Drunken Silenus supported by Satyrs

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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This uproarious crowd of mythical characters is noisy and ill-behaved, but meant to make you smile. The old man who has lost his clothes in the revels is Silenus – in Roman myth, the teacher and mentor of Bacchus, the god of wine. In the seventeenth century, the Roman myths were popular as subjects for painting. Flemish artists in particular found Silenus a personification of everything ribald, exuberant and funny. He made an appealing subject, giving artists the chance to paint an old man, naked and drunk – comic but sometimes touched with pathos.

The picture came from Rubens’s studio in Antwerp and it seems to have been a joint effort by several young artists working there. But the superb rendering of Silenus’ bloated, happy face and the folds and bulges of his solid, glowing flesh strongly suggest that they were painted by the young Anthony van Dyck.

The National Gallery, London



Drunken Silenus supported by Satyrs


about 1620


Oil on canvas


H 133.5 x W 197 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1871

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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