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Oil painting - The Triumph of Bacchus
  • The Triumph of Bacchus
    Poussin, Nicolas, born 1594 - died 1665
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The Triumph of Bacchus

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    pre 1800 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Poussin, Nicolas, born 1594 - died 1665 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Miss Margaret Coutts Trotter

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) was born in Normandy but spent his formative years in Paris from 1612-1623. He may have studied with Ferdinand Elle (ca.1585-1637/40) and Georges Lallemand (died 1636) and was influenced by the second Ecole of Fontainebleau. He went to Italy and arrived in Rome, following a visit to Venice, in March 1624 where he spent the rest of his life. He became a member of the Accademia di S Luca by 1632 and received commissions from important collectors in France and Italy, producing history, religious and landscape paintings. His most famous pupil was his brother-in-law Gaspard Dughet (1615-1675).

This painting is a good and old copy of the same dimensions as the original housed in the Nelson Gallery of Art and Atkins Museum, Kansas City. It depicts the Triumph of Bacchus, God of Wine, depicted on his chariot on the left, attended by a retinue of satyrs, centaurs, nymphs and putti among which one can recognise Pan with his pipes and Hercules holding a tripod. Among the clouds, Apollo is leading the chariot of the Sun. This original painting was commissioned by the Cardinal Richelieu around 1636 for his castle of Poitou.

Physical description

The nude figure of Bacchus sits on chariot pulled by two centaurs. The scene is in a landscape setting with numerous figures travelling alongside the chariot - including nymphs and putti. A bearded man reclines on the ground in the right foreground, at his feet are an earthenware jar lying on its side and a palm leaf.


pre 1800 (painted)


Poussin, Nicolas, born 1594 - died 1665 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas


Height: 127 cm estimate, Width: 151 cm estimate, :

Object history note

Bequeathed by Miss Margaret Coutts Trotter, 1882

Historical significance: This painting is an old copy of a composition by Poussin, which is believed to be the version housed in the Nelson Gallery of Art and Atkins Museum, Kansas City.
It shows the Triumph of Bacchus, God of Wine. Crowned with grapevine, Bacchus is depicted on the left, seated on a chariot led by a cheerful retinue of satyrs, nymphs, centaurs and putti. Among them are Pan with his pipes and probably Hercules, holding a tripod, which was a bone of contention in the Greek mythology between Hercules and Apollo. Apollo is shown among the clouds leading the chariot of the Sun while on the lower right is a bearded river god characterised by an upside amphora lying beside him. This figure most likely symbolised the river Indus and India as Bacchus is usually associated in the mythology with this country.
The original composition was part of a series of four paintings commissioned by the Cardinal Richelieu for his castle at Poitou, between 1634 and 1637 at the latest. The series included The Triumph of Neptune, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Triumph of Silenus (lost?) and The Triumph of Pan, National Gallery, London (albeit believed by some to be a mere copy) and were dispatched directly from Rome to Paris.
This painting is a good example of Poussin's mythological compositions, in which the painter focuses on the narrative sequence while showing the influence of Classical design and of the Italian masters, especially Raphael's classical equilibrium and naturalistic movement, enhanced by the warm colours and romantic atmosphere of Venetian Renaissance painting. This focus on lively movement and gesture counter-balanced by the rigor of the design became the hallmark of Poussin's work, which was sometimes qualified as Classical baroque.

Historical context note

History painting, i.e. depictions of non recurring events based on religious, classical, literary or allegorical sources, particularly developed in Italy during the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries). History painting could include religious themes, or depictions of momentous recent events, but the term was most frequently associated with Classical subject-matter. However a renewed impetus was given to religious subjects after the Council of Trent (1545-63), which stipulated new iconographical programmes. The development of art treatises, in which the compositional rules guiding the art of painting were discussed also notably, influenced the evolution of history painting. From around 1600 history painting's principal rivals: still-life, landscape and genre painting began to emerge as independent collectable genres. Furthermore, the Rococo taste for the ornamental in the early 18th century prioritised the decorative quality of history painting, so that subject matters became more entertaining than exemplary. There was a renewed interest in history painting during the Neo-Classical period after which the taste for such pictures faded towards the end of the 19th century when an innovative approach to the image was led by the Symbolists and was developed further by subsequent schools in the early 20th century.

Descriptive line

Oil painting on canvas, 'The Triumph of Bacchus', After Nicolas Poussin, pre 1800

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

C.M. Kauffmann,Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 227-229, cat. no. 286
O. Grautoff, Nicolas Poussin, sein Werk und sein Leben, ii, München: 1914, p. 144
A. Blunt, The Paintings of Poussin: a critical catalogue, London: 1966, p. 97 f., no. 137.
M. Bandox, 'Autour de Poussin au Musée des Beaux-Arts de Poitiers' in Bulletin des Amis du Musée de Poitiers, Poitiers: 1953, p. 2.


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Nymph; Cherub; God; Chariot; Centaur; Landscape




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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