TIZIANO Vecellio
(b. 1490, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)

The Flaying of Marsyas

Oil on canvas, 212 x 207 cm
State Museum, Kromeriz

Titian worked on this painting in the summer of 1576, when Venice was devastated by a terrible plague which was to kill his favourite son Orazio. The iconography derives from a Giulio Romano fresco of the same subject in the Palazzo Te in Mantua, but Titian accentuates the terrifying savagery of the mythological scene through the churning background of ruddy browns, and the gloomy colours fitfully lit by sudden flashes of light.

The meaning of the painting has been variously interpreted. It has been interpreted as the triumph of the divine art of Apollo and the stringed instrument over the rustic flute-playing satyr, or alternatively as representative of the spiritual cleansing brought about by the shedding of the Dionysian self. However, the presence of Titian himself, in the guise of King Midas, has favoured a reading of the painting as the painter's meditation on his own life.