Theseus abandons Ariadne on the island of Naxos
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