Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado 1992, n. 64; Northampton; Massachusetts, Smith College Museum of Art.
The head of Silenus is a fragment of a magnificent painting of José de Ribera, known as the Visit of Bacchus to Icarius. This work is first catalogued in the inventory of the royal collections of Phillip IV, which place it in the Royal Alcazar of Madrid in 1666, in the room where the king himself dined. Unfortunately, it was among the paintings which were lost in the Alcazar fire in 1734. Only four fragments survived the fire. Two fragments which are in the Museo Nacional del Prado are the heads of Bacchus and Erigon – daughter of the host who received the divine visit. This head of Silenus is in a private collection, and one that showed “the three heads” is unfortunately lost. The exceptional origin of the painting itself, commissioned from one of the most renowned artists of the age, is enhanced by the symbolic richness of its imagery. Bacchus is one of the most complex characters in the Olympic pantheon, but is most often associated with festivities around wine.