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Velázquez, Los Borrachos or the Triumph of Bacchus

Video transcript

we're in the Prado in Madrid and we're looking at a great early Velazquez the triumph of Bacchus the painting is unnerving Lea vivid almost more than photographic Bacchus the god of wine looks beautiful and he sort of bathed in light any young central figure and he's sitting on a jug of wine kit supermoon he's the god of wine he's got great please yes and he's come down to earth to bring men wine which relieves life's sufferings and relieving it it is you know for everyone's having a really good time there's a figure kneeling down one of Bacchus has followers who's having a crown placed on his head and there's a feeling of revelry and partying and fun Bacchus looks away yeah but that other figured just to the right with the Hat he feels like someone we've all seen in a bar somewhere exactly right he's got this bowl of wine that he's about to bring to his lips which I don't know about for you but to me I feel as if I can just feel the coolness of that liquid yes so no transparent I can feel it's sort of waft or the glistening surface glistening surface I can feel a sort of edge side to side and I can see his anticipation but he's looked up at us and it is not just the vividness of the contrast of light and shadow across his face but it's the way in which he smiles directly at us so that we are there we are right there ready to partay yeah I think that's what's so sort of uncomfortable about it I mean he's a kind of seedy character yes yes I mean he looks sort of like he's lived a hard life and the figures around him to a kind of leathery skin and clothing that looks very poor especially in contrast to the God when he looks out at us it sort of implies that we are like him I sort of become a rowdy reveler you know in a CAF drunken state sort of partying it up and not feeling life's pain and more there is a kind of guilt by association I think that that's exactly right we are drawn in so it's interesting that we're drawn in not only because of the scale of the figures in the sense of proximity right but we're drawn in by a kind of almost moral equivalency if there is a kind of lovely frieze of the figures right they're all very much close to the foreground and looking a very baroque way and occupy all kind of the same plane across that foreground taking much of the space of the panic so there's a real directness about the figures they're very much in our space but there's also a really interesting set of contrasts you know you have the as you described the very beautiful body and young and sort of perfect body of Bacchus you've then got the satyr just over his shoulder and those two mythological figures and perhaps the third crouching down and the foreground and the shadow are so contrasted against the figures of our reality who are on the right but one of the things that I think makes this painting feel so vivid and so engaging is the variation in sort of degrees of focus that Velasquez brings to the canvas in other words look at the background it couldn't be sort of more unfinished of the figure in the foreground in the lower left that we mentioned in shadow feels almost incomplete and so that really draws our eye Brighton to the center finger zero there is something very interesting about the contrast again you mentioned it before between the directness of the mane of the hat and the way in which Bacchus himself looks off to the side so that our eye has to go to the man that we don't want to go to in a sense there's a kind of realism that Velasquez is bringing to a mythological subject and not intentionally not representing it in a kind of classical manner he gives us a few handles actually quite literally if you look at the jugs down at the bottom in the center you know there is a kind of vividness there we feel as if we can literally sort of reach in and grab one of those and and it'll be poured full of wine for us but there are these sort of points of entrance and sort of these these points of kind of physical reality that give us access to the mythological in a way that I don't think we were used to it's very much like the way the Caravaggio would paint religious subjects in Italy and you know with that kind of immediacy and realism and physicality and the down to earth this of the figures and the way that everything is happening very close to us so I think what we're seeing is in Caravaggio inspired approach applied to a mythological subject