Great artworks serve as inspiration for other artists, but how far does this go? The National Gallery has dedicated a show to the inspiration provided by three great masterpieces by Titian. As £95 million was spent on two of these paintings, cynics will argue that this exhibition is merely an attempt to justify the spend.
Titian’s paintings are based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, particularly the stories revolving around the goddess Diana. First, how she discovered the pregnancy of her supposed virginal nymph Callisto, and secondly how, when bathing, she was spied upon by the hunter Actaeon and in revenge turned him into a stag to be ripped asunder by his own hounds.
As a response and tribute to Titian, artists have created works based on these paintings. Of the three only Mark Wallinger’s installation seems fitting. It brilliantly transports the viewer into the role of Actaeon. A number of actresses, all named Diana, bathe within a room and they can only be seen through a pair of peepholes in the wall, shifting us from viewer to voyeur and heightening our self-awareness. The only drawback being a sense of shame and the odd perverted visitor. Thankfully transformation into a stag is not an option.
Three ballets based on the paintings are to be performed at the Royal Opera House (now all sold out) but as this exhibition only contains excerpts of the ballet and the rehearsals, it seems a waste to have dedicated so much space to the costume and set designs when only visitors on 16 July were treated to the live screening in Trafalgar Square.
The final tribute is 14 poems that each interpret the artworks from a unique angle, whether from the viewpoint of the artist himself or of secondary characters within the paintings. These are both clever and creative, encouraging the viewer to appreciate Titian’s works in a new light.
The inspired works are hit and miss but centre stage is rightfully taken by Titian’s three masterpieces. Most of the other works pale in comparison.
Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is on display in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery until 23 September. Admission is free.