This swirling, exuberant sculpture by Frederick MacMonnies depicts a nude woman holding a bunch of grapes, with which she taunts an animated, but still transfixed, infant. Her sensuality and the grapes mark her as a bacchante, a female devotee of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, revelry, and debauchery. The baby’s inability to grasp the grapes beyond his reach underscores the theme of uncontrollable and unfulfilled human desire.
The Mead’s Bacchante is one of several bronze reductions of a notorious monumental sculpture that MacMonnies completed and presented to his friend, architect Charles McKim. McKim’s subsequent gift of the sculpture to the Boston Public Library triggered a firestorm of controversy. Judging Bacchante to be wholly indecent, critics claimed her as evidence of the need for temperance and the fearsome effects of women’s suffrage. McKim eventually withdrew his gift, offering it instead to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Written by Timothy Clark, Class of 2012
American Art Intern, Spring 2010