Arts & Culture

The Death of Actaeon

Titianabout 1559-75

The National Gallery, London
The National Gallery, London

The subject of this painting approximately follows Ovid's account in the 'Metamorphoses'. In revenge for surprising her as she bathed naked in the woods, the goddess Diana transformed Actaeon into a stag and his own hounds attacked and killed him.

This is probably the picture referred to by Titian in a letter of June 1559 to Philip II of Spain, in which he says he hopes to finish two paintings he has already started, one of which is described as 'Actaeon mauled by his hounds'. In fact most of the work may date from the mid-1560s.

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  • Title: The Death of Actaeon
  • Creator: Titian
  • Date Created: about 1559-75
  • School: Italian
  • Physical Dimensions: w1978 x h1788 cm
  • More Info: More Artist Information
  • Inventory number: NG6420
  • Artist Biography: Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) was the greatest painter of 16th-century Venice, and the first painter to have a mainly international clientele. Born in Pieve di Cadore, a small town at the foot of the Dolomites on the Venetian side of the Alps, he arrived in Venice when he was about 10 years old and started his artistic training in the workshop of the mosaicist Sebastiano Zuccato. He later joined Gentile Bellini’s workshop and, after Gentile’s death, that of his brother, Giovanni Bellini. However, it was through contact with Giorgione, that Titian mainly developed his early style. In 1511 Titian painted his celebrated frescoes in the Scuola del Santo in Padua. His style had now reached maturity, characterised by fullness of forms, compositional confidence and chromatic balance. He became famous as a portraitist (examples in the National Gallery are ‘Portrait of a Lady (La Schiavona)’ and ‘Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo’) and was also commissioned to paint prestigious public religious paintings. Early in 1516, Titian started his professional relationship with Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara; he executed his two famous Bacchanals for Alfonso I, today in the Prado, Madrid, along with ‘Bacchus and Ariadne’, now in the National Gallery. Titian also worked for the court of Mantua and the Duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria della Rovere. In 1530 he executed a (now lost) full-length, life-size portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and rapidly became the principal painter to the imperial court. Starting in 1553, he painted the celebrated mythological series of pictures for Philip II of Spain (Charles V’s son), which he referred to as ‘Poesie’. These works include the National Gallery’s ‘Death of Actaeon’ and ‘Diana and Actaeon’ (jointly owned with the National Galleries of Scotland). The last phase of Titian’s life coincided with a radical revision of his own style and painting technique. From the late 1550s, he developed a freer use of the brush and a less descriptive representation of reality. In the late 1560s and early 1570s, he pushed his art to the edge of abstraction. His latest style has been defined as ‘magic impressionism’ and is represented by his late ‘Pietá’ (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice) which was originally destined for his own tomb in the church of Santa Maria dei Frari, where he was buried after dying of the plague, on 27 August 1576.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought with a special grant and contributions from The Art Fund, The Pilgrim Trust and through public appeal, 1972
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: The National Gallery, London
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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