Renaissance

Titian’s Perseus and Andromeda (Metamorphoses IV)

Isla Phillips 16 December 2019 min Read

In a series of articles we are meeting 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. So far we have encountered the stories of Danaë, Venus and Adonis; and next up is Perseus and Andromeda, which was sent in the year that Prince Phillip II became King Phillip II.

Similes, Poetry and Paint

Swooping down from the sky the hero Perseus (yes, the very same son of Danaë) attacks a sea-monster. The death of Andromeda was an order from the gods as a punishment for her mother, who had said she was more beautiful than Nereids. On the distant shore her family watch the Epic scene:

Titian's Perseus and Andromeda
Titian, Perseus and Andromeda, 1554-1556, The Wallace Collection, London, England.Titian, Perseus and Andromeda, 1554-1556, The Wallace Collection, London, England.

"See how the creature comes, parting the waves with surging breast: like a fast ship with pointed prow ploughing the water, driven by the sweat-covered muscles of her crew. It was as far from the rock as a Balearic sling can send a lead shot through the air, when suddenly the young hero, pushing his feet hard against the earth, shot high among the clouds... so the descendant of Inachus hurling himself headlong, in swift flight, through empty space, attacked the creature’s back, and, as it roared, buried his sword, to the end of the curved blade, in the right side of its neck."

Ovid, Metamorphoses, IV. 706-723

Titian's Poesies - A Series

Next in the series will be The Rape of Europa. If you haven't red them already here are links to Danaë and Venus and Adonis.

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.