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Greek Mythology in Art: Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne


After being abandoned on the Island of Naxos, Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos wanders in search of her once love's boat in disbelief he had abandoned her. While walking on the shore, Ariadne comes across Bacchus, the god of wine, accompanied by his inebriated band of followers. At that moment Bacchus falls madly in love with Ariadne and feels a sudden force towards her. He leaps out of his chariot to shield her from the fright of the cheetahs leading his carriage. Bacchus confesses his love to her and Ariadne, drawn to him as well accepts his offer of marriage. As a wedding present, he promises Ariadne a crown of stars that will become her symbol.


Throughout the article, we will take a look at one of the most successful representations of the intimate and exciting story of Bacchus and Ariadne.


Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne, 1520-3, Oil on canvas, 176.5 × 191 cm,

Courtesy of The National Gallery, London



Produced for the then Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso I d’Este. The original drawing of this composition was designed by Raphael who upon his death the design and commission was handed to Titian. Titian enhanced the artwork through his use of vibrant pigments that were typical of the Italian Artist.


This painting is divided into two triangles, each representing the contrasting worlds of the two lovers. In one triangle, Titian encapsulates Bacchus's chaotic lifestyle filled with passion and mayhem. This is captured with a dark green and brown palette. The movement on this side allows the viewer to imagine the energy and spirit of his world as his followers dance and play instruments behind him.


Ariadne's is represented with the use of the bright ultramarine pigment that was achieved through the use of the expensive lapis lazuli. This colour was commonly used in religious representations as its intense pigmentation and rarity were believed to be the purest form of tangible heaven. The lightness of clouds and rich sky suggest the calming nature of Ariadne. The artist intentionally placed Bacchus in the center of this composition to exemplify Bacchus's leap from his world to hers.


The body language showcased in the painting allows the viewer to recognize the mutual affection of the two figures. In this scene, Bacchus's facial expression shows he is lovestruck with his first sight of Ariadne, as he passionately leaps towards her. While, the shared affections of Ariadne are portrayed with her body shifting towards Bacchus, giving the impression that she was being universally pulled towards her love.


Finally, their love story is memorialized with the inclusion of the constellation of stars that hangs above the couple. The crown of stars, given as a wedding present to Ariadne from Bacchus, represents the elevation to immortality that she has received in her new status alongside the god of wine.







Sources:

Catullus, 'Carmina', LXIV, and Ovid, 'Ars Amatoria', I

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Edited by R. J. Tarrant. Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Classical Texts.


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