Titian (1485 - 1576)
- Perseus and Andromeda
- probably 1554 - 1556
- Oil on canvas
- Image size: 175 x 189.5 cm, maximum
Object size: 230 x 243 x 10 cm
- Great Gallery
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- Perseus and Andromeda was one of a series of six large-scale mythological
paintings commissioned from Titian by King Philip II of Spain, that were
each to represent a scene from The Metamorphoses, an immensely popular
epic poem by the Roman poet Ovid. Philip II did not however prescribe which
subjects should be chosen, leaving the choice to Titian. The commission was
a milestone in Titian’s career, and he was conscious that he was creating
something unprecedented. He referred to the paintings as his Poesie, or poetry, because he wanted them to be the
visual equivalent of poetry.
Perseus and Andromeda is perhaps the most dramatic of all of them.
Andromeda is shown chained to a rock as a sacrifice to appease the
sea monster, who had been sent by Neptune to punish her mother for
claiming that she and Andromeda were more beautiful than the Nereids. The
hero Perseus swoops down to rescue her, his powerful vertiginous descent
contrasting vividly with her passive vulnerability. Titian demonstrates his
skill as a painter of the female nude: Andromeda is posed frontally, her
nakedness forming a strong visual antithesis to the lightly armoured body
of Perseus.Titian made several major changes to the composition during the painting process: the figure of Andromeda, for example, was originally placed on the right.
The picture was probably painted in 1554 – 56 and may have been sent
to Philip II in 1556. It is not clear how the painting left the Spanish royal
collection but it later belonged to the sculptor Pompeo Leoni (who
had worked for the Kings of Spain in Madrid from 1556, initially helping his
father, Leone Leoni) and then to Van Dyck, who brought it to London.
Having passed through a series of distinguished French collections, it was
bought by the 3rd Marquess of Hertford in 1815. The condition of the painting
has suffered considerably since the sixteenth century, although the grandeur
of the original conception still has the power to impress.