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
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- Perseus and Andromeda was one of a series of six large-scale mythological paintings commissioned from Titian by 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 and left 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 them himself 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 Titian’s Poesie. Andromeda is shown chained to a rock as a sacrifice to appease the sea monster, 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 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. Some of these are visible to the naked eye.
Perseus and Andromeda was probably painted in 1554-6 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 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.