Titian’s ‘Diana’ masterpieces unveiled in 1st U.S. exhibition
Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto were painted between 1556 and 1559 for King Philip II of Spain. Designed as a pair, with a stream flowing from one to the other, the pieces were part of a six-painting series exploring mythological themes.
The two works anchor a new exhibition Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland, which opened Saturday at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and runs through Jan. 2.
The exhibit showcases 25 works overall –12 paintings and 13 drawings – by artists of the period and is highlighted by the works of Tiziano Vecellio, the artist known as Titian, widely acclaimed for his Diana series.
“These really are two of the greatest paintings anywhere on the planet,” said Michael Clarke, director of the National Galleries of Scotland, of the Diana pieces.
Titian is generally regarded as the greatest Venetian Renaissance artist, lauded for his command of color, distinctive brushwork and masterful use of light.
The works going on display evoke themes typical of the Venetian Golden Age of the 1500s, including mythological and religious subjects.
Paintings by Jacopo Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese – two other Renaissance masters and Titian rivals – are also featured.
The exhibition begins with drawings by those three masters and other Venetian Renaissance artists. They include a drawing of figures in black and white chalk on blue paper that is attributed to Titian.
The drawing is significant because Titian viewed drawings as a preparation for paintings, not works in and of themselves, so little effort was made to preserve them and very few remain today.
A painting by Lorenzo Lotto, Virgin and Child with Saints Jerome, Peter, Francis, and an Unidentified Female Saint exhibits the strong, bright colors characteristic of Venetian painting.
The second floor of the exhibition opens with the two Diana paintings, demonstrating Titian’s mature work in his 60s.
The two Diana paintings on display, along with four others, draw on stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which was extremely popular at the time.
“In both pictures, Diana is a cruel and angry goddess,” Clarke said.
Diana and Actaeon depicts the moment when the hunter Actaeon stumbles upon the secret wooded area where Diana, goddess of the hunt, and her nymphs are bathing. A stag’s skull on a pillar foreshadows Actaeon’s fate, Clarke said. According to myth, Diana transforms the hunter into a stag to be torn apart by his dogs.
In Diana and Callisto, an enraged Diana is shown as Callisto, a nymph sworn to chastity who is disrobed by her fellow nymphs, revealing a swollen, pregnant belly. Callisto’s face is twisted in anguish as she struggles against her peers.
The Diana paintings are flanked by two other, much smaller Titian paintings – Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist and an Unidentified Male Saint and Venus Rising from the Sea.
In the final gallery, Mars and Venus with Cupid, by Veronese, illustrates an adulterous encounter between Mars, the god of war, and Venus, the goddess of love, who appears distracted by a small child and a dog in the corner as Mars removes her clothes.
The exhibit was co-organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. It will be shown Feb. 5 through May 1 in Minneapolis and in Houston next year from May 21 through Aug. 14.
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