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Titian, Diana and Actaeon

Key facts
Full title Diana and Actaeon
Artist Titian
Artist dates active about 1506; died 1576
Date made 1556-9
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 184.5 × 202.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought jointly by the National Gallery and National Galleries of Scotland with contributions from the Scottish Government, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Monument Trust, Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), Artemis Investment Management Ltd, Binks Trust, Mr Busson on behalf of the EIM Group, Dunard Fund, The Fuserna Foundation, Gordon Getty, The Hintze Family Charitable Foundation, J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, John Dodd, Northwood Charitable Trust, The Rothschild Foundation, Sir Siegmund Warburg's Voluntary Settlement and through public appeal, 2009
Inventory number NG6611
Location Room 29
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Diana and Actaeon

While hunting, Actaeon accidentally stumbles upon the secret bathing place of Diana, chaste goddess of the hunt, and sees her naked. His fate is foretold by the stag’s skull on the plinth and the skins of Diana’s former prey hanging above her head. The conclusion of the story is shown in another painting by Titian in the National Gallery, The Death of Actaeon. The outraged goddess changes Actaeon into a stag to be torn apart by his own hounds.

The paintings were part of a famous series of mythological pictures made for King Philip II of Spain when Titian was at the height of his powers. Works of unprecedented beauty and inventiveness, their subjects were mostly based on the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses – Titian himself referred to them as ‘poesie’ (poems). Diana and Actaeon was designed to be hung together with Diana and Callisto (co-owned by the National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland) – their landscape backgrounds and the stream in their foregrounds appear to be continuous.

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