Bacchus and Ariadne (1522–1523) is an oil painting by Titian based on the subject derived from the Roman poets Catullus and Ovid, about Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, the king of Crete.
Ariadne is mostly associated with mazes and labyrinths because of her involvement in the myths of the Minotaur and Theseus. Her father put her in charge of the labyrinth where sacrifices were made. According to the story, Minotaur the monster, with the head of a bull and the body of a man, resided in the centre of the labyrinth. Ariadne helped the Athenian hero Theseus to kill the Minotaur and save the potential sacrificial victims. After that, Ariadne eloped from her native Crete with Theseus.
However, Theseus abandoned Ariadne on the deserted island of Naxos while she was asleep, and she woke up all alone to see his ship sailing away. The grief-stricken girl was discovered by Bacchus, the god of wine, who was leading a procession of revelers in a chariot drawn by two cheetahs. Falling in love with Ariadne at the first sight, he jumped down from his chariot to protect her from the possible attack by the cheetahs. He assured her and offered her marriage with the promise of a crown of stars as a wedding gift. In another version of the story, he offered her the sky as a wedding gift where she later would become the constellation of the Northern Crown (Corona Borealis). Above the figures in the sky is a constellation that Bacchus creates for Ariadne after throwing her crown in the sky.
The painting 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 magnificent Camerino D’Alabastro – a private chamber in his ducal palace in Ferrara. This great work, a substitute for one by Raphael, was one of the three provided by Titian between 1518 and 1525. The painting, considered as one of Titian’s greatest works, now hangs in the National Gallery in London.
It is interesting to note that, subsequently many famous works by the reputed masters were based on the same mythological story.