Art History 101

Titian’s Danae (Metamorphoses II)

Isla Phillips-Ewen 2 December 2019 min Read

In a series of articles we are going to meet each of the seven Poesies, which Titian delivered Phillip II of Spain in the 1550s and early 1560s. Every painting-poem translated a small section of the Epic poem Metamorphoses, by Roman poet Ovid, and Titian started with Danaë (1549-50).

Danaë and the Shower of Gold

Danaë was a princess of Argos and only child. Once upon a time, a prophesy said that her son would go on to kill his grandfather. Consequently Danaë’s father locked her away. However, the god Jupiter turned himself into a shower of gold in order to have sex with her, and the Greco-Roman gods always impregnate the women they have sex with. Danaë ‘s child Perseus goes on to behead Medusa and use it to turn his grandfather to stone.

Titian’s First Poesie

Titian, Danaë (before restoration), 1549-50, The Wellington Collection, London, England.

Titian’s retelling shows the part of the myth with the shower of gold, also the only part of the story mentioned in Ovid (chapter IV). Titian had in fact painted the composition at least six times between 1544 and the 1560s but scholars now agree that the version which now resides in The Wellington Collection (London) was the one sent to Philip. Rather than Cupid approaching Danaë it is an old maid, and there is no draping on her upper thigh as in other versions.

The painting is quite dirty and so it is hard to make out Titian’s beautiful colours. The version from the 1560s helps to clarify things:

Titian, Danaë with Nursemaid or Danaë Receiving the Golden Rain, 1560s, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Titian’s Poesies – A Series

Stay tuned to find out about Titian’s second Poesie, Venus and Adonis (1554).

Remember, here are four things to look out for in the Poesies:

1. The female nude, which would be hard to miss

These famous paintings achieve many things, not least their depictions of the female nude from all possible angles.

2. D-R-A-M-A, again, hard to miss

Their greatest feat however is the way Titian captures the drama of the stories from Metamorphoses. Each Poesie focuses on the moment just before the climax. They are incredible to behold even if you don’t know the myth behind them and can even captivate and engage the most astute viewer because of their specificity to the Ovidian poem.

3. Pairings

They’re marvelous as stand-alone paintings, in pairs and as a set. Taken as duos the paintings often mirror each other visually.

4. Drapery, dogs and dead-pan stares

As a set the Poesies offer coherent motifs, such as the dogs, the red drapery, and the power play of the gaze.

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