Masterworks of the Venetian Renaissance at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

artwork: Titian - "The Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist and an Unidentified Saint", c. 1515-1520. Oil on canvas, transferred from panel. Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland (Bridgewater Loan, 1945).

Starting today, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH), in conjunction with the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts will present 25 masterworks of the Venetian Renaissance—12 paintings and 13 drawings—that will include two of the greatest paintings of the Italian Renaissance: Titian’s Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto (1556–1559). The two paintings have never before traveled to the United States. The exhibition will also include paintings by Tintoretto, Veronese and Lotto from the collection of the National Galleries.

The MFAH’s presentation of Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland culminates the American tour of this exhibition, which debuted at the High in October 2010. To commemorate the landmark exhibition, the MFAH will produce a comprehensive publication to place the Diana paintings in the context of both Titian’s life’s work and of their extraordinary history.

artwork: Veronese - Mars, Venus and Cupid, c. 1580. Oil on canvas. Purchased by the Royal Institution 1859;  and transferred to the National Gallery of Scotland 1864.In addition to Titian’s Diana paintings, Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting will include 10 other paintings that illuminate the depth of the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection of Venetian Renaissance works. The paintings—among them Titian’s Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Venus Rising from the Sea; Lorenzo Lotto’s Virgin and Child with Saints; Jacopo Tintoretto’s Christ Carried to the Tomb; and Jacopo Bassano’s Adoration of the Magi—will be accompanied by 13 drawings by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese and other Venetian Renaissance artists.

The Legendary Diana Paintings of Titian
Originally commissioned by King Phillip II of Spain as part of a series of six paintings, Titian’s Diana paintings were acquired by the Duke of Orleans in the eighteenth century. The Diana paintings then entered the private Bridgewater Collection following the French Revolution and passed by descent to the 5th Earl of Ellesmere, who became the 6th Duke of Sutherland and who placed the pair on long-term loan to the National Galleries of Scotland in 1945. In 2008, the National Galleries of Scotland, together with the National Gallery of London, were given the opportunity to acquire these works so that they may remain in a public collection in the United Kingdom. In less than five months, the National Galleries of Scotland and London secured the funds to acquire Diana and Actaeon for the nation. The painting will be shared by the two institutions. Currently the two institutions are in the midst of a campaign to acquire Diana and Callisto, to ensure that both of Titian’s Diana paintings remain in public collections in the U.K.

Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto
Titian’s Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto were both painted for King Philip II of Spain between 1556 and 1559, at the height of Titian’s career. Part of a series of six large mythological pictures made for the King, the Diana paintings accompanied the Danaë and Venus and Adonis (both at The Prado, Madrid); Perseus and Andromeda (Wallace Collection, London) and the Rape of Europa (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston). The Diana paintings, completed when Titian was in his 70s, are the penultimate works in the series of scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and represent the Venetian master’s accumulated skill and experience. Designed as a pair—a stream flows from one to the other—one painting tells the story of the goddess Diana as she learns that her handmaiden Callisto is pregnant by Jupiter; the other depicts the moment Diana and her nymphs are caught bathing by the hunter Actaeon. The Diana paintings are richer in chromatic range and compositional complexity than their predecessors.

“These two paintings have long been recognized as among Titian’s very finest creations and as supreme masterpieces of Venetian Renaissance art,” commented John Leighton, Director of the National Galleries of Scotland. “Their ambitious scale, the masterful unity of color and subject matter, the art-historical significance and their excellent condition all contribute to the fame and reputation of these works.”

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