Cecco Bravo

(Florence 1601 - 1661 Innsbruck)

Arianna Abandoned by Theseus, c. 1640

oil on canvas (unlined), 40 x 60 cm (15.75 x 23.62 inches)

  • Reference: 731
  • Provenance: Private collection

We would like to thank dr. Francesca Baldassarri for confirming the attribution and her help in studying the painting (written communication, 3rdSeptember 2018)


On the foreground of this delightful painting, a young woman lies on a red bed; her eyes are closed and she is peacefully asleep, with a light, see-through cloth that covers only her legs, leaving her torso naked. After a night of love, her dishevelled lover is depicted while leaving quietly, stretching his muscular leg outside the drape; behind this sort of backdrop, a vessel is ready to set sail, on the right.

The unaware young woman can be identified as Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, king of Crete; she was involved in the expedition of Theseus, brave young Athenian, against the famous Minotaur; he was the son of Pasiphae, Minos’s wife, and the white bull Poseidon sent from the sea as a sign of support for the new king. Every year, seven maidens and seven young men from Athens were led in Knossos into the labyrinth, build by the ingenious Daedalus, and sacrificed to the horrid monster.

Theseus arrived on the island of Crete to put an end to this useless sacrifice and turned to Ariadne, confessing his love for her. The princess fell in love with the brave young man and sought advice from Daedalus. He suggested tying near the entrance a thread to unravel while entering the labyrinth and trace his steps back. After achieving his goal and killing the Minotaur, Theseus left Crete with Ariadne and landed on today’s Naxos. After a night together, he abandoned the princess on the beach; when she woke up, desperate for her lover’s departure, she was rescued and consoled by Dionysous.

In the Renaissance, the story of Ariadne was particularly cherished by Florentine painters and repeatedly depicted since Lorenzo the Magnificent, the author of the famous Canzone di Bacco.

We recognize in the quick and vibrant brushstroke of our painting the unmistakable hand of Francesco Montelatici, called Cecco Bravo, the protagonist of the XVII century in Florence along with Sebastiano Mazzoni – and the styles of the two painters have often been confused; he was amongst the greatest representatives of a nonconformist and discontented manner that led to very modern results.

The biographer Filippo Baldinucci briefly mentions our painter amongst the pupils of Giovanni Bilivert; in the 1630s, Cecco Bravo’s interest was drawn by Francesco Furini, whose influence is clearly visible in our Ariadne abandoned by Theseus. At the same time, our painter undoubtedly admired Titian, and this supports the theory of a possible journey to northern Italy around the mid-1640s, to study first-hand the Venetian painting and Correggio’s manner. The analogies with Mazzoni’s works suggest that the two Florentine painters remained in contact also in Venice.


Our painting reveals traces of Cecco’s early phase, visible in the painter’s favourite narrative method: it appears in works dated to the 1630s, such as the Semiramis(Prato, Museo Civico), where the background is used as a suitable space in which the narration continues. The resulting effect of temporal disruption causes a sensible, almost imperceptible distinction between an inside and an outside, also visible in our Ariadne abandoned by Theseuswith the distinction between the limit drawn by the drapes and the waves that are lapping the large vessel, a sound we have the impression of hearing in the background.

This painting can be easily compared with the Angelica and Ruggieroin Chicago (The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago), where the formal isolation of the two characters is similarly depicted: Ruggiero in full shade, Angelica in full light, they both come out of the light blue misty sky. Angelica’s complexion, her small mature breasts and statuesque pose, which has not been drawn from the first-hand observation of ancient sculpture, but rather from the filter of Furini’s models, all these elements recall our Ariadne, just as Ruggiero, with his dishevelled hair ruffled in the air, recalls Theseus. Due to the same fluent, yet impulsive strokes, our painting was likely painted in the same years of the one in Chicago, dated to the 1650s.

Cecco is very close to the Ulysses and Nausicaa in Houston, previously in the Haukholl collection in Texas and then in the Canesso Gallery in Paris; despite recalling the layout of the composition with the drapes on the left side and the stretched nude of Nausicaa, he already uses a broken, irregular stroke in the accomplished disruption of the shapes.

Therefore, we could ascribe the canvas to Cecco Bravo’s production, of which nowadays we know very few precise references, of the third decade of the XVII century.

More information