Before Titian painted the Danae which he sent to London to our late sovereign liege lord Philip, King of England, France, Ireland and Spain, he had painted an earlier version which is now in the Capodimonte in Naples. It was a tadge more modest than the later London/Madrid version; an expanse of linen sheet broke the enticing line of Danae's thigh. Another change which Titian made for his commission from King Philip was the insertion of Danae's nutrix or trophos: elderly women, and especially wetnurses devoted to the child they had suckled, were often figures of fun in Comedy and Tragedy. This trophos is stretching out a garment to try to collect as much as possible of the shower of gold ... a shower which was Juppiter ipse. Witty, yes? Ovidianissimum, yes?
Some three decades ago, a student of mine visited the museum in Naples and very kindly brought me back a glossy and profusely illustrated book called Forbidden Pompei. Ah, the impertinent benefactions of students! It is a wooden and highly unidiomatic translation of an original Italian; I would characterise its English style as Hilariously Comical were I not aware that the translator probably knew more English than I can claim to know Italian. The book begins:
"The pornographic collection was made up in 1819 on request of Francesco 1st, duke of Calabria who, during his visit to the Museum, thought of being right in closing all obscene objects, of any material, down in a room, where only aged and moral people had access. ... It lasted in a such more or less visible manner, up to 1849, when the hypocrite religiousness of Government agents caused hard directions, in order to close down and clenching collection doors as well as removing the sight of all Venus and other naked figures ... Such a religious frenzy went so on that, in 1852, after having carried all collection monuments in a hole, and after having walled-up its doors, Director of the Museum asked for the destruction of any external sign of that Cabinet deplorable existence and for its consignment to oblivion, as much as possible. Not yet satisfied, on March 1865, he expelled from the picture-gallery, closing whith a triple and different key in a damp dark place: Tiziano's Danae ..."
I thought you would enjoy that.
I wonder if Admiral Lord Nelson managed to get a peep at that Neapolitan version of Danae during the months when he was engaged in putting down the Parthenopean Republic and restoring a very ancien regime to the magical Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
My Father's favourite ship was HMS Danae, in which he had sailed round the world with the Special Service Squadron in 1923-4. (The Lower Decks pronounced her name 'Day-knee'.) In the late 1930s, he named an Art Deco house he built in Essex 'Danae', and I still recall sitting with him and listening, aged about seven, to a sad BBC News Bulletin which listed the ships sentenced to be scrapped after the War ... including HMS Danae. Long after my Father had left her, she had been handed over to the Free Poles, and had served on D-Day.
I would love to be able to tell you that, in pride of place in the Ship's Ward Room, hung a fine copy of Titian's masterpiece in one or the other of its two versions.
Sadly, were I to do so, I would be telling you a Porkie.