This summer offers the chance to see four of the six Poesie by Titian or Titian’s workshop, as well as the unfinished Death of Actaeon, in London. The Poesie, a series of erotic mythological subjects for King Philip II of Spain, were the most important of Titian’s commissions from the 1550s and 1560s. All six paintings depict episodes taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
The Wallace Collection’s Perseus and Andromeda can be appreciated at a short distance from Diana and Actaeon, Diana and Callisto and the Death of Actaeon which will be united for the first time since the 18th century in The National Gallery’s exhibition ‘Metamorphosis: Titian 2012’ (11 July-23 September 2012). Learn more about the National Gallery’s Poesie paintings here. Dulwich Picture Gallery will also be displaying a studio copy of the original Venus and Adonis which has recently undergone extensive restoration, while another studio version, on loan from the National Gallery, will be on show at the British Museum, in the exhibition ‘Shakespeare: Staging the World’ (17 July-25 November 2012).
Titian’s Perseus and Andromeda at The Wallace Collection
You will find Perseus and Andromeda, the only work by Titian in the Wallace Collection, in the Great Gallery until 22 October. During the closure of the Great Gallery for refurbishment (to reopen at the end of October- Autumn 2014), the painting will be on show in the Dining Room, where it will be displayed beside Spanish masterpieces to highlight the Spanish context of this commission. Perseus and Andromeda was probably painted in 1554-6 and may have been sent to Philip II in 1556. Andromeda is shown chained to a rock, as a sacrifice to appease the sea monster that had been sent by Neptune to punish her mother’s hubristic claim that she and her daughter were more beautiful than the Nereids. The hero Perseus swoops down to rescue her, his powerful vertiginous descent contrasting vividly with her vulnerable, helpless pose. Titian gives extra poetic resonance to the terrifying scene by including pieces of coral at Andromeda’s feet. These refer to another danger overcome by Perseus: the slaying of the Gorgon Medusa, whose snaky locks petrified into coral on her death. Titian heightens the mood of sexual tension by relegating Andromeda’s parents to the background, thus concentrating our attention on her naked captive body. X-rays of the painting reveal a tortuous creative process, during which the artist changed his mind about the composition at several stages: the figure of Andromeda, for example, was originally placed on the right. If you look closely, you can see some of these changes with the naked eye.
The Poesie were destined for the Alcázar Palace, Madrid. However, Cassiano dal Pozzo’s record of 1626 indicates that Perseus and Andromeda had been replaced with a copy. The painting is subsequently recorded in the collection of the son of the sculptor Leone Leoni (Leon Battista Leoni) at the Casa degli Omenoni in Milan (1609; 1615); it may have been given to Leone by his son Pompeo Leoni, court sculptor to Philip II, or directly by the king to Leone himself. Over several centuries the picture changed hands and places repeatedly. Travelling from Italy to France and from England to the Southern Netherlands, it belonged for about two decades to Anthony van Dyck, who probably bought it from the heirs of Leone Leoni in Milan, as well as to Philippe, Duc d’Orléans (1674-1723) who succeeded in uniting it with four other Poesie (Diana and Actaeon, Diana and Callisto, The Rape of Europa and the unfinished The Death of Actaeon). At the end of the 18th century, Perseus and Andromeda returned to the English art market where it was claimed that the picture had once belonged to Charles I. In a sale of pictures in April 1815, Sir Gregory Page Turner sold it for £326 to the 3rd Marquess of Hertford. By the end of the century, the picture’s identity had been completely forgotten. Thus, it ended up hanging unglazed over a bath in Sir Richard Wallace’s dressing room in Hertford House, where it was identified only in 1897 as a work by Titian.
X-ray of ‘Perseus and Andromeda,’ (c) Hamilton Kerr Institute, University of Cambridge