MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Titian’s Dog

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In a recent article in The American Scholar“Carnival of the Animals” — Jan Morris joins Ruskin in admiring the menagerie of non-human creatures in Vittore Carpaccio’s paintings.

“I have counted in his pictures 20 species of animals and at least 11 sorts of birds,” writes Morris, “plus a winged lion, a basilisk, cherubs, peculiarly multi-antlered stags, and sundry angels.”

This reminded me of another Venetian painter and his love of nature: the great Tiziano Vecellio. I spent an ecstatic afternoon last month at the exhibition Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Art at the Scottish National Gallery, which brought together Titian’s two Diana paintings as well as The Death of Actaeon — all part of his monumental mythological cycle of poesie canvases based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a vast commission by Philip II of Spain.

The detail above is from Diana and Actaeon (1556-59) and shows the goddess’s lap dog (a spaniel?) yelping at the male intruder who has unwittingly (so Ovid’s account goes) chanced upon the nude Diana and her nymphs as they are bathing in a spring.

Titian, Diana and Actaeon

Titian, Diana and Actaeon

Titian’s sequel painting narrates the denouement in which Diana curses the hapless Actaeon, causing him to be transformed into a stag and torn apart by his own hunting dogs. Given this context, the nearly comic effect of Diana’s little toy dog shown in a frenzy is all the more startling.

Titian, Death of Actaeon

Titian, Death of Actaeon

Filed under: aesthetics, art, art history, Titian

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