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Francesco Francanzano, The Drunken Silenus (1640s)

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at The Drunken Silenus (1640s) by Francesco Francanzano.

About the Work

Title : The Drunken Silenus
Artist : Francesco Francanzano
Year : 1640s
Medium : Oil on canvas
Dimensions : 225.4 x 178.8 cm (88 3/4 x 70 3/8 in.)
Location : Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


In Greek mythology, Silenus was a companion to the wine god, Dionysus. In traditional painting, Silenus is often depicted as half man and half beast. He has the ears and legs of a horse and has a tail. Most representations of Silenus showed him as an elderly creature.

In his work, Francanzano not only depicts Silenus in his youth, but also shows him getting drunk. Baby Dionysus is seated to Silenus’ lower left.

Francesco Francanzano’s Training

According to the digital catalogue of the Harvard Art Museums :

“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.”

Jusepe de Ribera ws a Spanish painter and print makes. Apart from his dramatic renderings of light and shadow, de Ribera most well known for his depictions of religious and mythological subject matter.

The Drunken Silenus shows de Ribera’s influence on Francanzano, especially owing to the painting’s chiaroscuro.

Other Details

Francesco Francanzano’s The Drunken Silenus is housed in the Harvard Art Museums in Room 2210. It is part of the museum’s collection of the West Arcade.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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