Titian in Minneapolis
I am fortunate through my “real” job to view museum exhibitions from around the world, but my research of various online publications finds that this type of “news” is not part of the nomenclature, only providing a few tidbits here and there. In my previous post regarding the relevance of museums in today’s internet world, I find the lack of reporting on such exhibits a definite negative in the world’s rush for the latest information. I have had my fill of reporting on Justin Bieber’s latest girlfriend, Christine O’Donnell’s mangling of facts, the stock market, the housing crash, on and on it continues, unabated. How many times have you watched or read the day’s latest developments and come away with the feeling your appetite in life is not being satisfied? The number of visits to my site tells me I am not alone. In 2011, I will be sharing all the great art and history I find with my readers, in hopes of propelling this conversation to a new level.
Coming to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is a great exhibition of Titian master works. (February 6 – May 1) The showing includes Diana and Actaeon, Diana and Callisto and the famous Venus Rising from the Sea. This grouping has only three stops in the United States, coming from the High Museum, Atlanta, then moving to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts after Minnesota. It will be a rare treat to see these Venetian masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland.
Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto were once a set of six commissioned by King Philip II of Spain during 1550-1, the last painting completed in 1559. The themes of mythology from the Venetian Golden Age examine the effect of interplay between the mortals and the gods. The paintings draw on stories in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, an extremely popular writing of the day. Designed as a pair, with a connecting stream flowing from one to the other demonstrate Titian’s mature work in his 60s.
Diana and Actaeon depicts the moment when the hunter Actaeon comes upon the secret wooded area where Diana, goddess of the hunt, is bathing. A stag’s skull on a pillar foreshadows Actaeon’s fate; according to the legend Diana transforms the hunter into a stag to be torn apart by his dogs.
The companion piece, Diana and Callisto reflects the anger of the goddess at the discovery of Callisto, a nymph sworn to chastity, revealing her swollen, pregnant belly. Callisto’s face twists in anguish as she struggles against her peers and their judgment of her assignation with Jupiter.
The ownership pedigree of this collection matches the illustrious imagery:
These works remained in the Spanish royal collection until 1704 when King Philip V gave them to the French ambassador Duc de Tramont, who subsequently presented them to the Regent Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, nephew of Louis XV, who displayed them in the magnificent setting of the Palais-Royal. Inherited by Louis Philippe d’Orleans, the Regent’s great grandson, but his gambling habits brought the need to raise capital and he began negotiations to sell the paintings to James Christie, the founder of Christie’s auction house. The sale fell through, and Philippe, who renamed himself Philippe Egalite when the Terror began, impulsively sold the collection en bloc to Edouard Walkiers, a banker in Brussels in 1792, who sold them to his cousin Count Francis Laborde-Mereville. The execution of Philippe in 1793 compelled Laborde-Mereville to escape France and he brought the collection to London.
The French and Italian paintings spent five years in London being the subject of several complicated financial maneuvers, including a protracted attempt of purchase by King George III and Prime Minister Pitt the Younger.
Their final ownership came in 1798 with a consortium led by Francis Edgerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, (1736-1803) originator of British inland navigation and canal systems. The Duke acquired the Orleans collection, including 123 paintings from Queen Christina of Sweden, which came as war booty from the sacks of Munich (1632) and Prague (1648) during the Thirty Years War. The syndicate included the Earl of Carlisle, Bridgewater and his nephew, Duke of Sutherland, who may have been the prime motivator of the purchase, knowing the collection from his time as British ambassador to Paris. Since the acquisition, the paintings have been publicly displayed at Bridgewater House, the National Gallery and the National Gallery of Scotland.
The National Galleries of Scotland and the National Gallery of London combined forces to prevent these paintings from being sold in public auction from the Bridgewater/Sutherland collection in 2009, acquiring Diana and Actaeon from the Duke of Sutherland through the generous help of the Honorable Michael Hintze. The paintings are rotated between the two museums over five year periods, perpetuating the legacy of public display set by the Duke of Orleans so many years ago. Take a moment to view the exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, or read the history of the Bridgewater Collection at the National Gallery of London.