Titian’s ‘Danae’ visits D.C.’s National Gallery of Art

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 2, 2014 

A voluptuous, mostly naked, Italian “princess” is visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Titian’s famous painting, "Danae," is on loan through Nov. 2.

Tiziano Vecellio, known better as "Titian” was a 16th century Italian painter, known for his depictions of landscapes, Biblical scenes, formal portraits and legends. His paintings of women often included sensuous nudity.

Danae was the legendary daughter of the King of Argo, so beautiful that the monarch locked her away, partly to save his life -- there was a prophecy that her son would kill him. Jupiter (the Roman version of Zeus) arrived in a shower of gold. A son ensued, Perseus, who in due time killed the King.

This painting “Danae” has a history. It was painted in Venice between 1544-45 for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, an art patron, and a “notorious womanizer,” says David Alan Brown, curator of Italian and Spanish paintings, at the National Gallery.

At the time of the painting’s creation, Italy was undergoing one of its perennial revolts against churchmen and their excesses – corruption, licentious behavior, erotica and more, so the Cardinal, or maybe the artist, decided to make this a painting of a legend of antiquity rather than setting it amid the modern 16th century.

How do we know this? When the painting was cleaned between 2003-2005, the curators x-rayed it. The x-ray showed that “there were a number of changes. That, in fact, Titian’s concept had changed,” said Brown. What they found was a sketch of a contemporary room with a landscape out the window. Maid servents and a small dog were painted out for a chubby, winged and naked cupid.

Coming up to the 20th century, “Danae”’s admirers included Field Marshall Herman Goering, whose men had it shipped to Germany for him. It was recovered from the Austrian salt mine at Alt Aussee, by the “Monuments Men” group in 1945 and sent back to Italy in 1947.

The National Gallery of Art has an extensive collection of Titians, including 13 paintings. This is the second time the “Danae” has been exhibited. The first time was in 1990.

Email: twells@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @TishWells1.

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