Drunken Silenus Supported by Satyrs: Possibly by Anthony van Dyck
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Drunken Silenus Supported by Satyrs, c.1620
Possibly by Anthony van Dyck (National Gallery, London)
A painting without inhibition.
I can’t help but smile as I look upon this rowdy troop of mythological characters. In the center of the painting, old Silenus with heavy eyelids seems blissfully unaware of his drunken state. He is naked apart from a wreath of vine leaves that sits clumsily upon his head. He is being supported – barely – by two satyrs who appear to be joyously singing. Behind him, a bacchant (a follower of Bacchus, the God of folly and wine) squeezes grapes over his head; namely the possible source of his inebriation. Silenus’s left hand toys with more grapes that are being given to him by two putti in the bottom right of the painting. To the left, another bacchant plays the panpipes, his cheeks swollen in effort. To the right, another satyr smiles lasciviously at an older female bacchant carrying a torch.
According to Roman myth, Silenus was Bacchus’s teacher and mentor. In paintings, he became a visual personification of exuberance, vulgarity, and indecency. He is a wonderfully comedic character.
This painting was found in Ruben’s studio in Antwerp. We are not sure who painted it; it was likely a joint effort by several artists working in Ruben’s studio. It has been suggested that Silenus himself was painted by Anthony van Dyck.
The scene created before us is indecent, boisterous, and utterly joyful. The beautiful and fluid brushstrokes add to the vibrancy and exuberance of this noisy scene.