Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Bacchus and Ariadne” by Titian

Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian

Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian

“Bacchus and Ariadne” by Titian depict 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 first 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.

Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian

“Bacchus and Ariadne” painting by Carlo Maratta  (Italian, 1625–1713)

Ariadne’s Story

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). 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).

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.

"Bacchus and Ariadne" by Titian

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 image is reminiscent of the Greek statue Laocoon and His Sons.


Bacchus is the Roman equivalent of Dionysus, the god of wine, of fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre in ancient Greek religion and myth. Wine played an important role in Greek culture, and the cult of Dionysus was the main religious focus for its unrestrained consumption. Dionysus is also known as Bacchus, the name adopted by the Romans.  As “the liberator”, his wine, music and ecstatic dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subvert the oppressive restraints of the powerful.


Titian (1490 – 1576) was the most famous painter of the 16th-century Venetian school. So much so that his contemporaries recognised him as one of the most accomplished painters, adept with portraits, landscape, and mythological and religious subjects. His application and use of colour, his vivid, luminous tints, his brushwork and subtlety of tone had a profound influence on Western art.


  • 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?
  • Love at first sight, Bacchus offered Ariadne the sky as a wedding gift where she later becomes the constellation.
  • Every time I think of Titian, I imagine this painting.

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


Explore The National Gallery

13th Century Paintings

14th Century Paintings

15th Century Paintings

16th Century Paintings

17th Century Paintings

18th Century Paintings

19th Century Paintings

20th Century Paintings

Explore The National Gallery

Insights into “Bacchus and Ariadne” by Titian


“It is not bright colours but good drawing that makes figures beautiful.”
– Titian


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