I went to Washington DC for a few days last month; it was a work trip, but I did have enough free time to visit the National Gallery of Art to see Titian's painting, Danaë, which is on a six-month loan from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples.
I was excited to visit a Titian I'd never seen before, and the museum helped build the anticipation during the long walk to see the painting.
And here it is. What a gorgeous painting. You can get a better look at it on the Web Galley of Art.
Titian was commissioned to paint Danaë by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the grandson of Pope Paul III. Titian began the painting in Venice and then completed it during his trip to Rome in 1545-46. The brochure from the National Gallery of Art says, "Titian established a new genre in Western art, that of erotic mythologies..." and notes that there wasn't much demand for such paintings in his hometown of Venice and so Titian painted these beauties for non-Venetian patrons like Cardinal Farnese.
Giovanni della Casa, the papal legate to Venice, visited Titian's studio when the Danaë was in progress and wrote a letter to Cardinal Farnese telling him that the painting was so shocking that it made the Venus of Urbino "look like a nun by comparison." A funny exaggeration! Eight years prior to painting Danaë, Titian had painted the equally gorgeous Venus of Urbino for another non-Venetian patron (this painting is now in the Uffizi in Florence).
Another great story about Danaë comes to us from Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists. When Titian went to Rome, he was given studio space in the Vatican and continued his work on Danaë. One day Michelangelo visited Titian's studio and saw the painting. He praised it lavishly but later confided to Vasari that while the colors were masterful, it's a shame that Venetian artists had never learned how to draw. Ouch! Sounds like some sour grapes to me. But I love knowing that Titian and Michelangelo met.
During World War II, the Nazis looted Danaë and many other works of art. When the war ended, the painting was found hidden in a salt mine in Austria; two years later, it was returned to Italy.
Another post will be coming soon about some of the other Venetian gems I saw in DC.
Here's a couple more pics from the National Galley of Art - these little kids were gathered around Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, all holding the audio guide headsets up to their ears and listening intently. It bugs me that the arts have been pretty much eliminated from US public schools, so it made me happy to see this.
And I saw this in the National Gallery bookstore - a new book about Venice! I haven't read it yet but it's on my to-read list.