HEEMSKERCK, Maerten van
(b. 1498, Heemskerck, d. 1574, Haarlem)
Triumphal Procession of Bacchus1537-38
Oil on panel, 56 x 107 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Soon after returning to Haarlem from Italy, Van Heemskerck created his Triumphal Procession of Bacchus, a fascinating amalgam of the art seen in Italy woven into a novel composition. Inspired loosely by Roman sarcophagi and by engravings after Mantegna, the composition is a living frieze. The figures are packed into the foreground as they progress through a ruined triumphal arch towards the temple of Bacchus. Bacchus, the god of wine, can scarcely sit up. The satyr supporting him playfully tweaks his breast and, with tongue wagging, stares lustily at the viewer. Two children hold up a mirror so the viewer can see an inebriated man who, having lost all decorum, defecates. Despite such moralizations, Van Heemskerck's intention was to devise a bacchanal, a modern counterpart to the scenes described in Roman literature. He delighted in showing off his talents at rendering the human body in motion. Some celebrants stand or stride, other do somersaults and walk on stilts. The horn player in the foreground conveys the artist's knowledge of anatomy and contrapposto.
The painting is a pastiche of Roman sources. The standing man on the right was inspired by the Apollo in the de Sassi's collection. Raphael's Triumph of Galatea in the Farnesina and Michelangelo's paintings provided the sources for several figures. Van Heemskerck borrowed from his own drawings of the portico ofOctavia for the colossal foot, of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli for the Temple of Bacchus behind, and of Michelangelo's Bacchus (now in the Bargello, Florence) which when in the Casa Galli was believed to be antique, for the cult statue within.