216 × 129 cm. Inv. No. 41658.Pompeii, Antiquarium
216 × 129 cm.
Triclinium 20 overlooking garden. North wall. Photo from pompeiiinpictures.com
8. Dionysus and Ariadne
Inv. no. 41658.
Pompeii VI 17, 42 (House of the Gold Bracelet).
216 × 129 cm.
Removed from the north wall of Room 5 of the so-called House of the Gold Bracelet in the west Insula in 1980, this painting is set in part of the original wall. The black walls of this large vaulted room, decorated in a scheme typical of the early 4th style, contained two large paintings placed side by side, showing two famous couples from classical mythology: Mars and Venus on one side and Dionysus and Ariadne on the opposite side. Originally part of the grandiose decoration in the last Pompeian style, the panel retains some of the upper frieze in a reddish-brown colour, completed at the base by a dentellated cornice showing a fine series of yellow gryphons with blue wings, facing each other and alternating with imaginary human figures carrying salvers. A bearded mask with a gold crown is the central theme and volutes lead off from the lower bodies of mythical winged monsters. The volutes consist of spiralling vegetation terminating in little roses and buds, and revisit a typical motif of the protoimperial figurative repertory (see Bastet F. L. — De Vos M., Proposta per una classificazione del terzo stile pompeiano, Gravenhage 1979, p. 21).
Below the frieze on the wall painted black is the upper fascia of the border showing vine leaves intertwined with ivy and dotted with red and yellow corymbs which surrounded the main scene. This has a red frame with a white external fillet separating it from the black wall. Using varied and vivid colours this painting shows the figures of Dionysus and Ariadne in the foreground, with Silenus behind them, carefully observing the scene. Right in front is a small labyrinth made of bricks. In the background, painted in soft tones of grey and green, is a creek at the foot of a rocky arid landscape, represented by a few bare bushes. In the bay in the upper right hand corner is the ship of Theseus, its prow facing the open sea as it leaves the island.
The episode depicted in this painting follows the desertion of Ariadne at Naxos and the arrival of Dionysus, who is attracted by the girl’s beauty. The god is captured in a moment of tender love, reclining on a rock with his right arm raised and bent, and a splendid crown on his head of vine leaves and corymbs, his thyrsus beside him resting against the rock. His red chlamys with a bright blue border is draped over his raised arm and falls to his hips. His pose, turned slightly to the left is in movement, suggested by the frontal depiction of his left leg and the rotation of his face towards the girl, in a slight inclination to the right of the composition, as if his infatuated gaze were the real focus of the scene. His left arm touches the breast of Ariadne on the right of the painting, who is naked and adorned only with two gold pendant earrings, trying to cover her hips with the green-blue mantle which blows behind her, billowing in the mystic wind of theophany. A variation of the theme, the epiphany of Dionysus and a slumbering Ariadne, appears in some famous Pompeian paintings. From the nearby house of Fabius Rufus in the Insula Occidentale is a pair of panels in cameo glass from the Julian-Claudian period (see Maiuri 1961, p. 18 et seqq. Pl. 2) one of which shows this scene. The theme of the billowing mantle can be found in several paintings, including the famous one at the House of the Zither Player (I 4, 25) where Dionysus discovers Ariadne sleeping, but he is the one whose robe is billowing in the divine breeze. As regards the theme of the seduction of the girl, which is typical in Dionysian contexts, similar treatment can be found in a painting of a satyr embracing Ariadne from the House of L. Caecilius Jucundus (V 1, 26). The composition focuses on the right-hand side, guiding the observer’s gaze towards the sensual capitulation, emphasised by the long diagonal line of the thyrsus.
The balance of the composition is restored by the expedient of the figure of Silenus on the left emerging from the rock. With long white beard, beaky nose, fat belly, dark skin and long red goatlike ears the old satyr holds a tambourine with one hand and a thyrsus in the other, in the opposite direction to the main axis of the composition. The style of the painting is rather theatrical and derives from a number of features. These include the composition based on the movement of figures in different directions, the spatial dimension which does not foreshorten the foreground elements but puts them into perspective with a clever use of light and shade, the correct anatomical proportions, the rapid lively brushstrokes and the modelling of the volumes obtained with a skilful use of the rich palette.
Pompei. Pitture e mosaici, Rome, VII, 1996, pp. 80—
Mastroroberto, in Pompeii. Picta fragmenta. Decorazioni parietali dalle città sepolte, exhibition catalogue, Turin 1997, pp. 131—
Mastroroberto, in Pittura nella Reggia dalle città sepolte. Affreschi antichi da Pompei, Stabiae, Ercolano, exhibition catalogue, Naples 1999, p. 71, no. 38.