Titian’s work epitomizes the transition from 15th century style painting to a less “meticulous[ly] finished” approach; Titian essentially pioneered the “colorist” movement by using “… more closely interrelated colours” that emphasize expression and dramatize the iconography (Gould). Diana and Actaeon is part of Titian’s “poesie” and contributes to a set of history paintings that portray subjects in an imaginative way. Rather than simply copy an image or provide a story, Titian delivers a representation filled with expression, filled with allusion.
Though small details and items are usually placed for symbolic reasons, Titian seems to include various details to foreshadow downfall (the stag head, the hunting scene, the various reflective surfaces, etc). He even establishes an explicit connection to the Goddess Fortuna to suggest Actaeon’s unavoidable fate. Furthermore, he is able to characterize Diana by exploiting her relationship to the moon. And through a descriptive rendering of facial expression and bodily movement, Titian precisely portrays the moments after which Actaeon “peer[s] into the gloom” (qtd. n Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’).
Titian provides a successful visualization of this story while hinting at the events to follow and characterizing the major figures. And through it all, he uses color to develop a simultaneously erotic yet foreboding air. Beginning with Ovid’s narrative, artists before Titian often amalgamated several narrative events into a single painting: “Diana… conceals her nudity and… sprinkles her victim with drops of water. Actaeon, following the Ovidian text, is partially metamorphosed into an antlered stag as the water touches him” (Tanner 537).
However, in this picture, Actaeon has not yet been transformed and Diana is too far to splash him. It seems logical to conclude that this scene is depicting the moments before the “curse. ” Titian further suggests this earlier sequence through his precise depiction of Ovid’s text: “Glaring at him over her shoulder / She[(Diana)] blushed like a dawn cloud / In that twilit grotto of winking reflection” (qtd. in Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’). In choosing to emphasize this specific moment – Diana’s exposure/embarrassment and subsequent rage – Titian sets out to foreshadow Actaeon’s inevitable fate.
Following this event, Diana hunts Actaeon (who has now become a stag) and kills him. Many details allude to this—” the grotto is draped with the skins and skull of Diana’s former prey, while in the background there is a vignette of the huntress chasing a stag” (Paintings in Depth: Diana and Actaeon). Furthermore, the dogs will help hunt down Actaeon when he becomes a stag; however, depicting the dogs in opposition maintains the painting’s intended timeline. Since Diana can control animals, it begs the question, does she later turn Actaeon’s own dog against him?
In addition, Titian seems to directly interact with the text by including a mirror as the manifestation of the “grotto of winking reflection. ” Yet, why is the reflection personified? What does it know? Since winks typically convey secrecy and the landscape holds the knowledge of what’s to come, the mirror can be seen as reflecting the secrets of the future. Actaeon’s fate is sealed. Titian further emphasizes fate by establishing a parallel between Diana’s grotto and the Goddess Fortune’s home. Titian… capture[s] the essence of Fortune’s dwelling… the juxtaposition of architectural styles, the contrast of soaring arches and sinking fountain, the defiance of logic in the spanning and asymmetry… and the mountainous setting (Tanner 539). Since “all accounts of Actaeon preserve the idea of a fated destiny [in which] Actaeon perishes despite his innocence… ,” Titian decision to connect the two goddesses with Actaeon’s fate fosters a deeper thematic subtext (Tanner 538).
His innocence in the matter is brought to light. This occurrence is seen as sincerely happenstance yet unfortunately predetermined. What better way to insinuate destiny than to portray a landscape that rings true with the Goddess of Fortune and Fate? Alongside landscape, he paints Diana, in such a way, that he calls attention to her relationship with the moon. For just as fate is unpredictable, so are the tides. The tides turn alongside the Wheel of Fortune.
Diana’s global character qualities are articulated by her crescent shaped diadem and apparent connectedness to the black woman beside her. Diana is the goddess of the moon; therefore, by articulating this facet, Titian renders her dual nature an essential aspect of her character: “the light and dark sides of the moon” represent the existence of two opposing sides that manage to mesh into a cohesive whole. The black woman’s crescent-shaped garb connects her to Diana: she is the emblem of the “dark” side while Diana represents the “light” side (Tanner 540).
Titian uses two individual characters to stress Diana’s internal dichotomy; however, their “proximity… [and] the common effort of their upraised arms” is unifying; Diana manages to maintain overall consistency despite the variation in her choices (Tanner 538). It is known that “Titian exhibited an early interest in duality. In the case of Diana, he is concerned with the reconciliation of contradictions, demonstrating the unity of the goddess’s actions despite the diversity of their aspects” (Tanner 540).
However, The connectedness between Diana and her counterpart is only one manifestation of Titian’s ability to connect his characters and portray their various emotional states through movement and expression. Titian’s portrays Diana’s Reaction and Actaeon’s immediate response perfectly in regards to Ovid’s text. From “Diana’s sidelong glance [that seals] Actaeon’s glory fate” to the women swiftly attempting to cover the goddess, Titian completely embodies the narrative (Paintings in depth: Diana And Actaeon).
Ovid states, “And he saw they were crowding together / To hide something from him” (qtd. in The National Gallery). This also serves to reiterate Titian’s desire to communicate an earlier part in the story that previous artists combined with the transformation. As for Actaeon, his immediate reaction is illustrated by the placement of his hands: one is muting his awareness of the stag head (which will soon be his fate) and the other is blocking this unexpected sight of Diana (Tanner 538).
Unlike most renderings, in which he “recoils” from the water, he is instead startled by the “recognition of his own death mask” (Tanner 538). Titian uses various symbols and allusions to illustrate his intentions; however, he so carefully renders movement and expression that this still medium is able to capture a sequence of moments and characterize the various figures. Diana and Actaeon is a history painting that manages to capture so much more than the mere event.
Through precise characterization and the inclusion of foreshadowing devices, Titian builds his own interpretation: a representation with expression and passion. However, how does Titian establish his overall aura? Through the use of color, Titian continues to deliver narrative detail: “the great swathe of drapery in carmine red, pulled hastily off the line by an ambitious nymph… draws the eye across from the vermillion lining of his buskins to the deeper red of Diana’s discarded dress, reminding us that his bloody hide will soon be strung up [too]… (Paintings in Depth: Diana and Actaeon).
His color choice and placement pulls the eye around the painting in the manner he desires-leaving the viewer in a state of alarm yet simultaneous interest. For red communicates blood/violence yet also passion. “The mood in [Titian’s later work] is more fiery, the colours deeper and more closely interrelated and the execution more summary” (Gould). The color only further summarizes the intensity and duality of the narrative- passion exists alongside terror. The crimson red clashes against the bright blue sky. Titian is harnessing color for intensity.