TIZIANO Vecellio
(b. 1490, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)

Bacchus and Ariadne

Oil on canvas, 175 x 190 cm
National Gallery, London

In 1516 Titian made contact with Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara for whom he was to work for a decade on pictures destined for the Alabaster Chamber. In this period he painted a series of magnificent paintings of Dionysian themes: the Worship of Venus in the Prado, The Andrians (Bacchanalia), also in the Prado, and Bacchus and Ariadne, in the National Gallery, London. In these paintings Titian combines a richness of colouristic expression with a great formal elegance. These are the elements which characterize this whole so-called "classic" phase of Titian's development and which is dominated by the supreme masterpiece of the Frari Assumption of the Virgin.

Titian's sources for the Bacchus and Ariadne were a variety of classical texts (especially Catullus and Ovid), all of them concerning Ariadne, the daughter of the king of Crete. Because of her love for Theseus, she helped him escape her father's labyrinth by means of a ball of thread. However, Theseus deserted her on Naxos while they were returning to Athens. There, she became the lover of the god Bacchus. Above her, already visible, is a crown of stars representing the "Corona Borealis", into which she (or, according to a different tradition, her bridal head-dress) is eventually transformed.

This painting is among Titian's most Raphaelesque, particularly in the contrapposto of Ariadne and the controlled energy of Bacchus and his train, who seem more numerous than they really are. To achieve colouristic brilliance, Titian has used the strongest pigments then available on the market.