Before the world went sideways, I was working on an exhibition, Titian Love Desire Death, uniting seven masterpieces of mythological paintings by Titian (about 1488-1576) at the National Gallery. We managed to open the exhibition on 16 March. Three days later it closed along with the rest of the Gallery which was one of the last European institutions of its kind to do so. We have no idea when we will be able to reopen again and therefore whether we will be able to share this extraordinary collection of paintings with the public before they have to be packed and shipped onwards. I wrote about this situation for Apollo Magazine last week.
Titian called these pictures poesie in order to emphasise the inspiration he had taken from classical poetry and the ambition to have them work as visual poems. The group of six canvases were executed for Philip of Habsburg, King Philip II of Spain from 1556, between about 1551 and 1562, while a seventh was never sent and only completed towards the end of the artist’s life. The six have not been seen together since, probably, the 1570s, and the seventh has never been displayed with the rest of the group. This was a dream project, not just of mine but any Titian or Italian renaissance enthusiast for generations.
I have been privileged to play a part in its realisation and hope you will want to take a closer look, if not in person at the National Gallery, then perhaps at one of our partnering venues: the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, the Museo del Prado in Madrid or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, to where the paintings will tour, if all goes well and the pandemic doesn’t get in the way of that too. And if not there, then perhaps virtually — we will doing our best to share our knowledge and appreciation online over the next months, in part under the #MuseumFromHome tag. Also, there will be a documentary dedicated to Titian and the poesie, in which I participate, broadcast on BBC 2 on 4 April and I believe Mary Beard will be featuring the works on Front Row Late sometime soon as well. Will post links in here when and if.
Our exhibition film is based on the BBC’s footage, a taster of which can be seen in the following short video on the paired Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto:
Here is a Facebook Live I did on 16 March, before we opened to the public. It was done under the worrying shadow of Covid-19 so bear with the slight incoherence. In the run-up to the exhibition my colleagues and I also did a series of FacebookLives on the individual paintings — they can be accessed here.
A creative decision that we made early in the process and which I was particularly happy with was to reframe Philip’s six pictures in matching frames in order to harmonise the display. Handcarved in the National Gallery framing department by Peter Schade, our Head of Framing and his team, they are based on the original sixteenth-century frame around Titian’s late PietÃ at the Accademia in Venice. Check out this nice video the Gallery produced on the project:
They *are* such wonderful paintings.