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Dionysos Unmasked: Ancient Sculpture and Early Prints

This innovative collaboration between the Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art and the Department of Prints and Drawings examines Renaissance and Baroque printmakers’ direct responses to Classical antiquity through the figure of Dionysos, the ancient Greek god of wine and theater. Installed in the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art, this exhibition juxtaposes ancient sculpture with prints from the 15th through the 18th century with nearly 100 objects—pieces from the permanent collection, new loans of ancient art, and recently acquired works on paper.

Dionysos—known as Bacchus to the Romans—cavorted with an entourage of satyrs, the god Pan, and frenzied maenads, female followers of the god. All these devotees represented the untamed and hedonistic desires of humanity, which were unleashed by the intoxicating elixir of wine. Because performance was a part of the early Greek festivals of Dionysos, he also became known as the patron god of theater, an aspect of the deity that is less well known today. In ancient art, Dionysos could take many forms, from a graceful youth to a bearded mature man. During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the time of early printmaking, interest in antiquity—especially Dionysos—flourished. Ancient sculptures depicting the god and his raucous retinue inspired artists to find new ways to transform age-old Dionysian subjects into prints and drawings that would appeal to their own contemporary audiences.

Anchoring the exhibition are Greek and Roman sculptures depicting Dionysos and his wild followers along with vessels used in ritual drinking parties and festivals honoring the god of wine and theater. Their printed counterparts are masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance to the French Rococo, including notably Andrea Mantegna’s Bacchanal with a Wine Vat, a 15th-century Italian engraving with striking visual similarity to the bronze Statue of Young Dionysos (a current long-term loan to the museum). Bringing together this rich selection of works, separated by as many as 1,500 years, this exhibition offers new, enticing insights into the art of Classical antiquity and its later revivals.

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