Christie’s experts are a little stumped by this Lucas Cranach the Elder painting of Bacchus and the Wine Vat. The work is estimated at $2.5-3.5m reflecting the success of recent Cranach images of novelty and power (though there have been a few Cranach misses in the last year or so.) This work is being sold by a Bay Area wine importer which only adds to the novelty. However, the consignor does little to pierce the mystery of the composition. The convention is to portray Bacchus as a youthful deity. Here he is a less appealing character which leads the house’s specialists to conclude:
the facial features of Bacchus appear to be individual and it therefore seems likely that is it is an actual portrait, perhaps of a patron, friend or some then-recognizable public figure. […] Cranach’s composition, however, takes the antics of the inebriated putti a stage further as they engage in fighting, imbibe wine and generally show the physical effects of drink. The artist also introduces into the scene a recumbent young female nude in the foreground and an ugly old woman who appears to enable and encourage the behavior of the children. It is unclear what the precise relevance or role of these figures is, but together they evoke the theme of the Ages of Man.
Piers Davies adds some more background: