The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian Bacchus and Ariadne

Bacchus and Ariadne is an oil painting by Titian and is considered one of his greatest works. The original commission for this painting was given  to Raphael, who unfortunately died young in 1520. Titian painted this mythological subject during 1522 – 1523 for a wealthy patron.

The story of Bacchus and Ariadne was based on Roman legend written by Roman poets Catullus (c.84-54 BCE) and Ovid (43 BCE – 17CE). The Painting depicts Bacchus, the god of wine, emerging with his followers from the right of the scene. According to myth, he fell in love with Ariadne on sight and in this scene he is seen leaping from his chariot to protect her. Ariadne has been abandoned on the Greek island of Naxos, deserted by her lover Theseus, whose ship sails away to the far left of the picture.

Bacchus and Ariadne - Carlo Maratta

“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 who 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 labyrinth and he then unwinds the thread as he makes his way through the labyrinth. After he finds the Minotaur and kills him he is able to find 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 show 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 version 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 another painting of the “Bacchus and Ariadne” story painted in 1597 by Annibale Carracci . This is a ceiling fresco known as “The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne”, part of the ceiling fresco cycle The Loves of the Gods in the Farnese Gallery of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Bacchus is on his chariot and now Ariadne also has her own chariot. Ariadne was a popular subject for paintings, sculpture, vases etc. and there over 400 images of Ariadne in various pieces of art which are included at the Warburg Institute Iconographic Database.

The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne - Annibale Carracci - 1597 - Farnese Gallery, Rome

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 the satyr who is struggling with snakes in this painting whose figure is reminiscent of the Greek statue Laocoon and His Sons.

Other masterpieces by Titian featured in “Joy of Museums include the following:

Essential Facts:

  • 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 Essential Facts:

  • 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:

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“I married an archaeologist because the older I grow, the more he appreciates me.” Agatha Christie

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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