Titian - Diana and Aktaion

by Alexandra Tuschka


What the hunter Aktaion may discover here behind the curtain is not of bad parents! A grotto, in which many nymphs bathe themselves... His view falls on one, which differs from these - on the virgin hunting goddess Diana. This one still quickly tries to cover her naked body with a light cloth. But if looks could kill... Diana, who has never let any man look at her naked, finds herself in a humiliating situation here. It was not even Aktaion's evil intention to seek out this site and peek, and if he had known how cruel the consequences would be, he would surely have refrained from doing so. For Diana, not to sully her reputation as a virginal and chaste deity, will turn the hunter into a deer. His own dogs will hunt him down and tear him to pieces. 

But nothing of this is to be seen yet. Much more interesting in this scene is the surprising moment when Aktaion - still in crotch position - "catches" the goddess bathing. One of his dogs has accompanied him into the picture and reflects the curiosity of his master by his look. Also he symbolizes here still absolute obedience. Aktaion has dropped his bow in surprise, but the quiver with arrows on his back clearly indicates his profession. Perhaps he already recognizes here whom he has before him and that this sight is something deeply forbidden. The movement of the cloth as well as the small, fluttering ribbon reflect his inner state of excitement also on the outside. In the background, through an opening in the wall, we can possibly see the Dolomites. 


Only the small watercourse of the fountain separates the young man from the total of seven women, who were also accompanied by a little dog. They can be seen in all kinds of different views. A sitting woman, a squatting woman, one bending down... Titian was able to prove his varietá - show that he was able to depict similar bodies in a variety of ways. This also refers to the faces, which show different facets of human emotions from surprised to coquettish. Titian chooses here a triangular composition, the top of which is the figure on the back. Under this stands a Murano vase, which reflects in the mirror of the nymph next to it. Diana identifies herself by a crown, the crescent moon refers to her further tasks as goddess of the moon. Two servants surround her. One, apparently an African, helps Diana cover herself. The other dries her legs and is so concentrated that she has not yet discovered the intruder. But by washing her feet, Diana has to open her thighs a little. What can Aktaion see here?


There are clues in the picture that point to the outcome of the story. In a moment, Diana will sprinkle Aktaion with water and turn him into a stag. Thus, in the right part of the picture we already see the forest to which Aktaion has to flee; on a wall projection there is a threatening stag's skull, which could not give us a clearer sign. Also, the animal skins of the previous hunting prey are already hanging in the branches. And those who have particularly good eyes can recognize a simultaneous scene in the background, where Diana is hunting for a stag between the trees. In the original, which measures almost 4 square meters, this is admittedly better to recognize.  


Titian - Diana and Actaion

Oil on canvas, 1556 - 1569, 184,5 x 202,2 cm, National Gallery in Edinburgh