For as long as there have been people, those people have been drinking. And for as long as they’ve been drinking, they’ve been turning their rabble-rousing into art. Whether used for ceremonial offerings or as social lubricant, alcohol has provided ample inspiration to artists and intellectuals the world over.
In fact, the word “symposium”—likely to make any art historian reach for a cocktail—is derived from the ancient Greek sympinein, meaning “to drink together.” Every culture has some association with a spirit of revelry (Bacchus, the god of wine, is particularly prominent in Western art history). The case has also been made for alcohol to serve a medicinal purpose—an “antifogmatic” to clear the cobwebs from one’s brain.
What better time than Independence Day in the United States—when many of us will be kicking back with a beer—to consider how artists have illustrated the act of imbibing over the years? Allow us to take you on a visual trip from 2,400 BC to the present—no hangover required. Bottoms up!
Ancient Egyptian, Relief of Ptahhotep before offering table at Necropolis (ca. 2400 BC)
Ancient Greek, Red-figure psykter (wine cooler) with a symposium scene, (ca. 505–500 BC)
Giovanni Bellini and Titian, Feast of the Gods (1514/29)
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Bacchus (1589)
Matteo Ghidoni, Inside of an Inn With Drunk Fight (ca. 17th century)
Adriaen Brouwer, The Bitter Potion (ca. 1630)
Jacob Jordaens, The Feast of the Bean King (1640–1645)
Jan Steen, Beware of Luxury (ca. 1663)
Francisco de Goya, The Drunken Mason (1786)
Thomas Couture, Romans During the Decadence (1847)
Vladimir Yegorovich Makovsky, Hiding From Wife (1872)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880–81)
James Ensor, The Drunkards (1883)
Antonio Casanova y Estorach, Monk Testing Wine (1886)
Peder Severin Kroyer, ‘Hip Hip Hurrah!’ Artists’ Party at Skagen (1888)
Vincent van Gogh, The Drinkers (1890)
Pablo Picasso, Absinthe Drinker (1901)
Otto Dix, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926)
Archibald J. Motley, Cocktails (1926)
Liu Wei, Two Drunk Painters (1990)
Tracey Emin, From Army to Armani (1993)
Fernando Botero, Three Women Drinking (2006)
Peter Saul, Viva la Difference (2008)
Nicole Eisenman, Sloppy Bar Room Kiss (2011)
Kati Heck, Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde (Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow) (2017)
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