As part of a new initiative, The National Gallery in London has arranged so called “tour dates” to showcase famous and beautiful classics of the art world in cities they have never been seen before.  Titian’s splendidly powerful take on Diana and Actaeon is currently travelling around galleries all over the U.K. like a cultured hitchhiker and is well worth a visit to the Walker Art gallery for an encounter.

Titian is one of the typical, regally funded, Venetian artists whose work often explores mythological beings and events of legend.  These works display great skill and a keen eye for detail typical of High Renaissance painting.

Taken from the third book of Metamorphoses by Roman poet Ovid, Diana and Actaeontells of the hunter lost and alone in the woods who comes upon the Goddess of the Hunt bathing.  In his obnoxious entering of Diana’s grotto, she threatens to turn the hunter into a stag before having him torn to pieces by his own hunting hounds.

The painting boasts an array of colourful features that belie its age with the reds of the cloth draped over a line signifying the imminent demise of Actaeon and the distinct blues of the sky behind the forest being as bright and vivacious as when they were first painted in 1556.

The painting also has an erotic charge that seems hard to escape with Titian creating nymphs to serve Diana that must have seemed as quite a shock to the hunter on his wanderings off the beaten track.  Hidden amongst the obvious goings on, Titian has also added minute details hinting at the future happening of the characters with each new look  unveiling a new secret such as the skull of a stag hidden on the plinth perhaps showing the fate of poor Actaeon or even the small glass of water at the foot of the painting hinting merely at what time of day it was.

The work itself has been allotted its own cosy section in the gallery where various information about the painting is available through wall displays.  Seats are also placed directly opposite so the viewer can bask comfortably in all the painting’s glory.  Diana and Actaeon is a dark but at the same time warm and luscious painting that can seem joyfully overwhelming when first seen and can repeat inside the viewer’s mind’s eye long after it has been seen.

Diana and Actaeon is on display at The Walker Art Gallery till the 26th of February where it then moves to Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

Adam Scovell

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