Arts & Culture

Bacchus and Ariadne


The National Gallery, London
The National Gallery, London

Bacchus, god of wine, emerges with his followers from the landscape to the right. Falling in love with Ariadne on sight, he leaps from his chariot, drawn by two cheetahs, towards her. Ariadne had been abandoned on the Greek island of Naxos by Theseus, whose ship is shown in the distance. The picture shows her initial fear of Bacchus, but he raised her to heaven and turned her into a constellation, represented by the stars above her head.

The programme for the series was probably devised by a humanist scholar in the service of Alfonso d'Este. The subject of Bacchus and Ariadne is derived from the classical authors Ovid and Catullus.

The painting is one of a famous series by Bellini, Titian and the Ferrarese artist Dosso Dossi, commissioned for the Camerino d'Alabastro (Alabaster Room) in the Ducal Palace, Ferrara, by Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, who in around 1510 tried to include Michelangelo and Raphael among the contributors. Titian's painting was in fact a substitute for one with a similar subject which the Duke had commissioned from Raphael. Bellini's 'Feast of the Gods' for this room is dated 1514, and the three works by Titian were painted 1518–25.

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  • Title: Bacchus and Ariadne
  • Creator: Titian
  • Date Created: 1520-3
  • School: Italian
  • Physical Dimensions: w1910 x h1765 cm
  • More Info: More Artist Information
  • Inventory number: NG35
  • Artist Biography: Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) was the greatest painter of 16th-century Venice, and the first painter to have a mainly international clientele. Born in Pieve di Cadore, a small town at the foot of the Dolomites on the Venetian side of the Alps, he arrived in Venice when he was about 10 years old and started his artistic training in the workshop of the mosaicist Sebastiano Zuccato. He later joined Gentile Bellini’s workshop and, after Gentile’s death, that of his brother, Giovanni Bellini. However, it was through contact with Giorgione, that Titian mainly developed his early style. In 1511 Titian painted his celebrated frescoes in the Scuola del Santo in Padua. His style had now reached maturity, characterised by fullness of forms, compositional confidence and chromatic balance. He became famous as a portraitist (examples in the National Gallery are ‘Portrait of a Lady (La Schiavona)’ and ‘Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo’) and was also commissioned to paint prestigious public religious paintings. Early in 1516, Titian started his professional relationship with Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara; he executed his two famous Bacchanals for Alfonso I, today in the Prado, Madrid, along with ‘Bacchus and Ariadne’, now in the National Gallery. Titian also worked for the court of Mantua and the Duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria della Rovere. In 1530 he executed a (now lost) full-length, life-size portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and rapidly became the principal painter to the imperial court. Starting in 1553, he painted the celebrated mythological series of pictures for Philip II of Spain (Charles V’s son), which he referred to as ‘Poesie’. These works include the National Gallery’s ‘Death of Actaeon’ and ‘Diana and Actaeon’ (jointly owned with the National Galleries of Scotland). The last phase of Titian’s life coincided with a radical revision of his own style and painting technique. From the late 1550s, he developed a freer use of the brush and a less descriptive representation of reality. In the late 1560s and early 1570s, he pushed his art to the edge of abstraction. His latest style has been defined as ‘magic impressionism’ and is represented by his late ‘Pietá’ (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice) which was originally destined for his own tomb in the church of Santa Maria dei Frari, where he was buried after dying of the plague, on 27 August 1576.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought, 1826
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: The National Gallery, London
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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