But though as yet half unconscious, Ariadne is already under her fated star: for above is the constellation of Ariadne's crown—the crown with which Bacchus presented his bride. And observe in connection with the astronomical side of the allegory the figure in Bacchus's train with the serpent round him: this is the serpent-bearer (Milton's "Ophiuchus huge") translated to the skies with Bacchus and Ariadne. Notice too another piece of poetry: the marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne took place in the spring, Ariadne herself being the personification of its return, and Bacchus of its gladness; hence the flowers in the foreground which deck his path.

The picture is as full of the painter's art as of the poet's. Note first the exquisite painting of the vine leaves, and of these flowers in the foreground, as an instance of the "constant habit of the great masters to render every detail of their foreground with the most laborious botanical fidelity." "The foreground is occupied with the common blue iris, the aquilegia, and the wild rose (more correctly the Capparis Spinosa); every stamen of which latter is given, while the blossoms and leaves of the columbine (a difficult flower to draw) have been studied with the most exquisite accuracy." But this detail is sought not for its own sake, but only so far as is necessary to mark the typical qualities of beauty in the object. Thus "while every stamen of the rose is given because this was necessary to mark the flower, and while the curves and large characters of the leaves are rendered with exquisite fidelity, there is no vestige of particular texture, of moss, bloom, moisture, or any other accident, no dewdrops, nor flies, nor trickeries of any kind: nothing beyond the simple forms and hues of the flowers, even those hues themselves being simplified and broadly rendered. The varieties of aquilegia have in reality a greyish and uncertain tone of colour, and never attain the purity of blue with which Titian has gifted his flower. But the master does not aim at the particular colour of individual blossoms; he seizes the type of all, and gives it with the utmost purity and simplicity of which colour is capable." A second point to be noticed is the way in which one kind of truth has often to be sacrificed in order to gain another. Thus here Titian sacrifices truth of aërial effect to richness of tone—tone in the sense, that is, of that quality of colour which makes us feel that the whole picture is in one climate, under one kind of light, and in one kind of atmosphere. "It is difficult to imagine anything more magnificently impossible than the blue of the distant landscape; impossible, not from its vividness, but because it is not faint and aërial enough to account for its purity of colour; it is too dark and blue at the same time; and there is indeed so total a want of atmosphere in it, that, but for the difference of form, it would be impossible to tell the mountains intended to be ten miles off, from the robe of Ariadne close to the spectator. Yet make this blue faint, aërial, and distant; make it in the slightest degree to resemble the tint of nature's colour; and all the tone of the picture, all the intensity and splendour will vanish on the instant."3 We may notice lastly what Sir Joshua Reynolds points out (Discourse VIII.), that the harmony of the picture—that wonderful bringing together of two times of which Lamb speaks above, is assisted by the distribution of colours. "To Ariadne is given (say the critics) a red scarf to relieve the figure from the sea, which is behind her. It is not for that reason alone, but for another of much greater consequence; for the sake of the general harmony and effect of the picture. The figure of Ariadne is separated from the great group, and is dressed in blue, which, added to the colour of the sea, makes that quantity of cold colour which Titian thought necessary for the support and brilliancy of the great group; which group is composed, with very little exception, entirely of mellow colours. But as the picture in this case would be divided into two distinct parts, one half cold, and the other warm; it was necessary to carry some of the mellow colours of the great group into the cold part of the picture, and a part of the cold into the great group; accordingly, Titian gave Ariadne a red scarf, and to one of the Bacchante a little blue drapery."

It is interesting to know that this great picture took Titian three years, off and on, to finish. It was a commission from the Duke of Ferrara, who supplied canvas and frame for it, and repeatedly wrote to press for its delivery; it reached him in 1523.

A Popular Handbook to the National Gallery (London and New York, 1888).


3 Modern Painters, Vols. I., XXVII., XXX. (Preface to Second Edition), pt. i. sec. ii. ch. 1 § 5, pt. ii. sec. ii. ch. 1. § 15; Vol. III. pt. iv. ch. ix. § 18; Vol. V. pt. ix. ch. iii. § 31; Arrows of the Chace, I. 58.