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Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne, 1520-23, oil on canvas now atop board, 69-1/2 x 75 inches (National Gallery, London). Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker 

Part of a mythological cycle painted by Titian and Giovanni Bellini and commissioned by Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara that includes The Feast of the Gods and the Andrians. Originally hung in the studiolo or Camerini d'Alabastro of the Duke's Ferranese castle. 

Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano playing) Dr. Zucker: We're in the National Gallery in London and we're looking at a really large, really important Renaissance painting, an artist who is Venetian, known simply at Titian. Dr. Harris: Tiziano in Italian. Dr. Zucker: That's right, that's right. So this is ... Dr. Harris: Bacchus and Ariadne. Dr. Zucker: It tells the story of Ariadne who's love, Theseus, had just left her on the island of Naxos. Dr. Harris: He abandoned her. Dr. Zucker: You can see his ship just on the horizon, on the extreme left, to the left of her shoulder. Dr. Harris: Bacchus who's riding in a chariot lead by two cheetahs. Bacchus, the God of Wine and Intoxication followed by his revelers kind of emerge in the diagonal coming forward into the foreground. Bacchus leaps out of his chariot and apparently love at first sight. Dr. Zucker: He's intoxicated with Ariadne. Dr. Harris: She's initially a little frightened of him, but promises to turn her into a constellation. Dr. Zucker: Which you can see above her head in the upper left of the canvas, that group, that almost halo of eight stars. Her pose is really complicated. Presumably she had just been mourning the loss of her lover and is turned and transfixed by his gaze. He is full of energy as he literally flies out of the chariot, that drape just wild behind him and his foot supported by nothing, suspended in midair. You feel his weight as it just flies over the edge of that chariot. Dr. Harris: I'm struck as I continue to look by the ways that each figure embodies two opposing actions. Ariadne moves forward but also turns to the right. He lurches forward toward Ariadne, but also his arms move back while his head and shoulders move forward. Dr. Zucker: They were both involved in doing something else and had been so drawn to each other so unexpectedly that there hands, their arms are still tracing their previous ... Dr. Harris: Actions. Dr. Zucker: ... intention. Yeah. Dr. Harris: Even the figure in the foreground, this Bacchic reveler that we see who's entwined with snakes, rather reminiscent of the way [unintelligible] the Ancient Greek sculpture, even he is doing two things at one time with his body, right? He seems to be sort of reaching back, moving forward, there's all of this conflicting movements to the bodies of the figures. Dr. Zucker: This was a painting that was originally created for one of the members of the d'Este family and Ferrara. It would have hung in their palace and it speaks to a man who wanted to express his knowledge of antiquity and of course to also be a great patron of the Renaissance. Dr. Harris: We see that thing that we know, Venus [four] which is the use of color; those blues, the reds, the pinks, the greens. Dr. Zucker: Brilliant colors, absolutely. Dr. Zucker: With a kind of prismatic almost gem like quality, a result of his glazing technique. Dr. Harris: And the browns and sort of earth tones on the right corner where the Bacchic revelers compared with the clarity of those blues and reds on the left. Dr. Zucker: Not only the contrast of the actions of the figures, not only in the contrast of colors, as you've pointed out, but also in the purity of the love that's expressed between those two figures, or at least Bacchus' love of Ariadne and then just the partying that's going on on the right. Dr. Harris: It's true. Dr. Harris: Animal behavior on the right. Dr. Zucker: Absolutely. (piano playing)