The Contemporary Reception of Titian

This month I interviewed Tom Hunter, who famously recreated Titian’ Diana and Actaeon, placing Kim Cattrall as Diana. This photograph not only represents the fact that Titian has not fallen out of fashion for 500 years, but that Hunter sees Diana and Actaeon as an erotically charged scene of nude women. Titian’s female nudes are interpreted in ways that shy away from the sexual nature of the images. This opens up the much debated argument about the meaning and the context of Renaissance art. Does the meaning of an artwork ever change? The meaning has definitely changed for some of Titian’s representations of the female nude; they are no longer used to inspire sexual arousal, but aesthetic appreciation. Although this is not completely incorrect because looking at a beautiful picture in the bedroom would inspire a beautiful child (so they thought in the 16th century), they are missing the contextual evidence which sets up the ways in which the female nude served a purpose for a man and wife. Would these images experience such admiration if the true meaning were discussed on museum labels, pamphlets and marketing materials for exhibitions? The following question keeps coming up when I think about these issues,

Can art historians practice a greater freedom of expression than educators in public cultural institutions?

The fact of the matter is that, yes.  Art historians can discuss almost anything in regards to the Renaissance female nude. At the Uffizzi last summer I watched several guided tours stop at the Venus of Urbino, and discuss the stylistic qualities, the colour values, perspective and the marriage chest; yet the reasons for why these paintings were created were not mentioned. Maybe the tourist was meant to connect the marriage chest to someone’s marriage and somehow then realise it was placed in the bedroom to inspire coital activities? This connection could not be made in the 5 minutes the tour guides spent near the painting. It is not a complex idea though–I’m sure the tourists would have 1. learned something new 2. they would have become more fascinated with Renaissance culture (surely!) 3. this information would have helped them chip away at the warped view they have of Renaissance female nudes as classical emblems of beauty, and nothing else.


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