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.
From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Four, February 2007