Running Bacchante


Clodion ( French, 1738 - 1814 )

About 1790–1799
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General Description

Among the outstanding eighteenth-century French works of art acquired by Michael L. Rosenberg are two exuberant terracotta sculptures by Claude Michel, called Clodion, which are titled “Running Bacchant” and “Running Bac¬chante.” While the figures are not dated, they are likely part of a group of terracotta sculptures that the artist created in the 1790s and they reflect Clodion’s remarkable visual memory and his ability to blend stylistic characteristics of the antique with those of the Roman and French Baroque—not to mention those of his contemporaries. Both of the terracottas exhibit sensitively modeled anatomy and detailed textures of human and animal skin, hair, and fruit. The Rosenberg sculptures represent followers of Bacchus (Dionysus in Greek), the god of the grape harvest, winemaking, fertility, and the theatre. Their bacchanals were feasts or celebrations of uncontrolled revelry. These wild rites—which often took place in wooded or landscape settings and involved inebriation, ecstatic dancing, and the playing of musical instruments—are vividly described in Euripides’s play “The Bacchae.” The female followers of Bacchus, called maenads or bacchantes, were usually shown seminude, wearing the skins of tigers or panthers tied with strands of ivy, with loose and wild hair, and carrying thyrsi, large fennel sticks wound with ivy and topped with a pinecone. Some carried cymbals, panpipes, tambourines, or bunches of grapes. The Rosenberg “Running Bacchante” closely follows this description. With breasts bared and curly hair flying in the wind, she holds in each hand a thyrsus, crossed over her shoulders behind her head, from which large bunches of grapes hang. Her finely pleated, thin dress blows in billowing folds behind her, and next to her bare right foot rests a tambourine filled with grapes. Circumstances made it so that Clodion had very few large-scale commissions. He drew and modeled in clay with such dexterity and invented bacchanalian figures of such charm that he found a ready audience for them in spite of the changing times. What he tried initially in reliefs, he eventually developed into sculptures in the round; however, these sculptures always have a preferred view or orientation. The small scale of his works made them ideal for neoclassical interiors, while also conveying a sense of grandeur. As is evident in the Rosenberg statuettes, the figures are sensual, joyous, and free, but they are not lewd. Their iconography is firmly rooted in a profound knowledge of antique sculpture, literature, and history. Adapted from Anne L. Poulet, "On the Run: Clodion's Bacchanalian Figures," in “French Art of the Eighteenth Century: The Michael L. Rosenberg Lecture Series at the Dallas Museum of Art,” ed. Heather MacDonald (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art and the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation, 2016), 171–79.