Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23) by Titian
Interpretation of Venetian Renaissance Mythological Painting

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Bacchus and Ariadne
By Titian.
Regarded as one of the
greatest paintings of
the Venetian Renaissance.

Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23)


Analysis of Bacchus and Ariadne
Interpretation of Other Mythological Paintings


Name: Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23)
Artist: Titian (c.1485-1576)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Mythological painting
Movement: Renaissance Art in Venice
Location: National Gallery, London

For the meaning of other celebrated masterpieces,
please see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).


Titian was the foremost representative of Venetian painting during the 16th century. Linked both to Giorgione (1477-1510), who may have been his teacher, and to Tintoretto (1518-94), who may have been his pupil, Titian is renowned for his Venetian portrait painting and for his Venetian altarpieces - many of which remain in Venice. If Michelangelo may be said to exemplify the Florentine credo of disegno (the primacy of drawing), Titian embodies the Venetian credo of colorito (primacy of colour). For more background, see also: Titian and Venetian Colour Painting (1500-76). Revered by his contemporaries in Italy, he enjoyed the patronage of Europe's most powerful monarchs and religious leaders.

Among Titian's outstanding pictures are: Assumption of the Virgin (1516-18, Saint Maria Gloriosa dei Frari); Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5, Prado, Madrid); Venus of Urbino (1538, Uffizi, Florence); and Pope Paul III with his Grandsons (1546, Capodimonte Museum, Naples).

Analysis of Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian

This colourful history painting (also known as a poesia) is one of a cycle of mythological pictures - based on classical texts - which were commissioned by Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, for his Camerino d'Alabastro – a private chamber in his ducal palace in Ferrara. This work - a substitute for one by Raphael - was one of three provided by Titian between 1518 and 1525. The other two are Worship of Venus (1518-19) and Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5), both in the Prado Museum, Madrid.



Derived from stories by the Roman poets Ovid (43 BCE - 17 CE) and Catullus (c.84-54 BCE), this picture portrays the first encounter between Bacchus (god of wine), and Ariadne (daughter of King Minos), on the island of Naxos. Despite her vital role in helping him to defeat the minotaur, Ariadne has been deserted by her lover Theseus, whose ship can be seen (far left of the picture) sailing away into the distance. As she watches the ship depart - her sorrow is suddenly interrupted by the sudden arrival of Bacchus and his unruly troupe of drunken friends, one of whom (a satyr) is waving aloft the head of an animal they have just killed (its head is lying on the ground). When the startled Ariadne turns to face the revellers, she sees Bacchus leaping from his chariot and their eyes meet: it is love at first sight. Bacchus leaps down from his chariot, drawn by two cheetahs, and declares his love. He promises to be a more faithful partner than Theseus and offers her a constellation of stars (Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown) as a wedding gift. Other versions have Bacchus raising her to heaven and transforming her into a constellation, represented by the eight stars above her.

Titian manages to extract the maximum amount of drama out of the story, largely through the dynamic postures adopted by his two main actors. But equally important are their swirling draperies with their luminous blue and rose tones - Titian's two favourite colours. At any rate, the composition is filled with movement and colour, as semi-naked figures writhe and cavort in poses taken from Greek sculpture of classical antiquity, such as the satyr who is struggling with snakes in similar fashion to that shown in the Greek statue Laocoon and His Sons (c.42-20 BCE). A diagonal dividing line separates the golds and greens of the landscape scene from the large area of ultramarine blue (obtained by grinding the most expensive of all colour pigments - the Afghanistan-mined lapis lazuli).

Interpretation of Other Mythological Paintings

The Sleeping Venus (1510) Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.
By Giorgione.

Jupiter and Io (1533) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
By Correggio.

Allegory with Venus and Cupid (c.1545) National Gallery, London.
By Agnolo Bronzino.

Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (1618) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
By Rubens.

Judgement of Paris (1632-6) National Gallery, London.
By Rubens.

Abduction of the Sabine Women (1634) Metropolitan Museum, NY.
By Nicolas Poussin.

Et in Arcadia Ego (1637) Louvre Museum, Paris.
By Nicolas Poussin.


• For more mythological paintings by Venetian Renaissance artists like Titian, see: Homepage.

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