The Birth of Bacchus

Object Details


The Birth of Bacchus


Giulio Romano (Giulio Pippi) and Workshop (Italian, before 1499 - 1546)




about 1530s


Oil on panel


126.4 × 79.4 cm (49 3/4 × 31 1/4 in.)

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In a canvas filled with half-naked, twisting bodies, the story of Bacchus's birth unfolds in a typically wry Mannerist comment on the perils of passion. On discovering that the chief god Jupiter had impregnated the young mortal Semele, his wife Juno hatched a plan to end their love affair. Disguised as Semele's nurse, and knowing that Jupiter's lightning and thunder were lethal, she persuaded Semele to ask Jupiter to visit "in all his glory." Here, as Semele gives birth to Bacchus, who is caught by nymphs, as she herself is consumed by flames. From the top of the clouds, Juno looks apprehensively at her thunderbolt-carrying husband.

Giulio Romano and his workshop originally painted this scene as part of an erotic series of mythological love stories for Federico Gonzaga, duke of Mantua. Giulio probably did not execute the series by himself, though he probably designed them and painted selected parts.

about 1530s - 1540

Federico II Gonzaga, fifth marchese and first duke of Mantua, 1500 - 1540 (Mantua, Italy), commissioned from the artist, about 1530s; by inheritance to his son, Francesco III Gonzaga, 1540.

1540 - 1550

Francesco III Gonzaga, second duke of Mantua, 1533 - 1550 (Mantua, Italy), by inheritance to his son, Guglielmo Gonzaga, 1550.

1550 - 1587

Guglielmo Gonzaga, third duke of Mantua, 1538 - 1587 (Mantua, Italy), by inheritance to his son, Vincenzo I Gonzaga, 1587.

1587 - 1612

Vincenzo I Gonzaga, fourth duke of Mantua, 1562 - 1612 (Mantua, Italy), by inheritance to his son, Francesco IV Gonzaga, 1612.


Francesco IV Gonzaga, fifth duke of Mantua, 1586 - 1612 (Mantua, Italy), by inheritance to his son, Ferdinando Gonzaga, 1612.

1612 - 1626

Ferdinando Gonzaga, duke of Mantua, 1587 - 1626 (Mantua, Italy), by inheritance to his brother, Vincenzo II Gonzaga, 1626.

1626 - 1627

Vincenzo II Gonzaga, seventh duke of Mantua, 1594 - 1627 (Mantua, Italy), sold to Charles I, probably between 1627 and 1632.
Source: In inv. of 1627.

early 1630s - 1650

King Charles I of England, 1600 - 1649 (London, England), upon his death, held in trust by the estate.

1649 - 1650

Estate of King Charles I of England, 1600 - 1649 [sold, Charles I sale, Somerset House, London, May 3, 1650, to Nicolas Lanier.]

1650 -

Nicholas Lanier (London, England)

1650/1652 -

John DeCritz (Austin Friars, London, England)
Source: Seen by Richard Symonds in 1650/1652.

by 1696 -

Éverhard Jabach, 1618 - 1695 (Paris, France)
Source: PI: Collectors File.

- 1723

Philippe II, duc d'Orléans and regent of France, 1674 - 1723 (Paris, France), by inheritance to Louis, 1723.
Source: In 1724 posthumous inventory.

1723 - 1752

Louis, duc d'Orléans, 1703 - 1752 (Paris, France), by inheritance to Louis-Philippe, 1752.

1752 - 1785

Louis-Philippe, duc d'Orléans, 1725 - 1785 (Paris, France), by inheritance to his son, Louis-Philippe-Joseph, 1785.

1785 - 1792

Louis-Philippe-Joseph, duc d'Orléans, 1747 - 1793 (Paris, France), sold to Édouard de Walkuers, 1792.


Vicomte Édouard de Walkuers (Brussels, Belgium), sold to his cousin, François-Louis-Joseph de Laborde-Méréville, 1792.

1792 - 1793

François-Louis-Joseph de Laborde-Méréville, 1761 - 1802 (Paris, France; London, England), consigned to Jeremiah Harman, 1793.

1793 - 1798

Jeremiah Harman, about 1764 - 1844, sold as part of entire Orléans collection of Italian paintings to a consortium of George Granville Leveson-Gower, Frederick Howard, and Francis Egerton, 1798.

1798 - 1800

George Granville Leveson-Gower, first duke of Sutherland, 1758 - 1833 (London, England; Trentham Hall, Stafford, England; Dunrobin Castle, Highland, Scotland)


and Frederick Howard, fifth earl of Carlisle, 1748 - 1825 (Castle Howard, North Yorkshire, England)


and Francis Egerton, third duke of Bridgewater, 1736 - 1803 (London, England; Trentham Hall, Stafford, England; Dunrobin Castle, Highland, Scotland), possibly in sales exhibition London, Lyceum in the Strand (December 26, 1798 to possibly August 1799), no. 230, unsold; [possibly sold, Orléans Collection sale, Coxe, Burrell, and Foster, London, February 14, 1800, lot 48.]

- 1806

Sir Richard Joseph Sullivan, first Bart., 1752 - 1806 (Thames Ditton, Surrey, England) [unsold, Sullivan sale, European Museum, London, December 29, 1806, lot 1898; unsold, Sullivan sale, Christie's, London, April 9, 1808, lot 12.], by inheritance to Henry Sullivan, 1806.
Source: PI: 1806 sale from Sales Index.

1806 - 1814

Sir Henry Sullivan, second Bart., 1785 - 1814 (Thames Ditton, Surrey, England), by inheritance to his brother, Charles Sullivan, 1814.

1814 - still in 1859

Sir Charles Sullivan, third Bart., 1789 - 1862 (Ember Court, Surrey, England) [unsold, Sullivan sale, Christie's, London, June 18, 1859, lot 62.]

about 1939 - about 1941

O.E. Ruggles (Los Angeles, California), consigned to Armand du Vannes.

about 1941 -

Armand du Vannes (West Hollywood, California)

- 1948

Arnold Prilucker (Los Angeles, California)

1948 - 1969

Paul Metcalf Galleries (Los Angeles, California), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1969.

The J. Paul Getty Collection (June 29 to September 3, 1972) (Cat. 45)
  • The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Minneapolis), June 29 to September 3, 1972
Giulio Romano (September 1 to November 12, 1989) (pp. 440 - 41)
  • Museo Civico di Palazzo Te (Mantua), September 1 to November 12, 1989
Fürstenhöfe der Renaissance: Giulio Romano und die klassische Tradition (December 6, 1989 to February 18, 1990) (Cat. IV/94; p. 176)
  • Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna), December 6, 1989 to February 18, 1990
Gonzaga: la celeste galeria (September 2, 2002 to January 12, 2003) (Cat. 50)
  • Centro Internazionale d'Arte e di Cultura di Palazzo Te (Mantua), September 2, 2002 to January 12, 2003

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Du Bois de Saint-Gelais, Louis-François. Description des tableaux du Palais Royal: avec la vie des peintres à la tête de leurs ouvrages, dédiée à Monseigneur le duc d'Orleans, premier prince du sang. 2nd ed. (Paris: chez d'Houry, 1737) pp. 271-72.

Couché, Jacques. Galerie du Palais Royal: gravée d'après les tableaux des differentes ecoles qui la composent avec un abrégé de la vie des peintres & une description historique de chaque tableau. 3 vols. (Paris: chez J. Couché, 1786-1808), vol. 1 (1786) unpaginated, "IIIe tableau de Jules Romain".

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Coxe, Burrell, and Foster, London. The Catalogue of the Remaining Part of the Orleans' Collection of Italian Paintings, Which Were Exhibited Last Year at Mr. Bryan's Gallery, in Pall Mall, and at the Lyceum in the Strand [...]. February 14, 1800 p. 7, lot 48.

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Christie and Manson, London. Catalogue of the Valuable Collection of Pictures, Formed by the Late Sir Richard Sullivan, Bart., and Removed from Ember Court, Thames Ditton. June 18, 1859 p. 9, lot 62.

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