Bacchus and Ariadne. H: 24".
Courtesy Elinor Penna Antiques. www.elinorpenna.com
Why is this stunning figure of Bacchus and Ariadne sometimes referred to as Priapos and a Maenad? Some have suggested that the figure really is Priapos and a Maenad, but along the way sensitivities to the name Priapos (a fertility god with an obscenely huge penis) resulted in renaming the figure. Last week I went to Philadelphia for a few days and, as always, could not wait to hole up in the Free Library on Vine Street, a great spot for research. So here's the skinny on this figure.
Around 1770, a Greco-Roman marble was bought in Rome and shipped back to Cheshire by it's proud owner. The marble essentially comprised two torsos--both heads had been lost, as had most of the limbs. It was decided to restore it (we are still in the 18th century) but no-one really knew how it should be done. So the marble was retored to resemble Dionysos (also known and Bacchus) and Ariadne. I think that a 4th century BCE bronze relief in the British Museum guided the restorer. The marble, complete with new heads and limbs, was imitated as a smaller plaster and a bronze....which in turn were copied as the figure we call Bacchus and Ariadne.
Of course, today, we are much smarter and we can confirm the marble's true identity as Priapos and a Maenad. How? Well, a similar Greco-Roman marble in Athens has Priapos's head intact, and yet another similar marble in Berlin preserves the maenad's head. BTW, these marbles were apparently all copies of an earlier Hellenistic work.
Where is our marble today? Complete with incorrectly restored body parts, it resides in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
And now that you know more than you ever wanted to know, LOOK at the figure and be wow-ed by the skills required to make it. Remember, it is 24" high and I can barely lift it!
Vermeule, Cornelius. “Recent Museum Acquisitions: Priapos and Maenad (Boston Museum of Fine Arts”; Vol. 111, No. 795, (June 1969), p381-382.
Poole, Julia. "Plagiarism Personified." p64.