Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (Italian, 1610 - 1662), after Guido Reni

Bacchus and Ariadne on the Island of Naxos

oil on canvas

34.1/4 x 63 in. (87 x 160 cm.)

Condition: Oil on canvas, recently cleaned and restored and relined. The frame has also had restoration work so it is in gallery condition.

Price on demand

A lost and rediscovered Old Master painting executed by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli in 1642 and commissioned with the blessing of Pope Urbano VIII through Cardinal Barberini. This is an extremely early and rare copy of the destroyed and very famous masterpiece by Guido Reni of ‘Bacchus and Ariadne on the Island ofNaxos’ which was commissioned for the Queen of England, Henrietta Maria de Bourbon, wife of King Charles 1st.


As deep divisions prevailed between the Protestant faith and Catholism in the 17thCentury, war and destruction swept across Europe. Alliances were forged and monarchs were courted in the power struggle, no more so than from the epi-centre of the Catholic church itself, Rome.

In an effort to turn the head of England’s Protestant king, Charles I, The Pope and Cardinals hatched a plan to gain favour with his Queen, Henrietta Maria de Bourbon who was herself from Catholic origins. They decided to present her with a masterpiece in the knowledge that the King was a keen patron of the arts.

A canvas was assigned to Guido Reni by Pope Urbano VIII and by the cardinal-nephew Francesco Barberini by way of Cardinal Giulio Cesare Sacchetti, the papal legate in Bologna. Reni painted it between 1637 and 1640, after which it was sent to Rome.

The work was destined to adorn Henrietta Maria’s bedroom ceiling in the Queen’s House at Greenwich (it would never arrive). 

 When Charles I lost the civil war in 1645 (prior to his execution in 1649), Henrietta Maria fled to Catholic France in exile. She would receive the work in 1647 but sold it a year later as a result of her now fragile financial position (for a figure less than half the price it would have cost to commission). It was said to have been destroyed shortly after in 1650 because it was considered indecent by the now widow of the new owner, Michel Particelli d’Emery. However, due to its huge size it is just as likely that it was cut up into more manageable pieces for display or sale. One of these fragments recently re-surfaced in a sale at Sotheby’s. 

And so aside from a fragment or two, the painting has remained missing over the intervening centuries, or has sadly been destroyed.


Giovanni Francesco Romanelli’s version

Romanelli grew up in Viterbo but at the age of 14 moved to Rome and became part of the household of Cardinal Francesco Barberini . He was to become the protégé of Pietro de Cortona, the leading painter of the day. With his close ties to the Barberinis there is no doubt that Romanelli would have had access to the masterwork and that he was commissioned to make versions of it. 

During the years it was held in Rome, a few copies were sanctioned by Pope Urbano VIII. Cesare Carlo Malvasia, a very famous art critic of that period (1616-1693), mentions the fact that Giovanni Francesco Romanelli made a copy of Reni's painting. 

“Besides the copy created in Bologna for cardinal Sacchetti, there are recorded copies in Rome commissioned by the Barberini (cardinal Francesco and the same Urbano VIII) and done by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli and by two painters from the Barberini circle, his close collaborators, Giuseppe Belloni and Paolo Gismondi, also known as Paolo Perugino”. FromGuido Reni’s Bacchus and Ariadne: An unfortunate original but a fortunate prototype by Sergio Guarino and Claudio Seccaroni

Professor Andrea Emiliani is the leading authority on Bolognese painting. He has recently curated the exhibition Bacco e Arianna di Guido Reni  at the Pinacoteca di Bologna which was dedicated to Guido Reni’s original painting, but utilised a later version attributed to Giovanni Battista Bolognini to display the overall composition.

We are thankful to Andrea Emiliani who agrees with our attribution to Romanelli and believes that the current example was painted shortly after 1642 in Rome.

Romanelli was a very influential and important painter during this period. Though this is a version of a work by Guido Reni, not only is the original lost in time, but this particular example must have been commissioned with the blessing of Pope Urbano VIII through Cardinal Barberini. It has until now been a missing part of the jigsaw and remains a highly important painting in its own right.


Iconographic description of the painting.

The composition represents the Wedding of Bacchus and Ariadne, or Ariadne in Naxos, an episode from Ovid's “Metamorphosis”. 

Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, King of Crete, helped Theseus, son of King Aegeus of Athens, to kill the Minotaur. She fell in love with him at first sight, and when he had found his way back out of the labyrinth, Theseus decided to bring Ariadne to Athens and marry her. However, during their journey home, the couple accidentally ended up on the barren island of Naxos.
Once there, Theseus got tired of her, and abandoned her, leaving her in the company of three nymphs: Naiad, Dryad, and Echo. When she realised she had been abandoned, she cried out so loudly that Dionysus (Bacchus) came to her aid. Moved by his generosity she married him and bore him many children. The painting represents the moment in which Bacchus met Adriadne in Naxos, followed by his court of Satyrs and Bacchae. The crown held by the cupid above the scene represents the constellation Corona Borealis or the Northern Crown, which takes the name from this myth.