TIZIANO Vecellio
(b. ca. 1488, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)

Diana and Callisto

1556-59
Oil on canvas, 187 x 205 cm
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

In his later career Titian, like Veronese, developed a greater seriousness and expressive intensity, not only in his religious works, but also in his pagan mythologies. The paintings Diana and Actaeon, and Diana and Callisto were painted as part of a series of six large mythological canvases {or poesie as Titian called them) for the principal patron of his final years, King Philip II of Spain. A very general theme underlying the series is that of the loves of the Olympian gods, and of the usually tragic circumstances for any mortals who become involved with them. The principal literary source for the paintings is Ovid's Metamorphoses, the most popular work of classical literature in the Italian Renaissance.

Diana's nymphs were expected to be as chaste as the goddess herself. One of them, Callisto, was seduced by Jupiter who first disguised himself as Diana in order to gain the nymphs presence. In Diana and Callisto, the unfortunate Callisto is shown being stripped by her companions at the command of the chaste goddess Diana to reveal her pregnancy. Banished for her shameful state, Callisto was transformed into a bear by Jupiter's jealous wife Juno, but was later immortalised by him as the constellation of the Great Bear.

In Titian's painting, Diana in her grotto confronts Callisto, her robes drawn aside to reveal an unmistakable pregnancy.

The pendants Diana and Acteon and Diana and Callisto (both on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh) were formerly in the collection of Philippe Egalité, Duc d'Orleans. After the French Revolution they were purchased by the immensely wealthy Duke of Bridgewater and still belong to his descendants.