BELLINI, Giovanni
(b. ca. 1426, Venezia, d. 1516, Venezia)

Young Bacchus

c. 1514
Oil on wood, 48 x 37 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

The Young Bacchus is a small panel work transferred onto canvas, formerly assigned to Basaiti, though now accepted as one of Bellini's last works; also accepted is its identification with the Young Bacchus Holding a Vase attributed to Giorgione, which Ridolfi saw in the property of Bartolo Dolfini in Venice in the middle of the 17th century. A metaphorical rapport is suggested between the representation of the child god and the alternation of the seasons, in the same way in which it is drawn in Macrobio's Saturnalia, which was printed with commentaries in the humanistic age. The idea of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, would correspond with the smallness of Bacchus.

Certainly the small Bacchus must be seen as very close to the Feast of the Gods, the masterpiece of Bellini's last years. Indeed, the resemblance between the Bacchus of the Feast and the Young Bacchus has been pointed out several times. In the small canvas, however, we witness yet again the incredible openness that the almost ninety year-old artist succeeded in advancing in his affirmation of a new profane sensibility, the same that ran through the Naked Woman 'in front af the Mirror of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Drunkenness of Noah of the Musée des Beaux Arts in Besançon. The same landscape background against which the young Bacchus is seated was by now an image that was so essentialized and reduced to pure ideal substance that it seems referable only to the other foreshortening, similarly idealized and eternal, of the Viennese Naked Woman. Also in addressing himself to and portraying nature Bellini had covered a considerable distance. One might say, indeed, that he no longer needed to look at it or represent it with elements that were in some way real or recognizable; nor did he need to animate it in any way. He gave only its pure structure, the inner and "philosophical" vision.