Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano - inv. 1596
The panel is a central fragment from a chest, or a headboard, currently divided in three parts: the other two, completing the composition with a Bacchant and a Drunken Silenus on his donkey, are in the John G. Johnson Collection in Philadelphia (one 31 x 41,3 cm, inv. no. 177; the other 24 x 19 cm, inv. no. 178). The subject depicted on the chest was the myth of Theseus and Ariadne: the panel of Theseus Killing the Minotaur, also in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum (inv. no. d.t. 55), most probably belonged to the same narrative cycle.
This panel portrays Bacchus, dressed in armour, in the act of crowning Ariadne, kneeling in front of him. A gilded chariot pulled by panthers bears them in triumph, while a maenad and a satyr carrying thyrsus accompany them. A human, satyr-like figure with goat ears is carrying a basket full of grapes on his back. The scene comes from Ovid, who, in the Ars Amatoria and in the Metamorphoses, describes how Dionysius, returning from his victorious expedition to India, had met Ariadne on the island of Naxos, where she had been abandoned by Theseus, and had married her.
Datable to about 1505, the work is typical of Cima da Conegliano’s production of the early years of the 16th century. Already by the end of the 15th century, the artist was one of the most sought after in Venice, obtaining many prestigious commissions. Alongside religious painting, the main activity of all the Venetian workshops, Cima tackled classical themes in various works and became one of the greatest interpreters of antiquarian taste, hugely popular in the Veneto region at the beginning of the 16th century, successfully combining Humanist classical iconography with a natural use of light and colour derived from the later works of Giovanni Bellini.