Picture Choice: The artist Arturo Di Stefano on sexual promise and visual innuendo in Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne

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The Independent Culture
This picture is centred around a 'boy meets girl' situation. The artist has taken his subject matter from a literary source, but not slavishly. To paint this sort of mythical illustration was a new thing for Titian. He had to invent it for himself. This episode occurs when Ariadne is unceremoniously discovered by Theseus after he has killed the Minotaur.

I like the way that Titian has cleverly usurped the format of the classic Renaissance annunciation scene. Ariadne is effectively playing the role of the Virgin Mary, while Bacchus is acting the part of the annunciating angel. In fact her portrayal is based on a Madonna by Raphael and Titian has also taken the central figure of the woman with the cymbals from a work by Jacopo Sansovino. In this, the picture shows that the 20th-century idea of Post- Modernist appropriation is not a new thing. It's been there since time immemorial.

The picture contains a great play on visual language. Ariadne is seen almost in profil perdu and Bacchus is in three-quarter profile. The conclusion is that together this would form a complete union, and so it anticipates their future as lovers. Bacchus is portrayed as open, airborne and aloft. His right hand is plunging deep into this vulval cloth which doesn't really hide his genitals. If you look closely they're visible. Ariadne, on the other hand, is behaving with pudency. But her attempts at that are slightly undermined by the red ribbon tied around her. I'm always drawn to the man on the right. He's not happy being consumed by the attributes of Bacchus. He seems to be wrestling with one's sense of sexual desires.

The animal lust which underlies the whole picture is reflected in the figures of the cheetahs who look longingly at each other. Likewise, there's an intensity of gaze between Bacchus and Ariadne and the man who's so rapt in himself. The other figures shown are simply an abstraction of carnal revelry.

Arturo Di Stefano's work can be seen at the Purdy-Hicks gallery, London SE1 (071-237 6062)

(Photograph omitted)