Though many pieces of art today are meant for the enjoyment of others as they stand before the work and entertain their eyes, artworks from Ancient Times were often meant to involve the viewer as they enveloped him, astounded him, or even allowed him to become part of the artworks or the stories represented. When exploring the ancient artworks within the San Antonio Museum of Art, one piece playfully welcomes the viewer into Greek mythology as he stumbles upon the statue of a reclining woman. Placed upon a squat pedestal within the Ewing Halsell Wing, the Statue of the Sleeping Ariadne represents Greek myth as it imitates Greek sculpture through the work of a 2nd Century A.D. Roman. Though the artist who created the work may not be known, the myth that inspired the piece lives on.
At 34 inches wide, 18 inches high, and just 12 inches deep, the Statue of the Sleeping Ariadne remains a small, yet detailed, sculpture. With smooth gestures, the artist carefully worked the marble to create sweeping curvatures and to form the major sloping shape of the piece and with just minor damage to Ariadne’s right hand and some scraping on her left shoulder, the piece is in a remarkably well-preserved condition. With deep grooves among the cloth and a hollowed area behind Ariadne’s head and left arm, deep shadows dance about the piece inviting the viewer to walk about the work to view the intricate details carved in-the-round.
The only figure making up the piece, Ariadne, a Cretan princess from Greek mythology, rests upon a shore within a reclining position her extended legs slightly crossed, her head pillowed on her left arm, and her right arm thrown over her head. Her long, flowing chiton seems to relax, as well, as it drapes over her graceful body and leaves part of her breast uncovered. The only company residing alongside her, a bird holds onto the tail of a lizard alongside a snail and another lizard. Adorning the side of the shoreline, these animals contrast Ariadne’s figure as they remain carved in relief, rather than in-the-round.
Combining a variety of different techniques and ideas, the Statue of the Sleeping Ariadne grants pleasure to the eye as one takes in the assortment of artistic elements. Carved in-the-round, Ariadne contrasts against the shallow animals carved in relief on the side of the sculpture and adding depth and definition to the piece, Araidne’s garments flow over her body, carved within a wet-T-shirt technique. Though Roman, the work relays many Greek qualities. Referenced from a similar Greek sculpture and inspired from a Greek myth, the piece does not originate from an original style or idea. Even Ariadne’s face seems inspired by Late Classical Greek style as her lips seem to pout with fullness and her cheeks soften and round her face giving a sense of innocence.
Though a solid mass of a sculpture, the Statue of the Sleeping Ariadne conveys a graceful sweeping motion as each gesture remains curved and fluid. These gestures along with Ariadne’s reclining position and the placement of her arms convey a sense of peaceful slumber, though any viewer knowledgeable of the Greek myth inspiring this piece knows that Ariadne’s nap was not filled with bliss.
Meant to represent the Greek myth, the Statue of the Sleeping Ariadne shows Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos of Crete after she has been abandoned by her lover, Theseus. After helping Theseus on his quest to slay the Minotaur, Ariadne fled aboard his ship only to be abandoned upon the island of Naxos while she was sleeping. It was here that Dionysos, the Greek god of wine and theatre discovered Ariadne and made her his immortal wife. Capturing the climax of the story just after Ariadne has been abandoned, but just before she is rescued by a god, the work relays a sense of wonder, curiosity, and excitement as the viewer almost becomes a part of the myth, stumbling across Ariadne himself. Perhaps originally placed within a courtyard, the effects would have been enhanced as one discovered Ariadne, just as Dionysos had within the myth.
Many interpretations can be drawn from this simple piece because of the uncertainties clouding it, such as who created it. Obviously, there was a strong desire to create or own a piece of art such as this because there are many variations and copies of the sleeping Ariadne. Perhaps the artist wanted one to look upon Ariadne’s innocent looking face and sprawled body and feel a sense of helplessness about her as her life was dramatically changed without her knowledge or consent. Perhaps the artist wished one to look upon the image of the bird grabbing the lizard’s tail from behind and view it as a symbol of how Theseus treated Ariadne, back-stabbing her as he abandoned her on the island of Nixos after promising to marry her. Perhaps this piece carried no true significance, other than adding ornament to a garden or decoration to a courtyard.
While the exact intention of the artist and the meaning of the piece may be unclear, it is certain that Ariadne is depicted sleeping in order to portray the Greek myth. With this in mind, one is filled with wonder and excitement after discovering her as she reclines on the shore. Feelings are stirred and questions are asked as the beautiful figure is taken in and admired. For this purpose, I feel this piece of artwork is successful in drawing interest and allowing the viewer to become a part of the myth. I feel that any who view the piece, including those who witnessed the piece within its own era would agree with my statement that it is a successful and well-constructed piece of art. With its intricate details and soft features, the Statue of the Sleeping Ariadne successfully draws attention to itself and intrigues the viewer to learn more.
When exploring the depths of the Ewing Halsell Wing of the San Antonio Museum of Art, any viewer will feel a sense of curiosity and wonderment when coming across the slumbering presence of Ariadne presented through the Statue of the Sleeping Ariadne. For those unfamiliar with the Greek myth that inspired the piece, they will be drawn to the soft, smooth features of Ariadne’s face and wonder why a graceful, innocent young woman is left reclining among the wildlife below her and for those who know the myth, a new sense of excitement is added to the piece as the viewer feels as if he is a part of the story. Discovering Ariadne resting upon the shores of the island of Naxos, one feels like Dionysos as he discovers the reclining woman and rescues her from the betrayal of her lover. By playing with the Greek myth of Ariadne and combining different elements and techniques in order to create an influential sculpture, the Statue of the Sleeping Ariadne, successfully allows the viewer to feel the excitement of discovering an innocent, sleeping beauty.
“Grand are the forms of this body and nobly positioned each member.
Had Ariadne lain thus, Theseus never had fled.
Only a single kiss for these lips and then, O Theseus, leave her;
Look at her eyes—she’s awake! Now you’re eternally bound…”