As Madrid is known for its world-renowned museums, a visit to Spain’s capital is synonymous with a visit to the Museo Nacional del Prado; not managing to see this museum would mean that one hasn’t truly seen the city. It is at the Prado Museum where one can contemplate several centuries of the Western World’s most celebrated painters, be them Spanish or from other European nations. Naturally, the Spanish collection is the most extensive (almost 4,900 pieces), containing numerous paintings by figures such as El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya — although there are also significant collections of Italian and Flemish paintings, as well. Despite an extensive permanent collection, however, the Prado also puts on temporary exhibitions regularly and is currently displaying two particular paintings by Venetian painter Tiziano Vecellio, known in English as Titian.
Venice’s greatest painter
Having contributed to all the major areas of Renaissance art, Titian is known for having been the greatest Venetian painter of the sixteenth century. Although the year of his birth is somewhat disputed, most scholars seem to agree that it was closer to 1490, rather than in the 1470s, as said to be confirmed both by his death certificate and a letter written to Philip II of Spain in which Titian himself stated his own age. The Metropolitan Museum of Art places his birth year somewhere between 1485-90 — although favoring 1488; the Museo Nacional del Prado affirms that Titian was born circa 1489. Regardless of the true year, scholars do agree that Titian used color in a remarkable fashion and possessed exceptional technique, a technique which evolved significantly throughout his lifetime, even making it difficult to authenticate his work at times. Titian is perhaps best known for his portraits: he painted both Pope Paul III and Emperor Charles V.
In his later years, from 1553 to 1562, Titian was commissioned by Philip II of Spain to paint works depicting mythological scenes. His series of six poesie — or ‘poems’, as he referred to them — was composed 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). Although originally part of the Spanish Crown’s royal collection, Titian’s paintings have found their way into different hands, having been given as gifts on different occasions.
The Titian Exhibition
Currently on display at the Prado Museum are first two poesie: Danaë (1553) and Venus and Adonis (1554). The exhibition came about upon the discovery that the Prado’s Danaë was not actually the one commissioned by Philip II, but rather another version which was purchased by Velázquez during his first trip to Italy. The ‘real’ painting had been given as a gift to the 1st Duke of Wellington as a recompense for his services during the Peninsular War; as part of Apsley House’s private collection, was thought to be a copy and had never been displayed to the public. This Danaë is currently on loan from its owner, having been restored at the Prado Museum by Elisa Mora over an eight-month process. Venus and Adonis, which forms part of the Prado’s permanent collection has been reunited with the first poesia for the first time in centuries.
Visit the Prado
For those interested in viewing this exhibition of Titian’s first two poesie, they will be on display at the Museo Nacional del Prado up through March 1st. This is an extraordinary opportunity to see both of these paintings together in the same room, which may very well not happen again for years to come. The entrance fee for the Titian exhibition also includes access to the other exhibitions being shown, as well as the permanent collection. This is a perfect moment to see the Prado, regardless of the times one has been.