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Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)
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Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)

Pieve di Cadore, Belluno, Veneto (Italy), 1490 - Venice (Italy), 1576

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) See author's file


Ca. 1565. Oil on canvas.
Room 027

In his Metamorphoses Ovid recounts the torments of the Giant Tityus, whose punishment for having attempted to rape the goddess Leto was to have two vultures devouring his continually regenerating liver for eternity. This work is Titian´s own late repetition of the original, painted by him for Mary of Hungary as part of a series of Furies. It was conceived as a warning for those who dared to challenge imperial power during a critical moment of confrontation with Protestant princes.

At individual level, only Tityus could boast a prestigious precedent: the remarkable drawing by Michelangelo which the artist gave to Tommasso de’ Cavalieri in 1532 along with a drawing of the Rape of Ganymede (London, The Royal Collection, RCIN 912771, HM the Queen). Like other artists before him, Michelangelo believed that classical statuary provided a suitable formal repertoire for recreating ancient myths, particularly those which -like Tityus- lacked an established iconography; and art historians have pointed to several sources of inspiration for the anatomy of the giant, including the Falling Gaul (Venice, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, inv. VIII: 23) and Laocoön (Vatican City, Musei Vaticani, Museo Pio Clementino, inv. 1059), which was thence-forth to become the touchstone for any painter tackling the Furias. The drawing shows the unsullied body of Tityus before his liver is attacked by the rapacious bird, a feature that distinguishes it from later representations, especially in the seventeenth century, when artists vied to highlight the violence of the scene. This, together with the gesture of his left arm, raised as thought to drive the bird away, make the Michelangelo’s Tityus a tribute to bravery rather than to suffering, as Paul Joannides has rightly noted.

There has been much speculation regarding the influence of Michelangelo on Titian’s painting, which may explain why Titian painted an eagle pecking at Tityus’ liver, when the literary sources refer to a vulture. Michelangelo’s drawing was a huge and immediate success from the moment it arrived in Rome, and was reproduced on a range of supports, from the superb quartz crystal carved by Giovanni Bernardi da Castel Bolognese for Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici (1511-35) (London, British Museum, Blacas Collection no. 739), to the fresco in the Hall of the Caesars at Rocca dei Rossi in San Secondo (Parma), produced by an unknown follower of Giulo Romano in the late 1530’s. But Titian may well have been more familiar with the engraving made after Michelangelo’s drawings by Nicolas Beatrizet (act. c. 1540-1566), in around 1540. Contrasting with the sketchy setting of Michelangelo’s Tityus, Beatrizet places the figure clearly in Tartarus, highlighting the River Phlegethon and including a number of features that were to reappear in Titian’s Furias: the fire which is present in the three known compositions, and the ruins of classical architecture (in this case the Forum of Nerva), a setting to which Titian returned, though with other buildings, in his Tantalus. Titian completes the underworld scene with chains and serpents -as mentioned in Virgil’s Aeneid -together with other elements drawn from Christian imagery (Hades being the mythological equivalent of the Christian Hell), such as the open-clawed monsters in Sisyphus, similar to those appearing in so many Flemish Last Judgements, or the demons in Tantalus, flying over a building resembling the Colosseum.

As noted earlier, and as highlighted by historians, echoes of Michelangelo’s drawing of Tityus are evident; but there are also significant differences. Titian’s is clearly the more dramatic of the two; here the bird is actually pecking at the giant’s wound, whereas Michelangelo captures an earlier moment, when Tityus’ body was still unsullied. However, another possible source of inspiration has been overlooked: the ekphrasis of a Prometheus by the Greek painter Euanthes, included by Achilles Tatius in Book III of his Adventures of Leucippe and Clitophon. Charles Dempsey drew attention to his Hellenistic text with reference to Ruben’s Prometheus Bound, but its influence on Titian should also be highlighted. Titian was familiar with the work of this second-century Alexandrian author, whose ekphrasis of a Rape of Europe did much to shape Titian’s famous painting of the same name produced for Philip II (Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum). Titian was less visually faithful to the ekphrasis of Prometheus, but it seems clear that he drew some elements from it, such as the bird plunging its beak into the wound, the giant’s body writhing in pain, the straining toes, the eagle’s claws digging into his body, his legs stretched in opposite directions (Text drawn from Falomir, M.: Las Furias. Alegoría política y desafío artístico, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2014, pp. 164-168).


Technical data

Related artworks

Oil on canvas, 1548 - 1549
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)
Inventory number
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)
Ca. 1565
Height: 253 cm; Width: 217 cm
Las Furias, Gran Sala del Palacio de Binche, Bruselas
Royal Collection (Royal Alcázar, Madrid, "salón de los espejos-cuartos principales", 1700, no. 3; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "primera sala de la Furriera", 1747, no. 31; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "antecámara de su majestad", 1772, no. 31; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "antecámara", 1794, no. 31; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "antecámara", 1814-1818, no. 31).

Bibliography +

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Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Alcázar de Madrid, 1701-1703. Núm. 3.
Salon de los expejos / Quarto prinçipales [...] 3 / Yttem quatro Pintturas yguales de las furias de a tres Varas de alto y dos y media de Ancho Originales de mano de tiçiano Con marcos negros tasados a quinientos Doblones Cada Vna hazen Dos mill ... 2000

Inv. Felipe V, Palacio Nuevo, 1747. Núm. 31.
PINTURAS EXISTENTES ANTIGUAS [...] En la primera Sala de este Oficio [de la Furriera] [...] {10250} 31 / Otro lienzo de Ticio con vn buitre que le come las entrañas original del Ticiano de mas de tres varas de alto y dos y media de ancho = en 20 mil reales

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 31.
Antecamara de S.M. [...] [12679] 31 / Otro quadro de Ticio con vn buitre que le come las entrañas original de ticiano de mas de tres varas de alto y dos y media de ancho

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. 31.
Antecámara / {21124} 31 / 3 varas alto 2 de ancho Ticio con el buitre = Ticiano

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 31.
Antecámara / [1] 31 / Un quadro de tres varas de alto, por dos de ancho: Ticio con el Buitre que le ròe las entrañas: Su autor Ticiano ... 9000

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 427.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 427.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 466.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 787.
Tiziano. / 787. Prometeo. / Prometeo, hijo de Japeto y de Clímenes, / fue el que formó los primeros hombres / de tierra y agua; subió al cielo con el socorro / de Palas y robó el fuego para animarlos. / Jupiter irritado de este hurto, mandó á Mer- / curio atarle sobre la cima del monte Cáucaso, / donde una aguila le devorase el higado, que / siempre había de renacerle para que jamás / concluyese el suplicio. Hercules le libertó / de este tormento. (Figura colosal) / Alto 9 pies, 1 pulg; ancho 7 pies, 9 pulg, 6 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 787.

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

06.06.2020 - 25.07.2021

The Wrath of the Gods
10.09.2015 - 06.12.2015

The "Furias". From Titian to Ribera
21.01.2014 - 04.05.2014

10.06.2003 - 07.09.2003

María, reina de Hungría, regente de los Países Bajos
11.09.1993 - 28.11.1993

María, reina de Hungría, regente de los Países Bajos
11.09.1993 - 28.11.1993

Tiziano. V Centenario de su nacimiento
Washington DC
28.10.1990 - 27.01.1991

Tiziano. V Centenario de su nacimiento
01.06.1990 - 07.10.1990

Location +

Room 027 (On Display)

Update date: 09-04-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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