Annibale Carracci, The Drunken Silenus, design for the Tazza Farnese

Italy, around AD 1598

The subject is taken from classical myth. Set against a sketchy landscape, Silenus, the foster father of Dionysos and chief of the satyrs, slumps drunkenly to the ground loosely clutching a flask of wine. He leans against a kneeling satyr who carries a full wine skin on his left shoulder. A human figure stands to the right also carrying a large wine skin. A little boy encourages them, as he clambers up the circular frame of the drawing. The ornamental frame is made of vines, bunches of grapes and the heads of goats and lions, all suitable decoration for the bacchanalian scene of wild drunkenness.

Carracci (1560-1609) drew this scene in pen and brown ink over red chalk as a study for an engraving on silver, for his patron Cardinal Odoardo Farnese in Rome. The design was an appropriate one because it was for a silver drinking cup known as the Tazza Farnese. Annibale's treatment of a classical theme is both naturalistic and idealizing, a synthesis central to the classical style which he initiated in Rome at the end of the sixteenth century.

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More information


J. Rowlands, Master drawings and watercolou (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)

N. Turner, Italian drawings in the Depa-4 (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

D. DeG. Bohlin, Prints and related drawings by (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979)


Height: 286.000 mm
Width: 275.000 mm

Museum number

PD Pp.3-20


Bequeathed by R. Payne Knight


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