Theseus abandons Ariadne on the island of Naxos

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Theseus abandons Ariadne on the island of Naxos
Theseus is confined to the background of the eighth tapestry in the series, making his way to the boat. Ariadne is the undisputed protagonist of this scene. Grief-stricken by her lover’s departure, she falls into the arms of Dionysus-Bacchus, looked upon closely by Aphrodite, who is accompanied by Cupid. A satyr, amazed, looks upon the scene from behind the vegetation. The border is identical to the rest of the series.

A ball of thread to escape from the Labyrinth

Ariadne, the daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë, the King and Queen of Crete, fell in love with Theseus upon his arrival in Crete for sacrifice. As Theseus prepared to enter the Labyrinth, Ariadne offered him a ball of thread. By attaching the thread to the entrance of the Labyrinth, and unrolling it as he made his way through it, he would be able to find his way out again. Theseus was only able to escape thanks to Ariadne´s ruse, and she did not hesitate in making for Athens with her lover.

One love ends, another begins

Although sources differ on the story of Ariadne, the best-known relates that the lovers stopped briefly on the Island of Naxos, where Theseus was ordered by Pallas Athena to abandon Ariadne. Theseus took his chance to escape while Ariadne was sleeping, as can be seen in the tapestry. Aphrodite intervened in the plight of the grief-stricken girl, making her fall in love with Dionysus-Bacchus. This moment – between her despair at being abandoned and the appearance of her future husband – is revealed in Ariadne’s face and posture, dejected yet also in the arms of Dionysus-Bacchus.


The passage depicted in this piece is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book VIII): “[Theseus] immediately set sail for Dia, stealing the daughter of Minos away with him, then cruelly abandoned his companion on that shore. Deserted and weeping bitterly, as she was, Bacchus-Liber brought her help and comfort.”

Series Story of Theseus

Eighth tapestry in the series

Model Anthonis Sallaert

Manufacture Jan Raes the Younger, Brussels, c. 1630

Fabric Silk and wool

Size 396 x 446 cm

Location Royal Palace of El Pardo

Origin Collection of Philip IV

On display Upper Gallery, Patio de las Austrias


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