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Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne

November 3, 2002–January 5, 2003

The enigmatic paintings of Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978), with their dream-like imagery of deserted city squares, filled with mysterious shadows, stopped clocks, and sleeping statues, had a profound influence on Modern Art.

These “Metaphysical“ works began around 1912, with a series of 8 Ariadne paintings in which the artist depicted a reclining statue of the Princess of Greek mythology in an empty, sun-drenched piazza. According to the legend, Ariadne was abandoned by her lover, Theseus, on the desert island of Naxos, after he had slayed the Minotaur with the aid of her thread, which had helped him to navigate the labyrinth. The melancholy subject appealed to the artist, who had a nostalgic interest in the classical past. A symbol of exile and loss, the anguished figure of the sleeping Ariadne haunted de Chirico’s imagination during his early years in Paris, a time of intense loneliness for the artist. The mystery and melancholy found in these pictures, completed between the spring of 1912 and the autumn of 1913, resonates in the artist’s work throughout his long career.

This exhibition brings together, for the first time, the entire Ariadne series, including such masterpieces as The Soothsayer’s Recompense (1913), along with related drawings and sculpture. This group of works, which would have such a powerful impact on the Surrealist paintings of Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, are complemented by a selection of later paintings on the theme of Ariadne, whose serial approach foreshadows the work of Andy Warhol, a close friend of de Chirico in the 1970s. The approximately 50 works of art on display offer visitors the valuable opportunity to examine the early and late works in relation to one another and to analyze the autobiographical symbolism of these haunting images.

  • Philadelphia Museum of Art: November 3, 2002–January 5, 2003
  • Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London: January 22–April 13, 2003

Main Building


This exhibition is made possible in part by The Pew Charitable Trusts; it is also supported by the Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The book was supported by an endowment for scholarly publications established at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2002 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and matched by generous donors.

The symposium is supported in part by the Arete Foundation.


Michael Taylor, Associate Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art

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