The myth of Danae has been treated very differently by artists. The original tale lauding Zeus’ un-stoppability, ingenuity and sexual prowess metamorphosed in the middle ages to a righteous tale of Marian purity in which Danae prefigured the Virgin Mary. Later still the Renaissance painter Fiorentino cast a talismanic medallion of a hopeful Danae lying on a bed. A wedding present for the hapless Elisabeth Gonzaga, betrothed to the impotent Guidabaldo da Montefeltro – a case of wishful meddling.
Medal of Danae by Fiorentino
Titian had something of an obsession with Danae painting her more than ten times and becoming increasingly concerned with the corruptibility of gold. In the beginning Eros is present (his invention, he’s not mentioned in the myth). In all versions Danae is portrayed as voluptuous Venetian courtesan. In the later versions Eros is replaced with a haggish servant who collects the coin in a shawl or even in a bronze dish – from carnal desire to wanton venality in twenty years.
Danae by Titian
At least one version was painted in a studio within the Vatican which gives an indication of papal taste at the time. Michelangelo criticised Titian’s Danae on the grounds that she was not sufficiently perfect, too real. imagine the Venetian would have taken that as a compliment.
Klimt’s Danae is very much indebted to Titian with her erotically raised leg.
The most intriguing Danae with its semi-veiled symbolism is by the extravagantly named painter Anne-Loius Girodet de Roussy-Trioson. It was commissioned by the actress Elisabeth Lange and exhibited in the Paris salon of 1799. She was not at all happy with it and refused to pay more than half the commission whereupon he delivered the painting cut into quarters. He did not stop there.
He painted another version packed with allusions to her part time activities. The coins have a stags head – a reference to her wronged lovers; a coin has killed a white dove lying next to a golden yoke a symbol of conjugal love; the turkey stands for stupidity and the peacock feathers for vanity; at her feet another coin has lodged in the eye of a satyr with a striking resemblance to Leuthrop Beauregard (wonderful names these Frenchmen have) one of her celebrated lovers noted for having spent the huge sum of 10,000 livres for a mere afternoon with her.
These and other symbols referring to her cuckolded husband ensured the ire of the portrayed and the delight of the Parisian public. The Danae portrait is now about as far as one can get from the hubbub of the arty, gay, risqué, cosmopolitan Paris of 1800 – in Minneapolis (actually quite an arty city I’m told). If you just happen to be passing through Minnesota and fancy a trip to see Danae
the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
is quite a museum with Rembrandts, Chinese Art and other goodies.
My model was Tia, an Australian student visiting her mother who was teaching in Rome. She passed by my gallery and I was very struck by her. She also posed for Lilith. Her mother held the broom from which hung the golden drapery. She did not do it for gold – like all my models she was unpaid. I gave her a print to take home to Brisbane. Here is the original shot before manipulation.
Tia as Danae