Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5) by Titian
Interpretation of High Renaissance Mythological Painting

Pin it

Bacchanal of the Andrians
(Detail) By Titian.
Regarded as one of the
greatest paintings of the
Venetian School.

Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5)


Analysis of Bacchanal of the Andrians
Interpretation of Other Mythological Paintings


Name: Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5)
Artist: Titian (c.1485-1576)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Genre: Mythological painting
Movement: Venetian painting
Location: Prado Museum, Madrid

For the meaning of other celebrated masterpieces,
please see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).


Titian is considered to be the greatest exponent of Renaissance Art in Venice, and someone who exemplified the city's philosophy of colorito - the primacy of colour in painting. See also: Titian and Venetian Colour Painting (1500-76). Trained in the workshop of Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516), whom he replaced in 1516 as Official Painter to the Venetian Republic, he may also have learned from the short-lived genius Giorgione (1477-1510). At any rate, he produced a stunning array of masterpieces, including several of the greatest Venetian altarpieces as well as some of the most memorable Venetian portrait paintings. His clientele belonged largely to the courtly aristocracy in Italy and elsewhere. By comparison, the younger Tintoretto (1518-94) painted for the middle classes and religious institutions of Venice.

Some of Titian's exceptional works include: Assumption of the Virgin (1516-18, Saint Maria Gloriosa dei Frari); Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23, National Gallery, London); Venus of Urbino (1538, Uffizi Gallery, Florence); and Pope Paul III with his Grandsons (1546, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples).

Analysis of Bacchanal of the Andrians by Titian

This colourful figure painting is one of a series of Roman mythological works commissioned by Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, for his palace at Ferrara. It was part of a group of three painted by Titian between 1518 and 1525. The other two are Worship of Venus (1518-19, Prado Museum, Madrid) and Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23, National Gallery, London).

It stemmed from the Roman writer Philostratus (second century CE), who left a collection of descriptions of pictures under the title "Imagines". One concerned the visit of Bacchus and his entourage of satyrs and bacchantes to the island of Andros. There, the natives were blessed by the presence of a river of wine. Upon the suggestion of his patron, Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, who wanted works to decorate his private studiolo, Titian reconstructed the classical narrative in this masterpiece.



The scene is set on the island of Andros, where the followers of Bacchus await his arrival in varying stages of inebriation, as they drink from the island's river of wine. Bacchus himself is not present, but his ship can be seen in the distance. Meantime, gods, men and children celebrate the sublime effects of wine, whose consumption, according to Philostratus, makes men dominant, rich, generous to their friends, handsome and tall beyond their dreams.

If Philostratus' own description was sparse, this painting is riotously full of detail and incident - and only Titian could create, at the centre of the scene, the brilliant and unforgettable emblem of this Bacchic setting. Silhouetted against the sky, a dancing youth holds a glass wine jug. He looks up, like an astronomer, at this sun and moon of his inebriated universe. A debate about balance and the horizontal is conducted by the clear vessel, tilted, and the equator of wine that it contains. Beneath such a heavenly body, the earth will be tipsy and inspiring too.

With the coming of dawn on Andros, the river god, instead of adopting his canonical reclining position, remains a lie-a-bed in his mulch of vines (top-right). The wine-red stream has also left the nymph in the foreground - based on a classical statue of Ariadne - to her erotic slumbers, as undisturbed by the singing, dancing and drinking that continue among the elaboratedly interwoven throng as by Apollo's call.

Titian also deviated from his prime text by creating two immigrants to Andros. They are the two courtly young women reclining in the centre forground amid a litter of overturned vessels of various sorts, indicating abandon. The girl in red has had her attentions to the nude youth (deriving from a figure in Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina) interrupted by her companion, while he has been distracted by the dancer in ochre. Now, in close conversation, the girls do not engage directly with those about them as, with lingering gestures, they lay aside the shepherds' pipes which, in more than one sense, they have been playing. Their tune, on the paper, is now taken up by the singers standing among the trees behind them.

These music-makers are to be distinguished from the Andrians - fellow mortals - and from the spirits and deities that occupy the place. It may be understood that the immortals, and indeed the Andians themselves, have been conjured up in the imagination by the girls, or else that - sensitive to the spirit of the scene and the effects of wine - they are rewarded by the attentions of beings who await the call of mortals' music and imagination.

Other figures also allude to classical statuary. The maenad (female follower of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine) dressed in white, is a reference to the sculpture of an antique torso in the Grimani collection, while the male nude pouring wine on the left appears to be a reworking of The Wounded Gaul, a work of Hellenistic art unearthed in Rome around 1515 and probably known to Titian through a drawing.

Titian called this type of picture a poesia. It is the creation of the artist, and it addresses its audience as does a poem, allusively - inviting a meditation, a reverie, an engagement of sensibility, and never arriving at a definitive meaning.

Interpretation of Other Mythological Paintings

Birth of Venus (1486) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
By Alessandro Botticelli.

Jupiter and Io (1533) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
By Antonio Allegri da Correggio.

Allegory with Venus and Cupid (c.1545) National Gallery, London.
By Agnolo Bronzino.

The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (1618) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
By Peter Paul Rubens.

Judgement of Paris (1632-6) National Gallery, London.
By Peter Paul Rubens.

Abduction of the Sabine Women (1634) Metropolitan Museum, NY.
By Nicolas Poussin.

Et in Arcadia Ego (Arcadian Shepherds) (1637) Louvre Museum, Paris.
By Nicolas Poussin.


• For more mythological history paintings by Venetian artists, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.