A centuries-old painting of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, has been recovered by the FBI in New York 80 years after it was stolen and sold off by the Nazis.

FBI agents this week returned the painting of ‘a young man as Bacchus‘ to the descendants of Dr Max Stern, a Jewish art gallery manager who was forced to flee Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Bacchus was the Roman god of wine, agriculture and fertility – and is seen as a copy of the Greek god Dionysus.

bacchus painting

The full painting by Jan Franse Verzijl, who lived between 1599 and 1647. Credit: Stern Foundation / FBI

The Nazis sold the painting in 1936 and the US has considered it stolen property ever since.

Artist Jan Franse Verzijl, who lived between 1599 and 1647, is credited with creating the painting, which shows young Bacchus holding a jug and sipping white wine. He is wearing a head-dress of vine leaves.

Agents from the FBI’s major theft squad received a tip-off about the painting in 2015. They found it at a New York art fair and issued a subpoena to recover it on 12 May of that year.

The owner, Luigi Caretto Gallery in Turin, Italy, voluntarily waived its ownership rights and handed over the painting, the FBI said.

It has now been donated to the the Max and Iris Stern Foundation in New York, following a ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

There are many portraits of Bacchus in existence, some of which live in the UK’s National Gallery in London. However, there is sometimes confusion over whether Bacchus or Dionysus is being depicted.

Bacchus is today the name of a white wine grape variety that has become increasingly popular in the fledgling English wine industry.

Related stories: