Thomas Baker Oil Paintings

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"Ariadne"

40 X 32 inches, oil on canvas

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According to legend, Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos, ruler of Crete during the Bronze Age (about four thousand years ago in Europe). Beneath the king's palace, in an underground maze called the Labyrinth, from which no human who entered had ever found his way out, lived a horrible monster called the Minotaur, half man, half bull. Ariadne fell in love with Theseus, the son of King Aegeus of Athens, who along with nine other Athenian youths and maidens had been chosen to become a human sacrifice to the Minotaur. Hoping to save Theseus, Ariadne slipped him a sword and a ball of string on his way into the Labyrinth. The sword was to defend himself against the monster, and the string was to unwind behind him as he negotiated the twists and turns of the dark underground maze. After meeting and killing the Minotaur in an epic struggle, Theseus was then able to follow the string back to the entrance of the maze, where Ariadne awaited him, and together they set sail for Theseus' home on mainland Greece.

Since I had already reproduced some of the ancient wall frescoes of Thera, which was a Minoan island colony (the civilization so named after King Minos of the legend), I next decided to recreate as accurately as possible an ancient Theran costume as shown in these frescoes for use in a modern painting. This is what Ariadne would have worn had the legend been true (and who is to say it is not based on some truth?). My model, wearing the costume and holding the sword and string, then posed as Ariadne.

The result is the above oil painting, which shows Ariadne at the entrance of the Labyrinth, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Theseus, holding the sword and string that will save his life. Striving for absolute authenticity in the details, I recreated the costume based largely on the Theran fresco that I call "Woman with a Necklace ," which I had already reproduced and was therefore quite familiar with. The sheer open-fronted blouse shown in this ancient painting, edged in blue and striped in red, plus the layered skirt in typical Minoan colors, are as close to the ones shown on the ancient frescoes as I could make them. The skirt shown is made of patterned material, but the pattern was not sufficiently preserved for accurate copying. Thus I gave Ariadne a more plain style of layered skirt, which was also quite common at the time, judging from Minoan art. Amazingly, in some modern jewelry catalogs I was even able to find earrings and bracelets practically identical to those worn by the girl in the fresco, showing that some things have not changed in four thousand years. The masonry of the Labyrinth I based on photos of the restored rooms of the palace at Knossos, Crete.

The only detail in which I deviated somewhat from the frescos is in the color of Ariadne's hair-- the ancient Minoan artists always showed women with raven black hair, but our model's lovely blonde hair, correctly styled in Minoan ringlets, was so beautiful that I decided to leave it that color in the painting. A little research revealed that some of the classical Greeks, descendants of the Minoans, did have blonde hair, and in fact it was much admired in ancient Greek culture. It is therefore perfectly plausible for our Ariadne to have hair of this color. The style and color of the bronze sword that our Ariadne holds are likewise correct, and she is surrounded by the symbols of Minoan culture: the double axe carved into the wall beside her, and the horns of the sacred bull above the entrance to the Labyrinth behind her. When the palace of Knossos on Crete was excavated by archaeologists, the double-axe symbol was found in many places in the wine vaults beneath it, and this mazelike underground storage facility may well have furnished the basis for the legendary Labyrinth.

At Ariadne's feet I painted the bones of earlier victims of the dreaded Minotaur.

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