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

Danaë

1544-45
Oil on canvas, 117 x 69 cm
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples

It was through Aretino in 1539 that Titian first offered his services to the family of the Farnese Pope Paul III. After painting the Pope's grandson Ranuccio in 1542, Titian's next commission for the family was a Danaë seduced by Jupiter in the guise of a shower of gold coin. He began the canvas in Venice in 1544 for Ranuccio's elder brother, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, and when he left for Rome the following year, he took it with him to finish. Giorgio Vasari, the biographer and protege of Michelangelo, brought the Master to see it. The latter was full of compliments in Titian's presence, but according to Vasari later complained that, though he liked the colouring and style, "it was a pity that in Venice they never learned to draw and that their painters did not have a better method of study."

The pose is obviously Michelangelesque while the cupid is based on a statue in the style of Lysippus, which Titian would have known since it was already in Venice in the collection of Cardinal Grimani.

X-rays reveal an underlying composition close to the Venus of Urbino, but as a papal legate remarked to Cardinal Alessandro, the erotic Danaë made the Venus of Urbino look like "a Theatine nun". The model was reputedly the Cardinal's mistress, a courtesan named Angela.