Danae

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Tiziano Vecellio

Danae

Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte
Artwork's Details

The subject of the painting, which became quite popular during the 16th century, represents Danae, daughter of king Acrisius of Argos, while being impregnated by Zeus (later giving birth to Perseus) who arrived to her hiding place in the form of golden rain. The horizontal canvas is mainly occupied by the body of the young woman, sensually reclining on an unmade bed in an unidentifiable interior (perhaps the tower of the myth), which suggests the agitation of the moment. At her feet there is Cupid staring amazed the sparkling rain and moving away. Behind him there’s an open panorama framed with a large column with a glimpse of the sky only because of the lowered point of view.

The Neapolitan Danae by Titian embodies a new model, which is pagan and humanistic, of Danae Voluptas, contrasting the late medieval Danae as the Christian Imago pudicitiae (see Panofsky). The transformation from an example of modesty to voluptuous woman took place in the end of the 15th century with a progressive denudation of the young woman. Titian certainly had some fifteenth-century examples of this subject before him, such as the fresco by Primaticcio in the gallery of Francis I in Fontainebleu (1527) known through engravings and drawings, and the canvas commissioned by Federico II Gonzaga from Correggio (now in Galleria Borghese, 1531) which he saw in person during his stay in Mantua; like in both works by Titian, the heroine is depicted lying on the bed with erotically charged atmosphere. Danae’s pose recalls evidently the representations of Venus, which were numerous at the time, and especially that of Giorgione’s, who was Titian’s master (Venus of Dresden, ca. 1510).

The color is matted and obtained with soft and untamed brushstrokes, and the lack of preparative design (as confirmed by the analysis) gives great materiality to the scene and sensuality to the body of the young woman. It was precisely the lack of design that made Michelangelo express his contempt over the canvas, underlining the historical conflict between Florentine painting and Venetian colorism.

This kind of images do not present disturbance in our eyes, which was not the case at the time of the painting when they triggered excited reactions to the point where the owners decided to place them in secluded areas of the house.

This painting was probably seen by Vasari and Michelangelo at the Belvedere in Rome and it belonged to the Farnese family of Pope Paul III (from whom Titian received numerous commissions). It remained in Rome until 1647 and then it was moved various times finally being stolen by the Nazis and brought to Hermann Goering during the Second World War. In 1947, when the conflict was over, the artwork was recovered in Austria and returned to Italy.

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Author's Details

Titian was born in Pieve di Cadore, Veneto, in 1488 or 1490. He studied in Gentile Bellini’s workshop and then with his brother Giovanni Bellini, who influenced his artistic style significantly. He was also inspired by the works of Giorgione, Albrecht Dürer, also known for engravings, Raphael and Michelangelo, whose works he studied profoundly. In this period he painted The Concert (Palatina Gallery, Florence), Christ Carrying the Cross (Scuola di San Rocco, Venice) and in 1508-1509 the frescoes of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, where also Giorgione was working at the time. Titian showed the typical features of his juvenile phase with monumental setting of the space and characters with sweeping gestures, illuminated by bright colors.

Between 1516 and 1518 he worked for the famous Assunta for the church of Santa Maria dei Frari and the Pesaro altarpiece and in 1520 the altarpiece of Averoldi (Brescia, Church of SS. Nazaro e Celso). These and other commissions for private clients were often full of symbols and complex meanings, often for moral choices of human nature, such as Three Ages of Man (1512-1513, Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland) Sacred and Profane Love (1514-1515, Rome, Galleria Borghese) which guaranteed Titian a great success. He became very popular in Italian and European courts, which ordered many works from him. Alfonso d’Este commissioned him the mythological canvases with The Worship of Venus (1518-1519, Prado), Bacchus and Ariadne (1522-1523, National Gallery of London) and The Andri (1523-1524, Prado). Guidobaldo della Rovere commissioned him the Venus of Urbino and Charles V and Isabella d’Este various portraits (1536, Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna).

Between 1545 and 1546 he stayed in Rome and began a new phase of painting, influenced by the central Italian Mannerism, with strong contrasts of light and shadow, more plastic and dynamic shapes, darker tones, as seen in the portrait of Paul III and his nephews (1546, Museo di Capodimonte of Naples) the Crowning with Thorns (1542-1544, Louvre) and Danae (Museo di Capodimonte of Naples).

Between 1540 and 1550 he went to Augusta and became closer to Carlo V and his son Philip II, sovereigns of Spain. He made a portrait of Charles V On Horseback, The Glory, The Deposition and St.Margaret, all in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. For Philip II he painted mythological subjects with the stories of Diana.

Titian’s later works are characterized by his philosophical thoughts about man and his destiny, which is reflected in his dense paintings. He used thick layers of colors that he sometimes added on canvas with his hands, like in The Crowning with Thorns (Alte Pinakothek of Munich) and The Punishment of Marsyas (Kromeriz Castle) both made in 1570. In his last years he also painted Pietà for his own tomb, but the work remained unfinished (Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice).

Titian died in Venice in 1576.

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All the artworks of

Tiziano Vecellio
Museum's Details

The collection of Capodimonte has the origins in the refined and elegant collection of the Farnese family. The first assemblage was formed in 1534 thanks to the initiative of Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) and Pope Paul III, both interested in ancient objects (conserved today in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Naples) and the most important artists of the period. In 1734 Charles III of Spain took the throne and inherited mother Elisabetta Farnese’s collection which was moved from Rome to Parma during the 18th century. In this occasion he felt the need to find a suitable location for the collection. The construction of the Capodimonte building on the hill started in 1738 and it was used both as a residence and as a gallery. The place was first only visited by famous persons, such as Johann Winckelmann, Antonio Canova and Marquis de Sade. The museum was inaugurated in 1957, thanks to the insistence of Ferdinando Bologna Raffaello Causa, opening to the public extensive collection of 2900 paintings, 150 sculptures, 17700 objects of decorative art, 26000 drawings, extended over 12000 square meters and divided into 114 rooms.

During the 18th century, the collection was enriched with the works commissioned by the sovereigns of the Bourbon family, but the lootings by French troops in 1799 marked the beginning of decline as its function as a museum. In the 19th century the building was mostly used as a residence. French general Joachim Murat lived in the building with his wife and they brought new furnishing and interior decorations to Capodimonte. Only after the arrival of the Savoys and thanks to Annibale Sacco, the new era of the museum started: the art objects which were spread in various residences of the Bourbon family were collected and moved to Capodimonte and there was a new attention to contemporary figurative production of art.

For this reason, there are two main groups in the collection. The Farnese collection includes the portraits of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Giorgio Vasari and Andrea del Sarto by Raphael, portrait of Bernardo de’ Rossi by Lorenzo Lotto, portraits of Paul III and Paul III with his Grandsons Alessandro and Ottavio Farnese and Danae by Titian, Portrait of Antea by Parmigianino and the cartoons by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci and pictorial cycles of Carracci, donated in 1600 by Fulvio Orsini. The second collection includes the historical pieces of Neapolitan art from circa 1200 to 1700. Among them are the works by Simone Martini and Colantonio’s St. Jerome, an example of the lively and rich Aragon period, and the works of foreign influence such as Pinturicchio’s Assumption of the Virgin. The 17th century was considered as the golden era of Neapolitan art, influenced by the works of Caravaggio and his followers. From this era there are Caravaggio’s Flagellation from 1606-1607, Ribera’s Drunken Silenus, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes, Guido Reni’s Atalanta and Hippomenes and Mattia Preti’s St. Sebastian.

The current layout of the museum is a result of the series of restorations in the 1980s’ and 1990s’ which determined the division of the collection onto three floors. The ground floor includes the educational rooms, the mezzanine floor holds the department of drawings and prints, the Farnese collection, the Borgia collection and the royal apartment are in the first floor and finally on the second floor the Neapolitan gallery, the D’Avalos collection, the 19th century gallery and the photographic gallery.

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All the artworks of

Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte