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Bacchanal of Putti

Campi Giovanni

(active in Rome second half of the 18th century)

This bas relief is enclosed in a lavish frame supported by two dragons and surmounted by an eagle, the heraldic animals of the Borghese family. The work depicts putti involved in playing, fighting, drinking and dancing, alluding to the rituals of the cult of Bacchus.

The Bacchanal of Putti was long ascribed to the Flemish sculptor François Duquesnoy, until Italo Faldi discovered a receipt in the Borghese papers for a payment made in 1649-51 to an almost unknown Giovanni Campi. Two small Lydian stone statues depicting Hunters are the only other known works by the sculptor; indeed the Bacchanal has always been displayed next to them, perhaps because the same material was used to make them.

Object details

Lydian stone on lapis lazuli ground; frame in lapis lazuli, gilded metal and wood; pair of dragons as supports and eagle atop of frame in gilded metal and wood
100 x 80 cm

Borghese Collection, 1649-50 (Faldi 1954, pp. 52-53, nos. I-IX); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 51, no. 140; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 2011-2012 Roma, Galleria Borghese
  • 2015 Firenze, Museo degli Argenti-Museo di Storia Naturale


The bas relief depicts 16 putti in Lydian stone on a ground of lapis lazuli. Those in the centre of the composition are beating a billy goat as they drag it by the horns, while others are fighting, dancing, drinking and climbing trees, creating an animated scene typical of Bacchic processions. The frame was executed in lapis lazuli and gilded bronze; it is supported by two dragons and surmounted by an eagle, the heraldic animals of the Borghese family.

Long attributed to the Flemish sculptor François Duquesnoy (1594-1643), the bas relief is actually the work of Giovanni Campi, who received a payment of 180 scudi between 1649 and 1651 to create it (Vatican Secret Archive, Borghese Archive, 5630, series 1649, no. 267; 8066 ‘Registro dei Mandati, 1650-54’, p. 13, no. 57; p. 29, 142; p. 50, no. 247; p. 67, no. 323; p. 95, no. 467; p. 104, no. 517; 5631 ‘Filza dei mandati 1651’, no. 234; 8066, p. 157, no. 234; in Faldi 1954, pp. 52-3, nos. I-IX).

The work was most likely completed at the end of 1650, given that in November of that year the final polishing was paid for (Faldi 1954, p. 53, no. VII). The sculptor is known and documented only for this commission and the one for two Hunters (inv nos. CCLXXIV and CCLXXV), which were also executed for the Borghese.

Cited for the first time in 1700 in Montelatici’s guidebook as a work by François Duquesnoy, the Bacchanal of the Putti was exhibited in Room 6 on the wall in front of the Gladiator and protected by a crystal display case with pear-wood frames; it was flanked by the two small statues of the Hunters, which were also sculpted in Lydian stone. Their placement next to one another was probably due to the fact that the same material was used to create them, given that they are not thematically related. Their positioning gave expression to the taste of the Borghese for arrangements featuring works executed in polychrome stone, which are often examples of incontestable artist virtuosity (Minozzi 2015, p. 351).

Together with the Hunters, the Bacchanal of Putti was moved to Room 3 at the end of the 18th century. Here it was displayed next to four vases by Laboreur and Cardelli decorated with putti at play and symbolising the seasons; the arrangement thus highlighted a stylistic similarity among the works (González-Palacios 1995, p. 545). In 1841 the bas relief was once again documented in Room 6, where it can be seen today.

Campi clearly drew inspiration from the works of Duquesnoy, who in fact created many models depicting the various groups of putti shown in the Bacchanal (Boudon-Machuel 2005, p. 355, cat. R116). In particular, the work in question closely resembles Duquesnoy’s relief Sacred Love and Profane Love in the Galleria Spada in Rome (Faldi 1954, p. 52). Yet Campi’s representation in Lydian stone could not reproduce the tenderness of Duquesnoy’s work, which was in turn inspired by Titian. In his life of Francesco Fiammingo, Bellori (1672, p. 271) describes a terracotta model of a composition similar to the one in question, in which putti beat a billy goat while dragging it by the horns. The work was executed in porphyry by Tommaso Fedele for Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who gave it to Philip IV of Spain (it has since gone lost). As that relief was quite well known, Faldi suggested that Campi’s work could be a replica of it.

Depictions of putti was a genre in its own right in 17th-century sculpture, enjoying widespread popularity on the contemporary artistic scene. If on the one hand the theme was treated by emerging artists who could not compete with the great masters for public commissions, on the other hand many collectors asked artists for works with this subject to adorn their palazzi, given that they were cheaper and more easily executed than statues of larger dimensions (Pierguidi 2012, p. 156).

Sonja Felici