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2012 Display: Venus and Adonis

10 July 2012 - 13 January 2013

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Dulwich Picture Gallery has organised a special display to celebrate the return of Venus and Adonis, a significant work by the studio of Titian to the Gallery, where it will hang as the centrepiece at the end of the historic enfilade.

Venus and Adonis was originally acquired for the King of Poland in the 1790s by the Gallery’s founder Noël Desenfans as a work by Titian, but its authorship was later questioned, leading it to be demoted as a late 17th-century copy and eventually removed from display in the late 19th century. Brought from storage three years ago, the painting was covered with layers of yellowed varnish and extensive discoloured re-touching. Areas of paint were flaking and the canvas needed to be relined.

Thanks to its generous ‘adoption’ by Mrs. Sheila Boyle in memory of her late husband, Mr. Anthony Boyle, the painting has undergone careful conservation and scientific analysis. The removal of yellow varnish and dirt has revealed an evocative rendition of an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, centring upon the last meeting of the ill-fated lovers Venus and Adonis. Pigment analysis and the high-quality workmanship, particularly in the delicate luminosity of Venus’s flesh tones and the exuberance of Adonis’s hounds as they depart for the hunt, confirm that the painting was created in Titian’s studio and most probably within his own lifetime.

Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Venus and Adonis is a version with slight variations of the celebrated painting sent by Titian to his patron King Philip II of Spain in 1554, now at the Prado Museum, Madrid. Forming part of Titian’s ‘Poesie’ – an ambitious series of large-scale paintings on mythological themes, the visual equivalents of poetry, the signature element of Venus and Adonis’s composition is the dynamic posing of the central figures. 

The display also features two other works from the permanent collection: the Gallery’s 17th-century copy of Titian’s Rape of Europa which was part of the original Poesie series (now at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston), and Rubens’s oil sketch of Venus mourning the Death of Adonis to illustrate the tragic conclusion to the story of the two lovers.