1769-1844 | Italian
Bacchus and Ariadne
Signed and dated "P. Benvenuti / 1819" (lower right)
Oil on canvas
The love story of Ariadne and Bacchus is the subject of this monumental early Neoclassical work by the Italian artist Pietro Benvenuti. The composition depicts the moments after Theseus abandoned Ariadne, who had led him out of the Labyrinth devised by her father King Minos on the island of Naxos. Disconsolate in her love for Theseus, the sail of whose departing ship can be seen on the horizon, she falls asleep near rocks by the shore. The God Bacchus, returning from India, is drawn to Ariadne by the figure of Cupid, who pulls him by his quiver strap while cautioning him to silence.
As is typical of the god of wine, Bacchus wears a crown of grape leaves, punctuated by grape clusters, and grasps in his right hand his traditional attribute, the thyrsus, a staff topped with a pine cone. He raises his left arm in a gesture of both astonishment and protection, as he immediately falls in love with the beautiful Ariadne. In the distance at left, the aged Silenus, Bacchus’s tutor, is being helped up the hill, while satyrs drink wine from a goblet and blow pipes, and Maenads carry baskets of grapes and play the tambourine. Ariadne will soon awake and be consoled by Bacchus; the two will marry and enjoy eternal happiness.
A myriad of influences are evident in the masterfully executed work — Greco-Roman sculpture, as well as the work of Antonio Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen and Venetian painting of the 16th century. There are echoes of both the Apollo Belvedere (Vatican, Rome) and Thorvaldsen’s Jason with the Golden Fleece (Thorwaldsen Museum, Copenhagen) in the pose and attitude of Bacchus, while the figure of the sleeping Ariadne recalls both ancient sculptural prototypes and the elaborations of them by Titian and his contemporaries.
The career of Pietro Benvenuti, one of the leading figures of the Neoclassical movement in Italy, was particularly rooted in Tuscany. He was born in Arezzo and began his studies at the Accademia di Belle Art in Florence, where he was taught by Giuseppe Piattoli and Sante Pacini. He went to Rome in his 20s, and there his art developed under the influence of painter Vincenzo Camuccini and sculptor Antonio Canova (who would become a close friend) and from the study of Italian Baroque painting. Benvenuti’s career flourished in the period of French rule in Italy (1794-1814). He returned to Florence in 1803 as Court Painter and Director of the Accademia in Florence.
Commissions from Napoléon and his sister Elisa Baciocchi, who was appointed Grand Duchess of Tuscany, followed (Versailles and Palazzo Pitti, Florence). After the fall of Napoléon and the restoration of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, Benvenuti continued to receive important commissions, among which were frescoes in Palazzo Pitti and the ceiling of the Cappella dei Principi in San Lorenzo. Throughout his career, Benvenuti combined a love of drama with crisp and legible design to create classicizing compositions, but with a vibrant Romantic tendency.
Canvas: 55 3/4" high x 39 1/2" wide
Frame: 62 3/4" high x 46 5/8" wide
Arezzo e gli Aretini; pagine raccolte, Arezzo, 1921, by U. Viviani, pp. 183, 185
Pietro Benvenuti, 1769-1844: Mostra di opere inedite nel secondo centenario della nascita, ed. C. Del Bravo, Arezzo 1969, pp. 48, 91-92, pl. 14 (illustrated)
“Dipinti e disegni rintracciati. Aggiunte al catalogo di Salvi Castellucci, Giovanni Battista Biondi, Domenico Sozzini, Gian Lorenzo Zagli, Pier Dandini, Mattia de Mare, Francesco Curradi, Pietro Benvenuti e altro, II,” in Bolletino d’Informazione. Brigata Aretina degli Amici dei Monumenti, 70, pp. 54-56, fig. 1 (illustrated)
Ottocento ad Arezzo; La Collezione Bartolini, Arezzo 2003-04, by L. Fornasari, pp. 131-32 (illustrated)
Pietro Benvenuti, Florence, 2004, by L. Fornasari, pp. 327-20, fig. 275 (illustrated)
L’Officina Neoclassica; Dall’Accademia de’ Pensieri al Accademia d’Italia, Faenza, 2009, by A. Imbelloni, p. 168
“Da giovane sussidiato dalla Fraternita dei Laici di Arezzo a ‘Principe dei Pittori Toscani,’” in Pittore Imperiale; Pietro Benvenuti alla corte di Napoleone e dei Lorena, Florence, 2009, by L. Fornasari, pp. 20-21, fig. 5 (illustrated)
Colonel Wilson, England
Private collection, Rome
Bruun Rasmussen, Copenhagen, Feb. 29, 2000, lot 308
Galleria W. Apolloni, Rome
Private collection, New York, 2004