Saturday, July 5, 2014

Titian’s Danaë from the Capodimonte Museum, Naples

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through November 2, 2014

There's a lot going on in this fabulous painting on loan from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, in honor of Italy's year holding the Presidency of the European Union.  Sex, money, a horrified angel - who could ask for anything more?

This Titian is part of his series of paintings in the genre of erotic mythology; two other pieces are contained in the museum's permanent collection and on display in a gallery not far from the lobby were the Danaë is hanging.  The subject matter is quite explicit; no doubt depicting a woman from the ancient myths allowed Titian to make female nudity the centerpiece of this work without turning it into a "dirty picture."

And explicit is a good word to describe this work.  This Danaë is no shrinking violet; she seems quite welcoming of the attentions of Jupiter.  Is this because she's interested in him, or is his appearance as a rain of gold coins behind her desire?  Is Titian depicting many a man's concern: that a woman is more interested in his bank account than in him?  Is the artist suggesting that all women are to some extent prostitutes, happy to give in to a man's desire in exchange for access to his wallet?

My favorite part of the piece is the Cupid standing next to Danaë.  The expression on his face is priceless and in stark contrast to that on the face of the woman.  Where she looks with undisguised longing, his face is a mixture of horror and shock.  One can almost hear him remonstrating with Danaë, urging her to cover herself and leave the bed.  Good luck with that little friend; I think this is a lost cause.

Verdict: Don't miss this piece while it's visiting from Italy.  From a purely historical perspective, it's quite interesting to see a painting rescued by the Monuments Men (it had been hidden in an Austrian salt mine).  Also, it's a fantastic painting of a very attractive woman - something for everyone!

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