Mythological paintings (poesie) for Philip II (1553-62)
by TIZIANO

Titian painted for Philip II several mythological scenes and allegories with strong erotic elements. In his letters to Philip, Titian described these works as 'poesie' and 'favole', vague terms that can be roughly translated as 'poetic inventions' and 'fables', respectively. The terms have several implications: that the pictures had a literary source, that painting and poetry made the same creative demands, and that the artist - like the poet - was entitled to a certain license in the interpretation of his sources. The subjects of these pantheistic works are drawn chiefly from Ovid's Metamorphoses.

The first of the poesie sent to Philip in 1554, Danaë with a Nurse, was a more explicitly sensual version of the Danaë in Naples (1544). Its pendant, Venus and Adonis, was dispatched to the king in London in 1554 at the time of his wedding. Titian also mentioned in his letter two accompanying paintings, Perseus and Andromeda, and Jason and Medea, however, the latter was planned but never completed.

Two of Titian's best-loved poesie are Diana and Acteon, and Diana and Callisto, sent to Spain late in 1559 and today in Edinburgh. In their variety of pose, iridescent sensuality and rich colorism on a limited palette, they set an example to generations of artists from Rubens and Velázquez to Watteau and Delacroix.

In the years following the execution of the two celebrated mythological paintings, the Diana and Callisto, and the Diana and Actaeon, Titian painted other mythological paintings for Philip II, including the Rape of Europa (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston), the Death of Actaeon (National Gallery, London), and Perseus and Andromeda (Wallace Collection, London). The best preserved of the poesie and the finest Titian in America is the Rape of Europa, sent to Spain in 1562.

Titian's connection with Philip II continued right up to the painter's final days. Amongst the last pictures sent to Spain was the Tarquin and Lucretia, now in Cambridge.

Preview Picture Data File Info Comment
Danaë with a Nurse
1553-54
Oil on canvas, 129 x 180 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

1400*1001
True Color
156 Kb



Danaë with a Nurse (detail)
1553-54
Oil on canvas
Museo del Prado, Madrid

900*1059
True Color
138 Kb



Venus and Adonis
1554
Oil on canvas, 180 x 207 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

1200*1074
True Color
166 Kb



Venus and Adonis (detail)
1554
Oil on canvas
Museo del Prado, Madrid

1100*1306
True Color
195 Kb



Venus and Adonis (detail)
1554
Oil on canvas
Museo del Prado, Madrid

1000*1169
True Color
167 Kb



Diana and Actaeon
1556-59
Oil on canvas, 185 x 202 cm
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

1212*1100
True Color
241 Kb



Diana and Actaeon (detail)
1556-59
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

1100*1135
True Color
170 Kb



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

1189*1100
True Color
213 Kb



Diana and Callisto (detail)
1556-59
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

1000*1038
True Color
153 Kb



Diana and Callisto (detail)
1556-59
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

718*745
True Color
77 Kb



Diana and Callisto
1560-65
Oil on canvas, 183 x 200 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

1020*930
True Color
122 Kb



Rape of Europa
1559-62
Oil on canvas, 185 x 205 cm
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

1030*898
True Color
124 Kb



Death of Actaeon
1562
Oil on canvas, 179 x 189 cm
National Gallery, London

1112*1000
True Color
157 Kb



Perseus and Andromeda
1554-56
Oil on canvas, 185 x 199 cm
Wallace Collection, London

1111*1000
True Color
128 Kb



Tarquin and Lucretia
1568-71
Oil on canvas, 189 x 145 cm
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

900*1135
True Color
173 Kb



Tarquin and Lucretia
1570s
Oil on canvas
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux

729*970
True Color
93 Kb



Tarquin and Lucretia
1570-76
Oil on canvas, 114 x 100 cm
Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna

1033*1200
True Color
192 Kb




Summary of paintings by Tiziano
Religious themes
1510s | 1520s | 1530s | 1540s | 1550s | 1560s | 1570s
Paintings in the Frari | Paintings in the Salute
Mythological and allegorical themes
before 1540 | from 1540
Paintings for the castle of Ferrara | Poesie for Philip II
Portraits
Women | Men (before 1546) | Men (from 1546)
Group or companion portraits
Drawings