LONDON (Reuters) - A series of six paintings by the Venetian master Titian, commissioned by King Philip II of Spain and inspired by the works of the Roman poet Ovid, have been reunited for the first time in four centuries in an exhibition at London’s National Gallery.
The large-scale paintings, created between 1551 and 1562, represent scenes from classical mythology drawn mostly from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, and explore themes of passion, temptation and punishment.
“They’re touchstone paintings in the development of European painting,” said Matthias Wivel, curator of the exhibition, during a preview on Thursday. “They were incredibly famous in their day and indeed inspired artists for generations.”
The show, “Titian: Love Desire Death”, is scheduled to open to the public on March 16 and last until June 14.
Unlike other countries affected by the global coronavirus pandemic, Britain has not yet taken measures such as shutting down museums and galleries. Wivel said he did not know what would happen to the Titian show if such measures were taken.
“I guess we’ll see. It’s so unpredictable, it’s hard to pronounce upon it,” he said. “Obviously it’s a shadow over everything.”
The six paintings, which Titian called his “poesie”, or poems, are considered landmarks in European art for their highly expressive rendering of emotions.
The National Gallery described the works as a turning point in Titian’s career. Unusually for a patron of that era, Philip had given him freedom to select his own subjects, allowing him to develop complex narratives and explore ambiguous feelings.
All six paintings were delivered to the king but later scattered across Europe by various twists of history.
One of them, “Danae”, remained in Madrid until it was seized by Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, after French forces invaded Spain. It was later taken by the British military commander Wellington when he defeated Joseph’s army at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, eventually finding its way to London.
Nowadays, four of the paintings belong to various British galleries, one to the Prado in Madrid, and one to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
Reporting by Marissa Davison, writing by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison