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Titian's 'Diana and Actaeon'

Date and working practice

The dating of Diana and Actaeon and 'Diana and Callisto' is documented in correspondence between Titian and King Philip. In a letter of 19 June 1559 the artist informed the king that that the two 'poesie' were finished and that he would await instructions regarding their shipping.

Titian wrote again on 22 September to confirm that the dispatch of the paintings was imminent. In this letter he stated that he had worked on them for more than three years, emphasising the exceptional efforts he had expended on the two pictures.

He explained that their lengthy genesis was due to ‘the ardent desire that I have to do things that are worthy of Your Majesty, from which it follows that I am never satisfied with my efforts, but seek always with all my industry to polish and enhance to them.’

Another letter to the king from the Spanish Ambassador in Venice of August reveals that the artist had in fact continued to work on the paintings over the course of the summer: ‘Titian will bring to perfection the two paintings of Diana and Callisto [sic] within twenty days because, since they are large and involve a lot of work, he wants to resolve a few little things that others wouldn’t notice.’

Titian’s many revisions are visible beneath a complex tapestry of energetic brushwork. While the painting has been relined three times, its excellent condition has meant that restoration has been minimal and conservative. The paint surface remains relatively intact and Titian’s jewel-like colours and loose, confident brushstrokes are remarkably well preserved.