Wednesday, March 12, 2014

40 Days of Paintings - Bacchus and Ariadne (Titian)

I honestly couldn't care less about the subject of this painting, but it is one of many mythological scenes by Titian, and it depicts Ariadne in the moment she is abandoned by Theseus after she helped him escape her father's labyrinth.  Heck of a guy, right?  So from that moment on, Ariadne is deserted on this island of Naxos, where she falls in love with Bacchus, god of the grape harvest and wine.
Again, the classical narrative is interesting, but not really what I love about the painting. 
What I love about this masterpiece is the way Titian used a vast array of pigments in this one painting like there was no tomorrow.  Titian was good at that, and this painting is by far one of the best examples of the purest form of color that was on his palette.  We see the brilliant lapis lazuli in the drapery of Ariadne, right next to the equally brilliant red of vermilion.  Titian loved all the dangerous pigments, and some of which are hard to find today, but still available.  These would be the lead paints like lead-tin yellow and lead white, as well as orpiment (which can be found in the various oranges in the painting).  It is a wonder how Titian was able to even afford these pigments, and to use them so liberally in this painting.  The result certainly paid off, as "Bacchus and Ariadne" is one of Titian's most carefully and beautifully preserved paintings, and the colors are as vibrant today as they were when he painted it in th 1520s.
Titian was one of the leading figures in the High Renaissance, and the Venetian school.  As a Venetian painter, he was a colorist.  These were the artists known for their focus on the effects of paint such as light and color effects, and had less of a focus on the academic practice of drawing.  Titian was one of the only Venetian painters that Vasari wrote about in his Lives of the Artists, and Vasari touched on Titian's Venetian roots with a slight jab at him, saying that Titian would have been a great painter if only he had learned to draw.  I certainly hope Vasari was not serious about that, because this painting is a stunning example of Titian's mastery as a figurative painter in the 16th century.

Bacchus and Ariadne
oil on canvas

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