This display celebrates the recent acquisition of Titian’s great masterpiece Diana and Callisto by the National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland. Its companion painting, Diana and Actaeon, was bought by the Galleries in 2009. Painted simultaneously as a pair, and probably intended to hang facing each other, the two paintings have remained together since they left Titian’s studio.
‘Diana and Callisto’ and ‘Diana and Actaeon’ belong to a series of large-scale mythological works inspired by the Roman poet Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. Titian painted them between 1556–9 for the Spanish king Philip II, the most powerful monarch in the world at the time. The artist referred to his lyrical compositions as ‘poesie’, the visual equivalents of poetry.
‘Diana and Callisto’ shows the moment when Diana, chaste goddess of the hunt, cruelly reveals the pregnancy of one of her nymphs, Callisto. Banished by Diana, Callisto was later transformed by her seducer, Jupiter, into the constellation of the Great Bear.
Painted when Titian was nearly 70 years old, this is a work of unprecedented beauty and inventiveness. The artist surpassed himself in its rich colouring and compositional complexity. The soft sensuousness of female flesh, Titian’s special hallmark, proliferates to delight the erotic tastes of his young patron.