In classical mythology Silenus was the companion of Bacchus, god of wine. This painting is part of the decoration which Annibale Carracci executed on a keyboard instrument for Fulvio Orsini (1529 - 1600), the librarian to the Farnese family in Rome and tutor to Cardinal Odoardo.
Being a classical scholar, Orsini may have advised on the subject matter of the work. The panel of 'Marsyas and Olympus' was probably part of the same decoration. In style and spirit these paintings are very close to the Farnese Gallery frescoes with which they are contemporary.
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