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Gallery Text

In this mythological scene, Francesco Fracanzano depicts a drunken Silenus, the chief of the satyrs and tutor to the wine god Dionysus. Instead of painting him as an elderly man, as was customary, Fracanzano here portrays him in his youth. In doing so, he stresses Silenus’s incapacitated state, his stretched skin, rosy cheeks, and oversized legs evoking the body of the infant Dionysus, who is seated at his feet on the left. Fracanzano trained in the Neapolitan studio of Jusepe de Ribera, where he adopted his master’s dramatic use of color and chiaroscuro — the strong contrast between light and dark tones — for emotional effect. His over-scaled figures and use of color echo the work of other artists of the period, including Simon Vouet, Artemesia Gentileschi, and Francesco Guarino.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Francesco Fracanzano, Italian (1612 - 1656)
The Drunken Silenus
Work Type
Creation Place: Europe, Italy, Apulia
Persistent Link
Level 2, Room 2210, West Arcade
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
sight: 225.4 x 178.8 cm (88 3/4 x 70 3/8 in.)
framed: 267 x 219.6 x 11.8 cm (105 1/8 x 86 7/16 x 4 5/8 in.)
Albert Keep Isham (1894-1931) bequest; to Ralph Isham (1865-1937), Santa Barbara, California, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1932.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Ralph Isham
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri, Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1972), p. 72

Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 52, color plate; pp. 107, 345, repr. b/w cat. no. 727

Exhibition History

32Q: 2210 West Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

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