Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian
“Bacchus and Ariadne” by Titian depicts Bacchus, the god of wine, emerging with his followers from the right of the scene and according to myth, falling in love on first sight with Ariadne. Titian shows Bacchus leaping from his chariot to protect Ariadne, who has been abandoned on a Greek island and deserted by her lover Theseus, whose ship sails away to the far left of the picture. The original commission for this painting was given to Raphael, who unfortunately died young in 1520 and Titian was given the opportunity to paint this mythological subject during 1522 for a wealthy patron. The story of Bacchus and Ariadne is based on Roman legend written by Roman poets Catullus (c.84-54 BCE) and Ovid (43 BCE-17CE).
“Bacchus and Ariadne” painting by Carlo Maratta (Italian, 1625–1713)
Ariadne’s story begins when as a daughter of the king Minos of Crete, she helps Theseus, an Athenian hero to kill the Minotaur, a beast which is half man and half bull, who lived in a labyrinth on the island of Crete. Ariadne saves Theseus by giving him a ball of thread which Theseus ties to the entrance of the maze and he then unwinds the thread as he makes his way through the maze. After he finds the Minotaur and kills him, he finds his way out of the labyrinth by following Ariadne’s thread back to the entrance.
After achieving his mission of killing the Minotaur, he sets sail to return to Athens, and he takes Ariadne with him. His ship stops on the island of Naxos where Ariadne falls asleep and is then deserted by Theseus. When Ariadne wakes up, she searches the shore of Naxos, vainly looking for her lost lover. This scene shows Ariadne surprised by Bacchus, the god of wine and his partying entourage. Bacchus falls in love with Ariadne and offers to marry her and promise her a crown of stars as a wedding gift which can be seen in Titian’s painting above Ariadne. In other versions of the story, Bacchus offers Ariadne the sky as a wedding gift where she later becomes the constellation of the Northern Crown (Corona Borealis).
Below is another painting of the “Bacchus and Ariadne” story painted in 1597 by Annibale Carracci. This painting is a ceiling fresco known as “The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne”, part of the ceiling fresco cycle titled, The Loves of the Gods in the Farnese Gallery of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Bacchus is in his chariot, and now Ariadne also has her chariot. Ariadne was a favourite subject for paintings, sculpture and vases with over 400 images of Ariadne in various pieces of art which are included at the Warburg Institute Iconographic Database.
Titian was the foremost artist of Venetian painting during the 16th century. His “Bacchus and Ariadne” composition is full of movement and colour with the figures dancing and celebrating with some poses taken from Greek sculpture of classical antiquity. An example is a satyr who is struggling with snakes in this painting whose figure is reminiscent of the Greek statue Laocoon and His Sons.
- Why did Ariadne become a favourite subject for paintings, sculpture and vases?
- Why are we fascinated by stories based on falling in love at first sight?
Bacchus and Ariadne
- Title: Bacchus and Ariadne
- Artist: Titian
- Year: 1522–23
- Genre: Mythological painting
- Movement: Renaissance Art in Venice
- Type: Oil on canvas (applied onto conservation board 1968)
- Dimensions: 176.5 cm × 191 cm (69.5 in × 75 in)
- Museum: National Gallery, London
- Artist: Titian ( Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio)
- Born: 1490, Pieve di Cadore, Italy
- Died: 1576, Venice, Italy
- Buried: Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice, Italy
- Period: Italian Renaissance, Renaissance
- Notable works:
“I married an archaeologist because the older I grow, the more he appreciates me.” – Agatha Christie
Photo Credit: 1) By Morio (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Annibale Carracci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3) Carlo Maratta [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons