Gallery of prints for sale

Thursday 12 January 2017

Jonas Umbach’s etching, “The Drunken Silenus Carried by Satyrs”

Jonas Umbach (1624–93)
“The Drunken Silenus Carried by Satyrs”, c.1660
Etching on fine laid paper with margins and watermark (partial)
Size: (sheet) 11.3 x 15.7 cm; (plate) 8 x 12.2 cm
Signed in reverse below upper margin at left: “Jonas Umbach f.”

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers the following description of this print:
“Three satyrs carrying the drunken Silenus, preceded by a putto carrying grapes; behind them a satyr carrying a large vessel, a putto, and a bare-breasted woman” (

Nagler 128

Condition: marvellous impression in near faultless condition. There is a collector’s stamp and pencil notes (verso).

I am selling this rare original etching by Jonas Umbach for AU$224 (currently US$168.24/EUR157.76/GBP136.93 at the time of this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.
If you are interested in purchasing this remarkable 17th century print by an artist famed for his small etchings and for his skill in biting his printing plates only once in acid, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

This image of the drunken Silenus—the wine-god Dionysus’ teacher and companion—is far from unique. Even before Umbach executed it, the essential pictorial ingredients had already been formalised by artists such as Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), Anthony van Dyck (1599 –1641) and, to a lesser extent, Jusepe de Ribera (1591 –1652). The earlier representations of this mythological figure invariably show Silenus as a fat, bald, thick-lipped, squat-nosed, inebriated old man, supported by a band of satyrs, putti and stray goddesses.

What makes this particular scene special are the changes that Umbach made to the traditional arrangement of the figures. Let me explain…

In Umbach’s print the band of figures move to the right rather than to the left. Of course, when Umbach originally drew the design onto the plate the figures would have been moving to the left as is customary, but when the plate was printed the image is in reversed—as is graphically illustrated by Umbach’s mirrored signature at the top-left corner of the print. If I were to be asked what difference does this have on the projected meaning of the image I would use the analogy of how old movies were once edited: if the ending sequence was to show a happy outcome, the train or galloping horse heads off into the distance towards the left; whereas if the ending sequence expresses apprehension about an unknown future the train or horse heads off into the distance towards the right.

Even the arrangement of lighting is reversed, in that the direction of the light shown in Umbach’s etching is from the top-front-right rather than the traditional top-front-left. Again, if I were asked what difference does this make, I would use the analogy of how we perceive the craters on the moon: if the craters are lit from the top-front-left then the craters look like craters (i.e. concave dents on the moon’s surface), but if they are lit from the opposite direction the craters appear to be rounded mounds. In short, the figures portrayed in Umbach’s scene present the mind with a conflict in how to read their forms.

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