Bacchus and Ariadne, Antoine Coypel, 18th centuryOil on Canvas
18th century, circa 1720
Artist: Antoine Coypel attr. (1661 - 1722)
Measurements: height 158 cm by width 135 cm
Wood and gold-leaf stucco frame, XIX century
Origin: Genoa, private collection
The work presents a complex, rich iconography, as is often the case in the representation of mythological scenes.
In the centre we see Ariadne, Minos’ daughter, laying on the beach of Naxos. As she is mourning the departure of Theseus she is met by Bacchus, depicted in the form of a beautiful youth, with curly hair and a crown of flowers and ivy. His pose is plastic, dynamic, its boldness highlighted by the flowing lines of a billowing red cape. The viewer’s eye is inevitably drawn to this bright splash of colour at the centre of the scene. Holding a hand over his heart in sign of love, Bacchus is asking Ariadne’s hand in marriage.
To the left of the scene is Bacchus’ chariot, led by Love. Between the lovers stands the muse Hymen, daughter of Apollo, who is usually depicted at the head of Bacchus’ retinue, here shown crowned in roses, in the act of lifting a torch.
Light from a seascape barely filters through, tightly framed between the stone arch and the tree. A small white sail at the horizon symbolises purity and adventure.
Maenads and Bassarids look onto this hymn to love. Above the scene fly four winged putti, carrying a garland of ivy and flowers to crown the meeting of Bacchus and Ariadne.
The perspective adopted to depict the stone arch and what may be a grotto opening to the right side of the scene hints to a homage to Roman painting from the late sixteen-hundreds.
Antoine Coypel was the son of painter Noël Coypel. He studied painting and arts with his father and moved with him to Rome, where he lived for four years, remaining profoundly influenced by Italian baroque and, in particular, by the Roman school of painting.
Upon his return to Paris, he soon became a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and, in 1714, was made its Director. Two years later he was appointed “First Painter to the King”.
Antoine worked mainly on historical subjects but was also an excellent decorator: his most interesting work in this field is the decoration of the ceiling of the chapel in Versailles, completed in 1716 in Roman Baroque style.
Between 1714 and 1717 he also completed a large-scale series of canvases on the Aeneid, for the Royal Palace.
He found the time to write a series of essays, the "Discours prononcés dans les conférences de l'Académie royale de Peinture", as commentaries to his work. He also cooperated closely with etchers and engravers who transposed his works into prints.
Both his son, Charles-Antoine Coypel, and his half-brother Noël-Nicolas Coypel were painters, and sculptor François Dumont became his brother-in-law. Coypel was no innovator nor genius, but rather an able executor of the prevailing manner of his epoch. In fact, his works represent some of the most complete and thorough expression of this style.
Nicole Garnier, "Antoine Coypel 1661-1722", Ed. Arthena, Parigi, 1989
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