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Monday 2: Bacchus and Ariadne


This painting is what we call a continuous narrative because there are many parts to this story happening at once in this scene. In the centre we have Bacchus, God of wine and festivals. He is being accompanied by his entourage of followers known as baccanti. These baccanti definitely appear to be in the party spirit. One lady has cymbals in her hand, another a tambourine. One man is holding up a joint of meat, another is on a donkey near the back of the group. He appears to have had a little too much fun already because he is slumped on the back of the donkey sleeping and having to lean on a friend. 

The crowded atmosphere, energy and movement of the right had side is highly contrasted to the left side. We get the sense that Bacchus and the baccanti are on a journey. Bacchus is dancing in the air when suddenly he spots Ariadne. Time instantly freezes. We are seeing the moment he has set his eyes on Ariadne and instantly fallen in love. 


Meanwhile Ariadne (the figure on the left) is looking over at Bacchus and is also in that moment of love at first sight. We can see though that her left hand is is still held out towards the ocean. This is where the continuous narrative comes into play because if we follow her hand into the distance we can just make out a ship with sails, just by her left shoulder. This ship belongs to her previous love interest, Theseus, who after being saved by Ariadne from the minotaur abandons her on this island of Naxos. Ariadne, noticing his departure, flings her arm out towards him. You can imagine her calling out to him when hearing the hustle and bustle of Bacchus and the baccanti she turns her head and within a split second Theseus is forgotten and she only has eyes for Bacchus. We get this sense that love is in the air because the two leopards between the pair are also gazing into each other’s eyes and falling in love. 


The only problem with their love is that they are from two different worlds. Bacchus is a God and therefore immortal whereas Ariadne is a Cretan princess and mortal. So to keep their love everlasting, Bacchus turns Ariadne’s wedding crown into a constellation of stars known as corona borealis. If you look closely in the sky above Ariadne’s head, you can see this constellation high above her head, in the top left hand corner of the painting, like a halo. 


This painting was done by the renowned Venetian artist, Titian. It is clear that Titian understood about anatomy. If we look at the man entangled with a snake, we can see every muscle straining and clenching as he tries to wrestle with it. His centre of gravity is firmly in his feet and he is frowning with frustration as he tries to break free. This was inspired by a recent discovery of an ancient Roman sculpture called Laocoon - now seen in the Vatican City. The skin and form of Ariadne have been idealised in order to show off her beauty. There are no edges to her body. Instead, her neck, shoulders and arm flow into each other. The use of light & shade in her clothes has enabled Titian to create folds in the material thus creating the sense of a body beneath. This is helped by Ariadne pulling her skirt up slightly so the red material can follow the curvature of her body.


This leads us on to Titian’s use of colour of which he was a master. The use of blue and red contrast each other by making them stand out while also harmonsing the entire painting at the same time. Bacchus is able to stand out against the blue sky because of his red cloak. Also, as previously said with Ariadne her curved form is highlighted by her blue dress contrasting with her red shawl.  


This painting is divided into two - a busy and loud section on the right and a frozen in time one to the left. However both sides are brought together by Bacchus being at the apex and unifying the two sides together.

This painting shows the incredible skills of Titian particularly in his use of contrasting colour and knowledge of form. It was commissioned by one of the greatest patrons of the art Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara along with two other mythological paintings and would have later hung in one of the most magnificent private galleries during this time. 

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