Silenus and the Satyrs
Fragment; companion to John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art (Cat. 178) and a panel in a private collection in Paris
Cima da Conegliano (Giovanni Battista Cima), Italian (active Venice and the Veneto region), 1459/60 - 1517/18
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This panel is a fragment of a painting that probably formed a long, frieze-like decoration of a bedchamber or study, possibly placed high on the wall as was common in Venice and the Veneto region of Italy during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It depicts members of the train of Bacchus, the god of wine (Dionysius in the Greek pantheon). Greek legend tells of how Bacchus’s followers accompanied him to the island of Naxos where they discovered Ariadne, daughter of Cretan King Minos, after she had been left by her Athenian lover Theseus. Another fragment from the painting, today in Milan at the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, shows Bacchus crowning and making Ariadne his wife.
This tale was well known in the sixteenth century through the poems of the ancient writers Catullus and Ovid. In representing the story, the artist tried to reconstruct the ancient world rather than set the scene in his own time. He may have seen Roman sarcophagi that showed the myth and consulted sources such as the illustrations in the antiquarian text Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream), published in Venice in 1499. Nevertheless, the landscape behind the figures resembles the Veneto region in which Cima lived.