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Venice 2014

Danaë and Venus and Adonis

<em><span>Danaë</span> </em>

Fig 1. Titian, Danaë, ca. 1550-53, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado (Artstor)


The stories depicted in the poesie all have a sense of love and even eroticism. The Danaë (Figure 1) was the first work of the Poesie. Titian’s Danaë for Philip II was a variation of a work he did for the Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, titled Danaë with Cupid. In Philip's Danaë, the nude princess is laying on a bed with a dog curled up next to her. The princess is looking up at a cloud that is making gold coins rain down from the sky. To the right of the goddess is an older nursemaid that has her apron in her hands and is collecting the gold coins. The old woman provides a contrast with the young goddess. The god Jupiter is descending from the golden cloud.


<em>Leda and the Swan</em>

Fig 2. Michelangelo, Leda and the Swan, ca 1530, The National Gallery, London (Artstor) 

Michelangelo’s influence on Titian is seen in the figures of the Danaë. The young female figure of Danaë was influenced by Michelangelo’s Leda and the Swan (Figure 7). Although the two figures are not in the same pose their form is very similar. The Leda is intertwined with the swan but Danaë is laying on the bed in anticipation of the arrival of Jupiter. Leda’s body is in a V-shape with her bent left leg raised and her back arched as she lends down to kiss the swan. Danaë is reclining but also is in a V-shape with her right leg raised while her back curves as she reclines on the pillows of the bed. Unlike the Leda, Danaë’s face is looking up at the approaching Jupiter. In the Danaë, Titian was also influenced by Michelangelo’s drawing of the female figure of Leda. Both Leda and Danaë have long torsos with wide hips and long legs. In the Leda and the Swan, Michelangelo used a definite line to create the female figure. Titian instead used a less definite line but used brush strokes to make his figure. According to Vasari, Michelangelo’s reaction to seeing the Danaë was “it is a pity that in Venice they do not learn from the beginning to draw well.”[1] Titian added his own twist on the way he draw Danaë.


[1] Vasari, The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, 2 vols, trans. by Gaston C. du Vere (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 791.

<em>Venus and Adonis</em>

Fig 3. Titian, Venus and Adonis, ca. 1553-54, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado (Prado Museo)


In the autumn of 1554, Titian sent Philip II the second work of the poesie, Venus and Adonis (Figure 3), the story of Venus and her lover Adonis. The work shows Venus holding on to Adonis while Adonis is holding the leashes of his three hunting dogs. In the background, Cupid is sleeping under a tree with his quiver and bow hanging on the branch. In the upper right of the composition, there is a figure riding a chariot through the sky. The story of these two lovers comes from the Metamorphoses. In the story, Venus was trying to prevent Adonis from going on a hunt. Adonis did not listen to Venus’s pleas and during the hunt a boar killed him after this Venus turned Adonis into an anemone.[1]

Titian intended Venus and Adonis to be a companion piece for the Danaë. In a letter to Philip II, Titian explained the reasons behind the composition. "Because the Danaë which I have already sent to your majesty was visible entirely in the front part, I have wanted in this other poesia to vary and to show the opposite part [of the body] so that it will make the room in which they are to hang more pleasing to see." [2] Titian’s skill with beautiful colorful combinations was fully displayed in this work. The blue in the sky contrasted the green and brown on the ground. The figures’ light color makes them stand out from the background.

[1] Wethey, Paintings of Titian, 59-60.

[2] Titian, Titian to Philip II, 1554, Letter. From Paintings of Titian by Wethey.

Roman Relief

Fig 4. Amor and Psyche, Roman Relief with Hellenistic figure types, 16th century copy, Private collection (Renaissance Artists and Antique Sculpture by Bober and Rubinstein)

Since Philip II was not in the same location as Titian the works of the poesie had to be shipped from Venice to wherever the King was staying. Philip II’s ambassadors would send the collection to the king such as Secretary Garcia Hernandez, would receive the works from Titian in Venice, as well as other goods such as Venetian glass. In most cases, the works were shipped to Spain but when Philip was the king-consort of England, Titian sent his work to London from Venice. The work in the poesie that Titian sent to Philip II in England was Venus and Adonis (Figure 1). When Philip received the work he was not happy because there was a horizontal crease in the canvas. Philip wrote to Francisco de Vargas, the Spanish ambassador at Venice on 6 December 1554:“The Adonis has arrived but so ill-treated that it must be repaired, having a long fold across the middle of the canvas. It were best not to send pictures till I give special instructions respecting them.” Philip II was very concerned with the fact that the work was damaged therefore he could not enjoy the work. In order to prevent any problems in the shipping of the works again, then Prince Philip, wanted to make sure all of the art shipped to him was safe.[1]  

[1]  J.A Crowe and G.B. Cavalcaselle, Titian: His Life and Times, 238-239.

In Venus and Adonis, Titian also used a classical pose to show the rebirth of art from antiquity that was part of the Renaissance style. Venus is in an adapted classical pose that comes from a depiction of the story of Amor and Psyche (Figure 4). The original artwork that Titian used for the basis the Venus’ pose comes from a Roman relief of Amor and Psyche that has Hellenistic figures. It is interesting that Titian choose a relief of Psyche and Amor to use in his Venus and Adonis because they are both classical stories of love. Titian used Psyche’s pose to depict Venus. Psyche is turned with her back to the viewer and her head turned to her right facing Amor. Her left leg is bent and is hanging off the bed. The other leg is partially bent and still on the bed. Her left arm is holding up the cloth and her right hand in resting on the bed. The shape of Adonis’ left arm, the arm that is holding on to his dogs, is similar to Amor’s arm that is hanging off the bed.[1]

Titian takes the basic pose of Psyche but there are a few differences. The arms of Venus are both around Adonis’ torso unlike Psyche’s arms that are separated with one on the bed and one holding the sheet. Psyche’s upper torso twist more so that the viewer can hardly see her left shoulder and in Venus’ pose the viewer can see her entire back and not just one of her shoulders. Titian is using Psyche’s basic pose but creating his own style to show Philip that Titian is a great Renaissance painter who is aware of classical poses.     

[1] Phyllis Bober and Ruth Rubinstein, Renaissance Artists and Antique Sculpture (London: Harvey Miller, 2010), 94.

Danaë and Venus and Adonis