Saturday, December 15, 2012

Party with the Gods and Crack the Velázquez Code

Have you ever been the only one in on the joke? It's like that all the time for gay guys. We see the humor and symbolism that our straighter counterparts are blind to. So it is with the famous painting El triunfo de Baco (The Triumph of Bacchus) (1629) by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez. This work appears in gajillions of books and websites, since the Spaniard Velázquez continues to be one of the most influential European artists in history, but most interpretations are oblivious to the painting's raunchy undertones.

Triumph depicts two groups of men: three mythological figures on the left and six Spanish peasants on the right. Bacchus is the pale, shirtless man, and a handsome, bare chested satyr is sitting behind him. Another mythological companion is in the foreground. The three pagan divinities, identified by their grape leaf crowns, may be "real" gods, or they may be Seventeenth Century Spanish actors representing Bacchus and company. We don't know for sure, but ambiguities like this make great art.

The leaves Bacchus wears are the biggest. So, does that mean he's the most well endowed? It could be. He was the Greek god of wine and the life of the party. The Greeks called him Dionysus, as well as Bacchus, but in Rome, he was simply known as Bacchus.

The pale god of Velázquez crowns a young and seemingly good looking Spanish soldier with a wreath of grape leaves. This action links the two groups, but it's also sexually suggestive. The soldier could almost suck Bacchus off, if he wanted, and the Greek god would most certainly caress the soldier's hair while being serviced.

Right away, we see that The Triumph of Bacchus is a form of Seventeenth Century pornography, but how could this be in Catholic Spain? Diego Velázquez was the chief painter for King Philip IV, a great patron of the arts and an avid collector of nudes and other pictures that the Spanish public would find scandalous, but never saw at the time. Even though Philip supported the Church, he, his family, and his artists were above the Inquisition.

Sexual suggestion in Triumph also comes --pun intended-- from the other direction. The satyr playfully threatens to pour a glass of wine on Bacchus --a strange redundancy-- but he's also precariously holding the glass at the base. This, along with the grape leaf wreath, blocks much of the base and stem. The color of the wine also matches the landscape, which further "hides" the glass.

Upon ignoring this glass, the satyr looks as if he's caressing the wine god's hair. We also see the satyr tugging at the party boy's toga with his other hand. This traditionally horny deity might as well be saying, "Hey Bacchus, want to fuck?"

The poses of Bacchus, the satyr, and the soldier strongly suggest a gay ménage à trois, but was this an appropriate theme, even in more libertine royal circles? The Inquisition in Seventeenth Century Spain was hostile towards sodomy, which included all forms of non-procreative sex, not just homosexuality, and some Spaniards were unfortunately executed for this. However, certain parts of Spain were more tolerant to the point of actually blocking the Inquisition's attempts at prosecution.

Another strange aspect of the painting's soldier is the unusual location of his knife. People generally carry knives on the sides of their torsos or legs for easy access. Carrying them in back would allow enemies to easily grab them and stab us, but in art, the knife is a phallic symbol, and perhaps the soldier wants to be "stabbed," that is, fucked. 

The knife is also key to unveiling a network of sexual sight gags and looking games:
1. The knife points to Bacchus' right eye (our left).
2. Bacchus' left eye is aligned with the gray haired man's dick!
3. Bacchus is looking at the satyr's right eye and recognizing his teasing or flirting.
4. The gray haired man is gazing at Bacchus and the satyr. What a cradle robber!
5. The satyr's left eye is aligned with those of the two men who look at the viewer.
6. The satyr's left fingers are aligned with the soldier's face.
7. The satyr's left eye is also aligned with the soldier's dick!
8. The satyr's right eye is aligned with Bacchus' belly button.
9. The noses of the three peasants mentioned align with the soldier's hands, which cover his dick.

Whew! What does this all mean? The satyr is the most geometrically connected, and therefore, the horniest of them all, which is no surprise. In mythology, he screws everything that moves, and in the painting, he makes a move on Bacchus, and he's charmed by the soldier and the three peasants. Bacchus may have noticed the gray haired man before, who, in turn, wants Bacchus and the satyr. The soldier covers his dick in reverence to receive the grape leaf crown, but the three peasants "smell" his youthful virility. They want him to uncover and screw around with them.

In great art, nothing is wasted, and so the two peripheral men are having a friendly conversation, but given the sensual geometry we just revealed, these two figures could be negotiating a tryst of their own.

The third mythological figure, covered in shadow, is the most mysterious. Perhaps he just likes to watch, which would actually make him one of us: a viewer, or better yet, a fellow voyeur.

The flip side of the mythological viewer is the two men who gaze at us! They invite us to the party, and they also recognize the gay guys among us. They are seasoned men, and their expressions are all knowing. 

Even the grape vines in the corner lustfully reach for Bacchus. Given all this gay revelry, it's easy to see why Bacchus and his two companions chose to visit some poor Spanish men. The Greeks and Romans took sex in stride, and their gods were therefore very sensual. The Spaniards in the painting apparently may have lived in tolerant quarters. The wine also lowered their inhibitions to the point that the pagan gods saw fit to visit them, or three actors played the gods, or the men became so drunk that the gods' visit was a group hallucination.

An additional possibility is that the men were straight, but they, like many men, wildly enjoyed drinking and staging homoerotic rituals. For generations in America, military and fraternity initiation parties have looked as gay as The Triumph of Bacchus. Add to this the current trend of gay chicken, and the painting, in all its gay myths, given the right amount of alcohol, doesn't seem so unreal after all.

Photo Credits:
Human Trampoline 1 -- Fratmen;
Blowjob 4 -- Curtis sucks Trey, Sean Cody;
Threesome 6 -- Terry (below), Billy (center), and Ford,
     Sean Cody;
Flying Fuck 9 -- Owen tops Billy, Sean Cody;
Five Nude Swimmers 14 -- Unknown origin;
Other images are from El triunfo de Baco (The Triumph of Bacchus)
     (1629) by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, a painting of
     the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

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