Indeed, in the decade prior to the execution of this canvas, Crespi's mastery of the rendering of the nude figure won public applause when the three most prominent young artists in Bologna at the time, Antonio Burrini, Gian Gioseffo Dal Sole, and Crespi – in obvious competition with each other – exhibited small paintings representing episodes from the myth of Hercules. Giampietro Zanotti, a contemporary of Crespi and his biographer, recorded the public’s reaction to the exhibition as they stopped in front of Crespi’s painting crying 'oh quanto è valente lo Spagnuolo! Viva lo Spagnuolo' ('Oh what a genius Spagnuolo is! Long live Spagnuolo').2
Merriman notes that this Silenus is thought to post-date a second treatment of the subject by Crespi in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.3 The Bologna Silenus is believed to be in an unfinished state and lacks the volume and finish of the present work.
1 Merriman 1980, p. 281.
2 G. Zanotti, Storia dell'Accademia Clementina di Bologna, Bologna 1739, vol. II, p. 41. The artist’s nickname 'Spagnuolo' probably refers to his behaviour and habits in general as much as to the Spanish cape which he habitually wore.
3 Merriman 1980, p. 281, cat. no. 163, reproduced fig. 163.
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