangelo’s Bacchus is wearing a crown of grapes and raising a cup in his right hand and holds a cluster of grapes and a lion skin in his left hand. With a protruding belly and unfocused irises, the Bacchus is a drunken god. He tilts his head to the right and forward. His mouth gapes open, showing a row of teeth. A mole is carved in his right cheek as a sign of being ‘unfinished’.[6] The blemish is distinct from the god’s polished face and shows Michelangelo’s skill in polishing the statue.[7] Bacchus tilts his left shoulder down, sways his body backward and presses his thighs together. His right foot barely touches the base while his left foot is firmly planted and supported by a tree stump.

Bacchus is accompanied by a satyr who is half the size of the god. As a satyr, he has two horns on his head and pointed ears. He opens his mouth ready to eat the grapes off the Bacchus’s left hand. He raises the grapes with his left hand and curls his left arm behind the lion skin. His upper torso is turned toward the god, leaving an unnatural indent above his belly button. Like Bacchus, the satyr’s right hoof barely touches the base while his left hoof is firmly placed.

The lion skin drapes down from Bacchus’s left hand and from the satyr’s right arm. The skin rests atop the tree stump and the head of the lion is carved in between the satyr’s hooves. The head rests on the base with its snout pointing slightly out of the base.


[1] “Sculptures," ArteDivine: Vatican Observation Foundation, April 5, 2016,

[2] Paola Barrocchi, Baccho di Michelangelo (Firenze: Museo Nazionale del Bargello, c. 1982), 10.

[3] Charles de Tolnay, Michelangelo: Sculptor, Painter, Architect (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1975), 192.

[4] Paola Barrocchi, Baccho di Michelangelo (Firenze: Museo Nazionale del Bargello, c. 1982), 10.

[5] “Ibid.”, 13.

[6] Paul Barolsky and Ralph Lieberman, “Michelangelo’s Mole,” Source: Notes in the History of Art 24, no. 3 (2005): 36-37.

[7] “Ibid.”

Provenance and Formal Analysis