The original statue is somewhat over life-size and depicts Bacchus, the Roman God of Wine, in a reeling pose suggestive of drunkenness. Along with the Pietà, the Bacchus is one of only two surviving sculptures from the artist’s first period in Rome. c. 1496-1497.
Bacchus wears a wreath of ivy leaves, as that plant was sacred to the God. (They are not, as is often supposed, vine leaves.) In his right hand he holds a goblet of wine and in his left the skin of a tiger, an animal associated with the God “for its love of the grape”.
The statue was commissioned for the garden of Cardinal Raffaele Riario who intended for it to complement his collection of classical sculptures. It was rejected by Cardinal Riario and by 1506 found its way to the collection of Jacopo Galli, banker to both the Cardinal and Michelangelo, who had a similar garden near the Palazzo della Cancelleria. There it first appeared in a drawing by Maarten van Heemskerck, c. 1533-36. The statue was bought for the Medici family and transferred to Florence in 1572.