In 1516 Titian made contact with Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara for whom he was to work for a decade on pictures destined for the Alabaster Chamber. In this period he painted a series of magnificent paintings of Dionysian themes: the Worship of Venus in the Prado, The Andrians (Bacchanalia), also in the Prado, and Bacchus and Ariadne, in the National Gallery, London. In these paintings Titian combines a richness of colouristic expression with a great formal elegance. These are the elements which characterize this whole so-called "classic" phase of Titian's development and which is dominated by the supreme masterpiece of the Frari Assumption of the Virgin.
The Bacchanal of the Andrians was the last in the series, The subjects are taken from classical descriptions of works of art: here Titian reproduces a picture the writer Philostratus saw in Naples in the second century AD, representing the people of the Greek Island of Andros making merry on the river of wine that Dionysus had created. This splendid opportunity to emulate the past was not lost on Titian, whose brilliant naturalism and marvellous colour declare him the equal of Apelles.
The subject of this painting refers to the arrival of Bacchus on the island of Andros, where his followers await him in varying degrees of inebriation, as they drink from the island's river flowing not with water, but with wine. The god himself is not present, but his ship can be glimpsed in the distance and the Bacchanalian essence is exalted in the flask of wine held unsteadily aloft. The shifting shadows may evoke the checkered moods of intemperance, but there is no moral disapproval and the mood is elegiac and tolerant. The choice of subject may reflect not only the hedonism of the patron but also the agricultural prosperity of the Ferrarese countryside, replete with food and drink.
The man leaning on his elbow in the centre derives from Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina cartoon, while the drunken nymph to the far right is based on a classical statue of Ariadne.