“The most beautiful pictures in the world”
By The Art Newspaper. News, Issue 194, September 2008
Published online: 28 August 2008
Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto were painted for Philip II of Spain in 1556-59, who is believed to have prized their eroticism. The pictures formed a series with Danae, Venus and Adonis (both now in the Prado, Madrid), Perseus and Andromeda (Wallace Collection, London) and The Rape of Europa (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston).
Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto were probably painted as pendants, and in 1623 they were packed into crates to be sent as a diplomatic gift to the future Charles I of England, who was wooing the Spanish Infanta. The marriage never proceeded, and instead the pictures later went to France in 1704 as a gift to the Duc d’Orléans. In 1798 they were part of a group bought by the Duke of Bridgewater at the Orléans sale.
The two Diana pictures depict scenes from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”. Diana and Actaeon (184 x 202cm) shows Actaeon bursting into Diana’s grotto. Furious at being discovered naked, she will transform him into a stag, which will be consumed by his own hounds. In Diana and Callisto (187 x 205cm), one of the goddess’s nymphs, Callisto, had been seduced by Jupiter and became pregnant. She would later be expelled by Diana, turned into a bear and almost hunted to death by her son. Lucian Freud recently described the two Titians as “simply the most beautiful pictures in the world”.
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