VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
(b. 1599, Sevilla, d. 1660, Madrid)
The Triumph of Bacchus (Los Borrachos, The Topers)c. 1629
Oil on canvas, 165 x 225 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Velázquez painted this picture of Bacchus surrounded by eight drinkers for Philip IV who hung it in his summer bedroom. The painting is not only unique in his oeuvre, but is very rare indeed in Spanish painting as a whole, which does not generally have the drinking scenes so familiar in Flemish and Netherlandish painting. Drunkenness was regarded in Spain as a contemptible vice and "borracho" (drunkard) was the most scathing of insults. At the royal court, it seems to have been considered highly entertaining to invite low-lifers from the comedy theatres and inebriate them for the amusement of the ladies. But what kind of a Wine God is this we see, crowning his followers with ivy, said to cool the heat of wine, and consorting with peasants who grin out of the painting and clearly find the spectator, that is to say the king, a very funny sight indeed? The authority of the god whose presence delights them lends them a sense of majesty as well. And in view of the delightful travesty of royal honours in which Bacchus is indulging, they too have turned the tables and are laughing in the faces of those who would laugh at them.
As only Caravaggio before him, Velázquez has portrayed Bacchus (or rather Dionysos) as the God of the mask, the theatre and disguise.
It was thought in the nineteenth century that this was a realistic scene showing a country festival, and the picture was given the title The Topers. The painting was damaged in the fire that destroyed the royal palace in Madrid in 1734, and the left half of the god's face has been much restored.