Friday, 13 July 2012

Titian: Metamorphosis 2012, National Gallery, London

*** Update 12/9/2012

My second visit to this exhibition was in the last week and the space was relatively busy.  Everything had been in working order.  The installation of Conrad Shawcross (robotic arm) was moving a lot and I found it interesting picking up the movement on my peripheral vision.  The peep show area was open and was quite dark (surprise, surprise!).  I could make out two bright spots in the centre, presumably the peep holes.  The wide screen section showing the ballet rehearsals was quite busy with several people standing.  It was interesting sitting at the front and sensing the movement of people on the wide-screen.  I had recently attended a performance of Prokofiev’s Cinderella in Edinburgh.  This was my first attendance at a full ballet since I lost my sight and this may have been inspired by enjoying this Titian 2012 exhibition which managed to bring so many themes together.

***end of update

*** Update 16/7/2012
Here are the links provided by Penny Homer via comments left on this post:

First, about the event at the Opera House

Second, a review from the FT

Thirdly, information about Jonathan Dove, composer for Diana & Actaeon

I wasn't able to attend the big screen event in Trafalgar Square this evening, though everyone enjoyed it!

*** end up update
12th July 2012

Three of Titian’s late works are on show together for the first time since the 18th century:

Diana and Callisto 1556-9
Diana and Actaeon 1556-9
The Death of Actaeon about 1559-75

The works have been bought with the aid of funds for the National Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery to share.  Indeed, when I grew up in Edinburgh, the Titians from the Duke of Sutherland trustees were well known and it was a matter of concern when there was the risk of them being withdrawn from public access. 

On entering this exhibition, the first thing I noticed was the two completed works which face one.  The area is darkly lit and the paintings are subtly illuminated.  As there is a protective layer of non reflective transparent “glass”, it is possible to get up very close. There is no cordon and my companion was able to “point” out the details and the red and blue colours for which Titian was famous. 

I have always admired Titian and I even visited his house in Pieve di Cadore in the Belluno area of north Italy.  The subject matter of the Titian pictures is the Metamorphosis series of poems by Ovid.  At school in Edinburgh we studied the Metamorphoses in Latin classes.  The seen translation for the exam was Love of Apollo for Daphne.  Daphne was turned into a tree but in these Titian pictures Diana (Artemis) turns Actaeon into a stag, which is then killed by his stag hounds. 

The pictures could be described as violent soft pornography of the time.  Philip II of Spain had commissioned the work and they were intended for private viewing in Madrid.  A BBC Radio3 Nightwaves discussed this on Monday 9th July.  ( )  Are these pictures Scottish, British, Italian or Spanish heritage?

The idea of metamorphosis is extended in this exhibition with displays of works by Mark Wallinger, Conrad Shawcross and Chris Ofili.  They each have an installation of their own and an interaction with the Royal Opera House wardrobe department and the Royal Ballet. 

There is a lot to enjoy if you have a little sight.  I was able to make out a large portion of the completed Titians up to about 75 cms above my eyeline.  I was also able to identify the blue streams in Diana and Callisto, as well as the red robes of Diana.  Some of the animals are big, especially the dogs, but I could even find the small lap dog.  The two completed works have a sense of motion with fleshy bodies in movement. 

With the scene which seals the fate of Actaeon (he dared to gaze on Diana) the colour of Actaeon’s skin is notably darker than that of Diana and her nymphs.   The killing of Actaeon is violently portrayed with movement conveyed by the prominent bow and the pack of hounds close by. 

Conrad Shawcross:

This resembles a robotic arm working at a distance from antlers.  It reminded me of a crane in fairgrounds when you had to manoeuvre the machinery to get a prize, usually a teddy bear.  The installation is said to be kinetic but I could detect no movement.

Chris Ofili:

Ofili has produced large pictures of scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphosis.  Some of them appeared to be overtly sexual while others resembled the drawings and colours on Greek amphorae. 

Mark Wallinger:

This installation was not working as the lights had gone out!  I listened to the audio (not suitable for visually impaired with touch screen) and heard discussions with a curator.  There was a drama about 3pm as the audio said “on screen now” so I passed the handset to my companion who said “She is standing 10 feet away.” Later on, said companion saw another woman dressed in a bath robe walking down one of the corridors.  Perhaps this was kinetic!

Each artist had also designed costumes and set designs and these are on show with time lapse videos in two rooms.  I could make out a lot standing in front of these.  Note it is quite dark here and tread carefully as you may have an advantage over other visitors.  The cane was useful. 

There is quite a lot of music of a plinky plonky nature coming from an adjacent room showing a film of Royal Ballet rehearsals projected on to a large screen.  Of the performing arts, ballet is the least accessible in my mind.  Unless very close up I see nothing and the music is usually geared to the dance than standing on its own merit.  Nevertheless I could make out a lot of the rehearsal shots I saw in two scenes.  There is a viewing area with about three rows of benches. 

This, I thought, neatly juxtaposed with the Wallinger solitary peep show (gimmick?) piece.  True I did not see the peep show but on listening to the audio mentioning the “male gaze” and intoning the late Diana, Princess of Wales my mind had closed.  I felt like the man who had been blinded for gazing at Lady Godiva as she rode naked through Coventry.


This is a great opportunity to experience a lot of classical art and modern design, concept art and dance.  However, the exhibition had just opened and there were technical problems which meant I did not experience the peep show.  The exhibition is free and the audio may not be suitable. 

Ask at the information desk upstairs for any background materials.  My companion noted Braille and Large Print documentation.  Definitely worth a second visit.