5 March 2020

Titian's Poesie (2): Danae and the Shower of Gold

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.

1 comment:

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

How sad that this fascinating post has no comments. How ungrateful of the good Father's readers, when he offers us this charming secular interlude to our Lenten strictures.

I cannot claim any credit for the learning which follows, as it is quickly culled from the Wikipaedia. Work, not piety sadly, limiting my time.

There are more than two copies of the Titian. Indeed six are recorded. They divulge some interesting details.

The original (Capodimonte, Naples) alone has the charming Cupid mischievously invoking (do pagan Gods invoke?) an invisible Jupiter to send down his golden shower.

Fr Hunwicke speculates amusingly about Nelson seeing the picture. His chum Wellington, however, had a copy of his own at Apsley House, apparently of the same year (1553), which has replaced Cupid with a haggish wet-nurse, holding up a sheet to catch the gold. The Danae figure is virtually unchanged, except the cloth has moved to the far leg, thus becoming less modest. It looks as if the good General had taken this painting on campaign! as it is in the most appalling condition, with much paint loss.

Then, not to be outdone, the Tzar has a copy in his little gallery in St Petersburg. No modestly at all here! but the hag (another hag, not the same one) is better and more modestly dressed, DG, and doing an altogether better job of catching the coins. Danae is getting bored, and starts playing with the red curtain. Jupiter pokes his head out of the cloud to see how they're getting on.

By the Prado version another truly sluttish hag has taken over (Mrs Acrisius must have been terrible with the staff), looking for all like a 'tricoteuse de la Bastille'. Positively 19th century-looking. Danae has brought her little dog along to keep herself amused.

Finally, in the Viennese version Danae has put on quite a bit of weight, and got rather pale after so long indoors. With the expected Teutonic efficacy the next, less hag-like, wet-nurse has found herself an alms-dish to catch the coins, at which she stares with unsuppressed greed. One can almost here the clattering sound, as the coins bounce off onto the bed, where they lie beside a rose, so Jupiter has a romantic side too. The only version to have this detail. Chaps who know tell us this is mostly 'workshop'.

Finally, not to be outdone, our American brethren have gotten hold of a copy which they keep in Chicago. Jupiter has come out without his purse, no money, therefore no hag, Isn't that surprising?! Danae has to make do with a pretty landscape and the company of a sleeping dog, the same little puppy as before with its diamond collar, so she's a nice girl who is kind to her dog. At least Jupiter's intentions are thus seen to be altogether worthier. This too is apparently entirely 'workshop', seemingly they had someone who thought he know better than the Master, or perhaps they were all heartily bored of it by now!

What fun. Thank you, dear Fr Hunwicke! Back to the Lenten Fast!