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Titian: Danaë, Venus and Adonis. The early poesie

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 11/19/2014 - 3/1/2015

Within the series of works that Titian produced known as "Poesie", we might mention the mythological paintings he created for Philip II between 1553 and 1562, made up of Danaë (London, Apsley House), Venus and Adonis (Madrid, Museo del Prado), Perseus and Andromeda (London, Wallace Collection), Diana and Acteon and Diana and Callisto (Edinburgh, National Gallery/London, National Gallery) and The Rape of Europa (Boston, Isabella Stewart Garden Museum).It was probably Philip II himself who commissioned a series of mythological paintings from Titian in Augsburg, giving the artist full freedom to choose the themes and the pictorial execution. These works were to be hung in a space yet to be defined at the time the commission was granted.As paintings, the "Poesie" are free of all symbolic and moralising interpretations. Thus, in these works Titian assimilated the ideas of the poets and proclaimed his freedom to interpret the texts that he visualised, mainly taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses. He also took the licence to portray these themes with a sense of imagination when required in order to enhance the dramatic effect.

Miguel Falomir, Head of the Department of Italian and French Painting (up to 1700) of the Museo del Prado


Room 40. Jerónimos Building

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Danaë and Venus and Adonis

<em>Danaë</em> and <em>Venus and Adonis</em>
Oil on canvas
192.5 cm x 114.6 cm
The Wellington Collection, Apsley House

The first "Poesie" presented to Prince Philip were Danaë (1553) and Venus and Adonis (1554), versions of other previous works, but endowed with all the prestige of the commissioning party. In turn, these works became models for numerous replicas.

Danaë depicts the moment in which Jupiter possesses the princess in the form of golden rain. Titian painted his first Danaë in Rome in 1544-45 for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, in reference to the Cardinal's love affair with a courtesan. This Danaë was the model for the version created for Philip II, in which Cupid was replaced by an old nursemaid, whose inclusion enriched the painting by creating a series of sophisticated counterpoints: youth versus old age; beauty versus loyalty; a nude figure versus a dressed figure.

Philip II received this work in 1553 and it was kept in the Spanish Royal Collection, first at the Alcázar and, subsequently, at the Buen Retiro Palace, until Ferdinand VII presented the work to the Duke of Wellington following the Peninsula War. Its original size was similar to that of Venus and Adonis, but at the end of the 18th century, the upper third of the painting was removed for reasons of preservation. Historical descriptions and a Flemish copy reveal that the upper section included Jupiter's face and an eagle with bolts of lightning, both attributes of this particular god.

A few years later, in 1565, Titian painted the Danaë that belongs to the Museo del Prado, a work featuring a looser execution and an extraordinary quality, the result of the high price that must have been paid by the commissioning party, possibly Francesco Vrins, a Flemish merchant resident in Venice. Velasquez purchased this work during his first trip to Italy and he sold it to Philip IV so that it could be placed in the Palace of El Buen Retiro. However, later on, in 1666, it replaced Philip II's Danaë in the "Bóvedas de Tiziano" Halls at the Real Alcázar, being paired with Venus and Adonis.

Titian painted the first Venus and Adonis, which was lost but is known from the copies that were made of it, at the end of the 1520's. No other work by Titian illustrates the artist's combination of painting and poetry better, given that the episode of Venus' vain attempt to retain Adonis, which is absent from all written sources, was actually invented by Titian himself. Titian took up this theme again twenty years later in various compositions, one of which served as the point pf departure for the work belonging to the Museo del Prado.

In this painting, produced in 1554, Titian presents the goddess with her back to us, demonstrating, in conjunction with the works Danaë and Venus and Adonis, that painting can represent different points of view, in a similar manner to sculpture.


Venus and Adonis
Oil on canvas, 186 cm x 207 cm.
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

The restoration process, which was carried out by the expert at the Museo del Prado, Elisa Mora, with the support of the Iberdrola Foundation, consisted of eliminating all aspects that interfered with the proper reading of the works, enabling us to understand them in all their entirety and splendour. In order to achieve this, a cleaning process was carried out to remove old varnish and repainted areas.

In the work known as Danaë, Titian's hand was virtually unrecognisable due to former and rather unfortunate restoration work that had changed the painting's conception and execution. Furthermore, the canvas had been cut on all four sides and had been relined on two occasions. The pictorial layer presented numerous crude repaints that stood out to the naked eye and covered parts of the original painting. In other parts the work revealed abrasions and specific losses of pictorial material. The surface of the painting also presented a dull matt appearance due to the use of an old wax varnish.

The painting of Venus and Adonis had been expanded and these additions had altered the composition created by Titian by introducing a new area on the left of the picture that reduced the inertia of the figures as a whole, who are moving towards the forest on the opposite side of the painting. In order to recover the original meaning of the work, the frame was used to conceal this section of added canvas, which meant that there was no need to remove it. In this respect, the central axis of the painting now coincides with Adonis' leg, which is planted firmly on the ground, dividing the space and the action into two halves.

Through the restoration process, the light in both pictures has regained its significance and now once again defines the corresponding spaces, forms and volumes, thus enabling us to understand the different planes that make up the composition somewhat better and endowing these works with the original meaning that Titian intended for them.


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