Ovid’s poetry influenced visual arts


Titian, Diana and Actaeon

From daily The Guardian in England:

The transformative effect of Ovid’s Metamorphoses on European art

As a summer National Gallery exhibition will show, Titian was the greatest visualiser of Ovid – but he had some major competition

The National Gallery once put on an exhibition about the influence of the New Testament on western art. Seeing Salvation argued that if you don’t know the biblical story of Christ, you can’t comprehend such paintings as Titian’s Noli Me Tangere. But this summer the same gallery showcases another, very different book that has also exerted a vast influence on European art – Ovid‘s Metamorphoses.

Written in Latin in the reign of the ancient Roman emperor Augustus, who exiled Ovid for naughtiness, this epic poem retells the myths of ancient Greece for a sophisticated Roman audience. Ovid’s audience worshipped these same gods, giving the Greek pantheon Latin names (Zeus became Jupiter or Jove, Aphrodite became Venus, and so on) but found the antics of their deities by turns salacious, shocking, hilarious and tragic.

Ovid tells stories in verse about the crazed love life of Jupiter, driven by his lusts for various nymphs to take the forms of a bull, or a cloud, or a shower of gold in order to trick or seduce them. He tells of the courage of Perseus, who killed Medusa, and the folly of Phaethon, who tried to drive the sun’s chariot. He was the favourite source of classical myth for artists in the 16th and 17th centuries, and reading his book is like flicking through a series of descriptions of famous paintings, so copiously has he been illustrated.

The National Gallery is putting on its show Metamorphosis to celebrate the two great Titians it has purchased in partnership with the National Gallery of Scotland. Diana and Callisto and Diana and Actaeon both depict scenes from Ovid. But if Titian was the greatest visualiser of Ovid he had a lot of competition. Such marvels of art as Correggio’s Jupiter and Io, Michelangelo’s Fall of Phaethon, and Carravaggio’s Medusa all draw heat from Ovid’s imaginative fire.

The exhibition Metamorphosis, an Olympic special tied in with new opera productions, involves works by contemporary British artists – including Chris Ofili and Mark Wallinger – that respond to Ovid’s myths. The gallery is also publishing newly commissioned poems after Ovid by writers who include Seamus Heaney.

5 thoughts on “Ovid’s poetry influenced visual arts

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