This work depicts one of the most popular mythological themes for paintings from the late Renaissance onward: the love story between Bacchus, the god of wine, and Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete. Bacchus discovered Ariadne on the island of Naxos, where she had been abandoned by the Greek hero Theseus, and fell in love with her.
Bacchus, wrapped in his traditional leopard skin, here rushes towards Ariadne, who lies sleeping on a bed of sumptuous fabric. A cheetah bounds beside him, and his followers dance and play music. Two putti descend from above, one carrying a flaming torch as a symbol of Bacchus and Ariadne’s love.
This work has an unusual vertical format and almost half of the picture is taken up with trees and landscape, partially covered by the drapery on the left. The rich colouring shows the influence of earlier Venetian artists like Titian, whose painting of the same subject is also in the National Gallery’s collection.
Ariadne here lies asleep on a bed of sumptuous pink fabric, naked and voluptuous. The luscious red curtain behind her is pulled aside by a satyr, and a nymph with a tambourine gestures towards the sleeping woman. Bacchus rushes towards her from the right, brilliantly caught by a dawn light which emphasises his yellow and blue drapery and his leopard skin tunic. A cheetah leaping beside him perhaps embodies his predatory greed or lust. His energetic followers dance and play musical instruments around him – a chubby putto enthusiastically plays a pipe and a nymph on the far left raises her arms, about to chime her cymbals. Two putti descend from above, one carrying a flaming torch as a symbol of Bacchus and Ariadne’s love.
The story is told by many classical poets, most significantly Ovid in the Metamorphoses. But this painting is based on an interpretation of the pair’s meeting given by Philostratus in the Imagines (book I: 15), which describes Bacchus as rose-crowned, as he appears here. In a later episode, Bacchus gives Ariadne immortality by turning her into a constellation of stars – you can see this detail in Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne.
This work has an unusual vertical format and almost half of the picture is taken up with trees and landscape, which is partially covered by the drapery on the left. Ricci may have derived the composition from a painting (location unknown) by Giulio Carpioni, a seventeenth-century artist, and the rich colouring shows the influence of earlier Venetian painters like Titian.
Ricci probably produced this painting during the first decade of the eighteenth century, when he was working in Venice and receiving commissions in Vienna and Bergamo. It was most likely done before 1712, by which time he had gone to England; he returned to Italy in 1716. We don't know who commissioned the painting but it was likely intended for an Italian patron.
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