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While out hunting, Actaeon accidentally stumbles upon the secret bathing place of Diana, chaste goddess of the hunt, and sees her naked. His fate is foretold by the stag’s skull on the plinth and the skins of Diana’s former prey hanging above her head. The conclusion of the story is shown in another painting by Titian in the National Gallery, The Death of Actaeon. The outraged goddess transforms Actaeon into a stag to be torn apart by his own hounds. The paintings were part of a famous series of mythological pictures made for King Philip II of Spain when Titian was at the height of his powers. Works of unprecedented beauty and inventiveness, their subjects were based on the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses – Titian himself referred to them as ‘poesie’ (poems).
Diana and Actaeon
Oil on canvas
H 184.5 x W 202.2 cm
Bought jointly by the National Gallery and National Galleries of Scotland with contributions from the Scottish Government, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Monument Trust, The Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation) and through public appeal, 2009