Ariadne's name derives from a Cretan-Greek form for arihagne, 'utterly pure', and in Greek mythology she is associated with Theseus and Dionysus. She was first wedded to Theseus and, according to Hesiod, was abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos while sleeping, only to be found, awakened and wed by Dionysus. As this was a defining moment in her life, she is often depicted asleep on the island of Naxos in sculpture and painting. De Chirico, Waterhouse and Fantin Latour all have painted her in an extended state of sleep.
The idea of a lamenting Ariadne, immediately following her abandonment by Theseus, was made popular by Claudio Monteverdi in his now lost opera from 1608, L'Arianna. The only surviving solo aria from this opera is Lamento d'Arianna and it is widely considered to be one of the most influential and famous pieces of early Baroque opera. The 17th Century Italian musicologist Giovanni Batista Doni affirmed that 'Ariadne's Lament is perhaps the most beautiful composition of its kind [operatic] ever written.' This famous aria begins with the following dramatic lines:
Let me die,
and who do you think can comfort me
in such harsh fate,
in such great suffering?
Let me die.
In choosing to depict Ariadne locked in this moment of heightened theatrical drama, Calvi finds the perfect opportunity to display the full scope of his artistic prowess. Juxtaposed against the angular, rough surface of the slate wall, Ariadne's well proportioned nude body twists and turns toward the right in an extreme contrapposto position. Her expressive face suffering in agony recalls depictions of Mary Magdalene in Renaissance painting, and her extended left arm holding on to a grape vine foreshadows her subsequent love affair with Dionysus.