The English artist Joseph Southall (1861-1944) painted two scenes from the myth of Ariadne and Theseus during his long career. In 1912 he portrayed Ariadne sleeping amongst frolicking white rabbits, the god Bacchus approaching her from the right (click here to see an early study for this painting). Then in 1925-6 Southall produced another image of Ariadne deserted by Theseus on the island of Naxos: no rabbits this time, but instead a parrot perching opposite the painting’s equally colourful protagonist. What is the parrot’s significance here? Why has Southall imported this non-classical bird into his magical landscape? Click on the image below to hear Dr Paula James discussing Ariadne’s parrot and its possible symbolism in the context of the myth.

This painting is now in the collections of Birmingham Art Gallery: a larger image, together with more works by Southall, can be seen on the Gallery’s website.

And for more about parrots in art and literature across the centuries, you can turn to the book co-edited by Paula James and Julia Courtney: The Role of the Parrot in Selected Texts from Ovid to Jean Rhys (Edwin Mellen Press, Lampeter, November 2006.

Click on the image below to access the interview via YouTube.