Titian - The Death of Actaion

by Alexandra Tuschka


The hunter Aktaion accidentally comes across the bathing goddess of hunting Diana. Since she fears that he might boast of having seen her naked, she splashes him with water. That would be an outrage with the chaste and virginal goddess. He flees. Surprised at his own speed, he gets quite far, but then he passes a river and sees the reflection of his face in the water. He realizes that he has grown horns - he is in the middle of a transformation into a stag. He hesitates. Unfortunately, a moment too long, so that his own dogs, whose master he was until just now, tear him alive.

Due to the erotic content and also the possibility of painters to demonstrate their varietá, the bath of Diana, which Aktaion attends, enjoyed great popularity from the 16th century. The transformation of Akation, which Titian chose for his late work, is rarer. He began the work at the age of 70 and probably did not devote himself to this pictorial theme again until over a decade later. Therefore, it is debated whether or not the work is considered complete at all. The painting style of the painter has changed during his life. In the meantime he paints more openly, rough brushstrokes are recognizable. Even though the work darkened a lot, we can imagine the original very colorful. Almost all pigments known in the Renaissance were used here: Verdigris, ochre, red lead and vermilion are just a few of them.


The work shows Diana rushing into the picture from the left with a moving gesture. She has her arms outstretched as if to shoot an arrow. And makes the hunter Aktaion thus the hunted. Her gesture here is rather to be understood as a command gesture. The arrow is not necessary, because the dogs obey her. They jump dynamically into the picture. Four in number, of which three have already arrived at Aktaion and by their superior staggering reinforce the drasticness of the scene. The fact that Aktaion has not yet completely transformed, but only his head, also makes the subject more piquant. The river landscape refers to the moment of realization that precedes this scene.


The background splits vertically into two halves almost in the middle. On the left we see an open landscape with a view of water and sky, and the background of the picture on the right symbolizes the saving forest where Aktaion, as a deer, could possibly have escaped.


Titian - The Death of Actaion

Oil on canvas, 1559 - 75, 178,8 x 197,8 cm, National Gallery in London