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

Bacchus and Ariadne

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

The original was commissioned by Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles 1st. Cardinal Barberini acted as a go between in the work’s creation in an attempt to bring the ‘heretic’ England back into the bosom of the Catholic church.  The picture was painted in Bologna between 1638 and 1640 and was sent to Rome to be shipped but remained there due to the civil war in England.  Finally in 1647 the canvas was sent to Henrietta who by this point was sent to France but she was forced to sell it due to economic difficulties within the year.  The new owner Michel Particelli D’Hemery was the Minister of Finance in France.  According to sources in the period his widow ordered that the picture be destroyed after his death as she was scandalised of the nudity.  It has since emerged that in reality the painting was segmented, one such fragment appeared at a sale in Sothebys.  The painting was a very large work.  

This particular example is a very early version possibly painted by Romanelli as a preparatory study for Guido Reni’s Bacchus and Ariadne.   Cardinal Sacchetti had brought Romanelli into design the work as a guideline. While the Cardinal’s influence on Romanelli’s ideas for the painting’s iconography may never be fully determined, it is logical to assume that their recommendations would have carried considerable weight.  

Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Reni’s biographer identifies the middle personage as Venus who serves as a matron.  She stands between Bacchus and Ariadne making a gesture of presentation towards Bacchus while looking at Ariadne.  Ariadne gestures possibly irately but merciful, proud and humble.  Putti plant a grapevine into the ground. To the right of Bacchus, Bacchantes and fawns drink and dance and drunkenly fall.  Far in the distance is the portly figure of the drunken Silenus carried by satyrs.  The sky is populated by Chastity and Victory, the latter arriving triumphantly with a palm and the corona of stars for Ariadne.   The corona of stars signifies the crown thrown into the heavens by Bacchus after Ariadne’s abandonment by Theseus on the island of Naxos.  Ariadne was immortalised and carried off to Mount Olympus to live with the gods. The composition is simple as Henrietta Maria intended the original as a ceiling decoration to decorate her house at Greenwich.