Bacchus and Ariadne


Bacchus and Ariadne was painted by Titian in 1520-3 and is located in the National Gallery of London. 


The subject matter of this painting is derived from the classical poems of Ovid and Catullus. Ariadne was the daughter of the King of Crete, King Minos. Ariadne had helped Theseus defeat the Minotaur by giving him a ball of thread to navigate the labyrinth. After killing the Minotaur, Theseus set sail taking Ariadne with him as his lover. However, Ariadne was later abandoned by Theseus on the Greek island Naxos. Theseus’ ship is visible in the background of the painting. Ariadne was left to wander Naxos, where she encountered Bacchus (God of wine) and his drunk followers. Bacchus fell in love with Ariadne upon first sight and proposed marriage. As a wedding gift Bacchus promised he would give the her the sky / a crown of stars. Bacchus brought Ariadne to heaven where she was turned into a constellation (‘Northern crown’, Corona Borealis), as symbolised in the eight stars depicted above her. 

This history painting produced by the Venetian master painter Titian, was part of a cycle of paintings commissioned by Alfonso I d’Esta (The Duke of Ferrara) for the ‘camerino d’alabastro’ (chamber of alabaster – private art gallery) in his palazzo ducale in Ferrara. The centrepiece of this cycle was Giovanni Bellini’s Feast of the Gods (1514-29). The cycle also consisted of ten smaller frieze paintings by Dosso Dossi, such as Aeneas in the Elysian Fields (c.1520). Three are three paintings by Titian in this cycle; Worship of Venus (1518-9), Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-3), and Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5). Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne was a replacement for a painting of similar subject matter produced by Raphael.

Did you known?

Titian had produced four paintings for this cycle, however the fourth has since been lost to us.

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