‘My soul is wrought to sing of forms transformed to bodies new and strange! Immortal Gods inspire my heart, for ye have changed yourselves and all things you have changed!’
So starts Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In these stories of transformations, of Gods and mortals, of suffering, of ecstasy, we read of how the beautiful Europa was abducted by the lascivious god, Jove, how the goddess Diana turned Actaeon into a stag when he stumbled upon her bathing, and how he was then torn to pieces by his own hounds. These are just a few of the tales which Titian selected as the subjects of seven paintings - 'Danaë receiving the Golden Rain' (Met. Book IV), 'Venus and Adonis' (Met. Book X), 'Perseus and Andromeda' (Met. Book IV), 'The Rape of Europa' (Met. Book II), 'Diana and Callisto' (Met. Book II), 'Diana and Actaeon' (Met. Book III), and 'The Death of Actaeon' (Met. Book III) - made for the Spanish King, Philip II, and which he painted between 1551 and 1562 (though the final panel, 'The Death of Actaeon' remained unfinished on his death).
Now, Titian is famous for his sensual renderings of the human body, for his textured brushstrokes, and play on light, but it was this royal commission which allowed him the freedom and opportunity to hone his talent, and develop his relationship with classical mythology and his portrayal of landscape. These paintings are the product of a particularly significant decade of Titian's career and the set shows the artistic development of this exceptional painter. Now they are scattered across the world, but one can only image how they might have appeared, side by side in one of Europe's most illustrious palaces. Together these paintings make up Titian's ‘Poesie’ and are some of the most iconic examples of painting in the Italian Renaissance.