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Danaë with Eros, 1544. This painting shows the youthful figure of Eros alongside Danaë. 120 cm × 172 cm. National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples
Version completed between 1553–1554. Here, an ageing nursemaid has replaced Eros, while the cloth covering Danaë's upper thigh is absent, leaving her naked. 129 cm × 180 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid

The Danaë series (sometimes known as Danaë and the Shower of Gold), comprising at least five[1] oil-on-canvas paintings by the Venetian master Titian, was completed between 1553 and 1556. The works are based on the mythological figure of Danaë, who, according to Ovid, was isolated in a dungeon following a prophecy that her firstborn son would eventually kill her father. Although aware of the consequences, Danaë was seduced and became pregnant by Zeus (in Roman mythology Jupiter), who, descending from Mount Olympus, enticed her as a shower of gold.

Titian executed two of the paintings on commission from the art-loving Spanish monarch Philip II, whose court painter, Diego Velázquez, saw Titian's work during visits to Italy. Titian and his workshop produced at least five versions of the painting. The dog resting at Danaë's side is absent in some versions, while her companion is a god in some and a haggish nursemaid in others. In all, Danaë is a depicted as a voluptuous figure. Her legs are open in all, with her left leg arched; this being a central painterly motif in each.[2]

The works have been highly influential and affected the work of Rembrandt,[3] Anthony Van Dyck and Gustav Klimt. According to Vasari, Michelangelo saw the original and praised Titian's use of colour in the Madrid painting, though later, in private, was critical of Titian's draftsmanship.[4]

Contents

Background

The series commissioned by Philip II is included among the mythological paintings described by Titian as "poesie" ("poems").[5] According to Greek mythology known by Titian through Ovid's telling, when Acrisius consulted the oracle on how he would get male children, he was told that his daughter would bear a son who would kill him. Acrisius then locked up and guarded his daughter Danaë in a subterranean dungeon.[6] Danaë, aware of the consequences, allowed herself to be seduced and impregnated by Zeus, who persuaded her to lower her defences by appearing in the form of a shower of gold.[7][8]

When Acrisius learned of Danaë's son Perseus, he refused to believe Zeus's role, and cast mother and child adrift at sea in a chest. They landed at Seriphus, where Perseus was raised by Dictys. Perseus eventually fulfilled the prophecy by killing Acrisius years after—although accidentally. There are a number of versions of Acrisius' death. In pseudo-Apollodorus' version, when Perseus learns of the oracle he goes into voluntary exile in Pelasgiotis (Thessaly). There Teutamides, king of Larissa, is holding funeral games for his father. Perseus competes in the discus throw, but his missile veers and strikes Acrisius, killing him instantly.

Description

Titian's Venus of Urbino, 1538. Uffizi, Florence. This work is usually paired with the Madrid Danaë with Nursemaid, as it shares a theme and was also produced on commission from Philip II of Spain.

In each work, Danaë is shown naked or nearly naked, lying on a couch with her knees raised. Either a nursemaid or Eros is to her right, holding out a cloth to catch the gold coins spilling down from an explosion of colour in the sky which represents Zeus.[9] The left side of each canvas is an interior. In the Madrid painting, this area is rendered in warm sensual colours of brown and pink framed by purple velvet drapes; the right side of the canvas contains cooler grey and blue tones.[10] In the 1544–1546 version, the burst of light that showers coins and on which Danaë's heavy gaze falls is flanked by dark clouds that appear to be moving towards the centre of the canvas. They spill heavy rain, which falls parallel to Zeus's coins.

In the Madrid version, Eros has been replaced by an old woman, whose ugliness draws attention by comparison to the beauty of Danaë.[11] The greenish cast of her skin is set against the pale hues of the younger woman.

Danaë was seen in the Middle Ages and Renaissance as a symbol of the corrupting effect of wealth, which could taint even feminine beauty or moral virtue.[3] An epigrammist in the Greek Anthology wrote of the legend of Danaë and Zeus:

"Thou didst fall in a rain of gold on Danaë, Olympian Zeus, that the child yield to thee as to a gift...Zeus bought Danaë for gold...piercing the brazen chamber of Danaë, cut the knot of intact virginity. I think the meaning of the story is this "God the subduer of all things, gets the better of brazen walls and fetters, gold loosens all reins and opens ever lock, gold makes the ladies with scornful eyes bend the knee. It was gold that bent the will of Danaë. No need to for a lover to pray to Aphrodite, if he brings money to offer."[8]

In keeping with this view, Titian has depicted Danaë with the fleshy body of a courtesan,[12] although she is given the facial features of a graceful contemporary Venetian lady.[10] The 1544–1546 version suggests her fall from grace in a number of ways, including the presence of thunderous clouds, her now-complete nakedness, and the dog (sometimes used as a symbol of sexual liberation) curling to her left. The old woman's body is now turned fully towards the rain of gold, while Eros had has his back to the skyscape, with his head turned back.

When Michelangelo with Giorgio Vasari visited Titian at his temporary studio in the Vatican Belvedere, he was shown the work now in Madrid, which Titian was then in the process of completing. While in the studio, Michelangelo highly praised Titian's use of colour, but later expressed reservations on Titian's grasp of the "sound principals" of draughtsmanship and composition. James Northcote reports Michelangelo as saying:

"For I am conscious that if this man was as much assisted by art, as he is by nature, no mortal could go further. He has a noble spirit; but as of present having no knowledge of design, he in his imitations of the life corrects nothing nor attempts to make it better, though possessed of a manner so easy and beautiful, so full of truth and animation. But certain it is, that not having studied the best work of the ancients, the Venetians know not how to mend or how to give a grace and perfection to their works beyond their model, which is never perfect in all parts. The moderns in general cannot, from their own resources, be correct, but are obliged to make a literal copy of the object before their eyes, not knowing what it ought to be."[13]

Gallery

References

  1. ^ today held in Naples, Madrid, Vienna and St. Petersburg
  2. ^ Cavalcaselle, Giovanni Battista. "The Life and Times of Titian: With Some Account of His Family". BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2008. 230. ISBN 0-5597-8582-8
  3. ^ a b Sluijter, 225
  4. ^ Northcote, 273
  5. ^ Kaminski, 105
  6. ^ Kahr, Madlyn Millner. "Virtuous, Voluptuous, Venal Woman". The Art Bulletin, 60/1, March 1978. 43-55
  7. ^ Kaminski, 89
  8. ^ a b Santore, Cathy. "The Renaissance Courtesan's Alter Ego". Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 54/3, 1991. 412
  9. ^ Ridolfi, Carlo & Bondanella, Julia Conway. The life of Titian. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996. 117. ISBN 0-2710-1627-2
  10. ^ a b "Danae". State Hermitage Museum. Retrieved on 4 March, 2010.
  11. ^ Kaminski, 106
  12. ^ She was not often depicted as a prostitute until the nineteenth century. See Shell, Marc. Art & money. Chicago University Press , 1995. 149.
  13. ^ Northcote, 273-274
  14. ^ "Danae nach 1554". Kunsthistorisches Museum. Retrieved 5 March, 2010.

Sources

  • Kaminski, Marion. Titian. Ullmann, 2007. ISBN 978-3-8331-3776-1
  • Northcote, James. The life of Titian: with anecdotes of the distinguished persons of his time. Volume II. London : H. Colburn and R. Bentley, 1830.
  • Sluijter, Jan Eric. Rembrandt and the female nude. Amsterdam University Press, 2006. ISBN 9-0535-6837-9
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