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Titian, The Death of Actaeon

Key facts
Full title The Death of Actaeon
Artist Titian
Artist dates active about 1506; died 1576
Date made about 1559-75
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 178.8 × 197.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with a special grant and contributions from the Art Fund, The Pilgrim Trust and through public appeal, 1972
Inventory number NG6420
Location Room 29
Collection Main Collection
The Death of Actaeon

The story of Actaeon is told in the Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid. In Titian’s earlier Diana and Actaeon, painted for King Philip II of Spain in 1556–9 and now jointly owned by the National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland, Actaeon disturbs the goddess Diana and her nymphs at a secret bathing place.

Although never delivered to Philip, The Death of Actaeon is clearly its sequel: Actaeon flees and, stopping to drink at a stream, discovers from his reflection that Diana has turned him into a stag. Titian shows Actaeon in the process of transformation, while he is being torn to death by his own hounds. The death scene was rare in Italian art and Titian may never have seen another painting of it.

While conceived around 1559, The Death of Actaeon was mostly painted when Titian was in his mid-eighties. It may not be entirely finished and could be one of the pictures left in his studio at the time of his death.

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