Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Bacchanal by Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Bacchanals were orgies held in worship of the Roman wine god, Bacchus. They involved lots of sex, lots of drinking and sometimes some mindless violence thrown in for good measure.
We might expect that a painting of an orgy would take the opportunity to display some otherwise unacceptable behaviour (Victorian painters could put things in Classical scenes that were unacceptable in contemporary scenes). Remarkably, Alma-Tadema has given us a picture of a group of revellers so half-hearted that the Church of England look fanatical in comparison.
The big man on the right has had too much and lies down beaten by all the excess (which actually seems rather minimal). The female musicians in the background look utterly depressed by the event. The dancing lady seems to be wondering what she is doing there. The dancing young man on the right is trying to get into the spirit of things, but he appears to be just going through the motions. The other male dancer is really enjoying himself and putting something into it, but as he is the only one, he looks rather silly.
Some people have cricised this painting because it lacks the excess and debaucery that we would expect from such a scene. However, I actually think the picture is rather profound in portraying an orgy in such a way.
Ultimately, the immoral things of this world do not satisfy. I am sure orgies were fun, but when you had been to ten of them, I am sure they rather lost something. Immorality is subject to the law of diminishing returns. There are many people who try to build their lives around sex, drugs and alcohol and frequently they end up feeling more and more miserable. Only the knowledge of the Triune God of the Bible can truly satisfy.
The peoples of Greece and Rome were not satisfied by the cults of their gods and they turned to Christianity.