At the beginning of the year the Guardian printed a number of articles under the theme of “the uplifting power of art”. A number of well-known writers from the fields of music, philosophy and literature, “choose the work they turn to for replenishment”. Jonathan Jones chose Watteau’s Pierrot; Alain de Botton selected Woman Taking Tea by Chardin and Ali Smith’s choice was Nan Golding’s photo of Cookie Mueller.
This this made me wonder which image I would choose if I was asked the same question. In the course my studies I have seen many great works, many of which came immediately to mind when asked about favourites. Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus and Rembrandt’s self-portraits for instance. But to answer this particular question I think I would choose Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian.
Bacchus and Ariadne, by Titian [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Why this particular painting? There are several reasons I find it uplifting, for a start the wonderful colours used, the depth of blue in the sky is intense. Although the myth of Ariadne and her fate is not so uplifting, this depiction of the meeting of Ariadne with Bacchus is more so. Having just been abandoned by Theseus, Ariadne is discovered by Bacchus who is heading a throng of followers who have obviously been indulging in bacchanalian pleasures. The sight of his followers depicts a complete range of emotions from impish enjoyment to drunken reverie.
The most striking thing to me about the painting is the look of complete rapture on Bacchus’s face as he leaps from his chariot. Titian’s skill in portraying such depth of emotion is breath-taking.
I find all aspects of this painting uplifting, when I first studied it for an annotation I was enthralled by it, the more I look into it, the more I see in it.