Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Ariadne with a Maenad and Satyr
  • Creator:
  • Description: This elaborate ivory relief of a veiled woman with her breast exposed comes from a set of late antique grave goods found near Trier, in Germany. The style of the relief, however, particularly the fine rendering of drapery, the wide open eyes of the woman, and its classicizing themes points to high-end ivory carving typically found in Constantinople or Alexandria around the beginning of the sixth century CE. Accompanying objects from the grave indicate that it may have been part of luxury revetment for a chair or couch (Weitzmann, 1979). The woman in the carving stands in a contrapposto position and holds a bowl in one hand and a thyrsus in the other. Her classical style chiton drapes gracefully around her body in soft folds and is left open to show her right breast. A braided and jeweled belt rests between her breasts and draws attention to her nudity. Two small putti fly above her head and crown her with a wreath. On the woman’s left is a small horned satyr and on her right a small, similarly dressed woman grips the thyrsus and swings a set of bells. Slender tree branches frame the entire scene.

    The thyrsus was traditionally a fennel staff topped with a pinecone and decorated with greenery and signified followers of the cult of Dionysos, the pagan god of wine, fertility, and sexuality. The woman carrying the bells resembles other late antique depictions of maenads, the frenzied female followers of Dionysos. Taken together, the satyr, maenad, and thyrsus indicate that the woman in the ivory is likely Ariadne, Dionysos’ eventual bride. Kurt Weitzmann noted that the motif of putti crowning figures with wreaths was commonly associated with marriage, lending further weight to this identification. Weitzmann and other scholars have speculated that the relief may have once had a pendant carving representing Dionysos himself. All in all, the Ariadne ivory resembles other luxury, classicizing ivory panels from the sixth century in style, perhaps most notably the Barberini Ivory. Dionysiac motifs proved especially popular in the late antique secular sphere from Rome to Sassanid Persia, perhaps for their association with abundance and pleasure, and similar scenes appear often on household tapestries, mosaics, and fine silver.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Ariadne (Mythological Figure) Classical Influences Decorative Arts Luxury Trade
  • Geographic Area: Eastern Mediterranean
  • Century: 6
  • Date: First half of the 6th century
  • Related Work: View of the relief showing the maenad: http://img.over-blog.com/610x458/2/01/43/65/Cluny/Cluny-047.jpg View of the relief showing the satyr: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4d/CLUNY-Ariane_3.JPG
  • Current Location: Paris, Musée National du Moyen-Age - thermes et hôtel de Cluny, Cl
  • Original Location: Germany, S.W., Turkey, E., Constantinople, Egypt, N., Alexandria; Found in Trier, possibly from Constantinople or Alexandria.
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Sculptures
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Ivory
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 40/13.8/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Caillet, Jean-Pierre. L'antiquité classique, le haut Moyen Age et Byzance au musée de Cluny. Réunion des musées nationaux, 1985. pp. 110-11; Cutler, Anthony. Late Antique and Byzantine Ivory Carving. Ashgate, 1998. pp. 14-15; Elderkin, George W. "An Ivory Ariadne." Art in America 30:1 (1942), pp. 51-3; Weitzmann, Kurt. Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Centuries. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979. pp. 149-50;