Ariadne was originally a Greek fertility goddess
whose cult was established in Crete. Her name is
composed of two Cretan Greek word meaning,
“utterly sacred.” In later traditions Ariadne’s
divine origins were repressed and she became
increasingly known as the daughter of the
legendary King Minos of Crete who had invaded
and conquered Athens after his son was killed
there. The Athenians were required to pay the
price of his life by sacrificing seven young men
and seven maidens each year to the Minotaur, a
dreaded bull-headed giant that inhabited the
center of the great labyrinth. One year, the group
of young people sent to Crete from Athens
included Theseus, son of the king of Athens, who
volunteered himself to join and kill the Minotaur.
Ariadne upon seen Theseus immediately fell in
love with him and gave him a magic sword to kill
the beast and a ball of thread so that he could
retrace his footsteps out of the maze of the
labyrinth. After Theseus killed the Minotaur, he
ran away with Ariadne but according to the most
common mythological account, he abandoned
her on the island of Naxos while she was asleep.
When Ariadne woke up from her slumber she met
the god Dionysus, whom she married. It is this
context that our sculpture reflects.
The marble sculpture depicts Ariadne being
carried upon the back of a collared panther in a
wedding procession. Presumably, she is on her
way to meet Dionysus for the marriage ceremony.
This composition is based upon the Clasical
Revival masterpiece carved by Johann Heinrich
Dannecker (born 1758, died 1841). Ariadne is
represented nude, save for the crown of grape
leaves that adorns her head, symbolizing her
relationship with the god of wine. This particular
work was likely produced in the years following
the death of Dannecker, when this composition
had become vastly popular.