Height 146 cm
Johann Heinrich von Dannecker received his initial training as a sculptor in his native town of Stuttgart. In 1776 he committed himself to ducal service for life. Appointed court sculptor to the Duke of Württemberg in 1780, he continued his studies by travelling first to Paris and then to Rome. The works of classical antiquity and those of Antonio Canova (1775–1822) made a deep impression on him. Back in Stuttgart, he executed a large number of portrait busts, among them the famous one of his boyhood friend Friedrich von Schiller, as well as sculptures of classical as well as Christian themes.
In 1803 Dannecker began work on his “Ariadne on the Panther”, which was not a commission from the Duke. It depicts the Cretan princess Ariadne, wife of the god of wine Dionysus, seated on the big cat in a relaxed pose. When Dannecker asked his employer if he might sell the work on his own account, the request was granted; but he was denied all further official commissions until the death of his fellow sculptor Philipp Johann Scheffauer (1756–1808).
By 1805 the “Ariadne”—at that time still standing in his studio—was already regarded one of his masterpieces. The sculpture expresses the idea of »wildness tamed by beauty«, according to the motto Dannecker is said to have devised together with his brother-in-law Heinrich Rapp. In 1810 the statue was sold to the Frankfurt banker Simon Moritz von Bethmann (1768–1826), and in 1816 it was put on display in the so-called Odeon, the first museum in Frankfurt to be open to the public. From 1856 onwards it stood in the specially built “Ariadneum”. Every day, according to Bethmann, there was a “positive pilgrimage” to see the sculptor’s most famous work.