Metamorphosis: Titian 2012

One of the best examples of contemporary ekphrasis in recent years was the 2012 project at The National Gallery curated by Carol Plazzotta and sponsored by Credit Suisse, ‘Metamorphosis: Titian 2012’ that ran from 11 July – 23 September 2012 in the Sainsbury wing at The National Gallery in London.

The project was hugely ambitious and successfully brought together a diverse range of artists from across the creative spectrum. It brought the idea of ekphrasis into the foreground with blockbuster impact. The project was described in their promotional materials as

“A multi-faceted experience celebrating British creativity across the arts”

Taking as a point of reference the Roman poet Ovid’s 15 book poem ‘Metamorphoses’ that inspired generations of painters of which Titian was one. The poems recounts stories of the Gods, including the story of Diana The Huntress and Acteon, who was turned into a stag for catching sight of the goddess naked. He was then torn to pieces by her hunting dogs. This story in particular inspired no less than three of Titian’s masterpieces.  Titian described his paintings after stories as ‘poesie’ the visual equivalent of poetry.

The ‘experience’ involved poets, dancers, composers, film-makers, artists all of whom were commissioned to respond to Ovid’s stories and Titians paintings. Here is a podcast of an interview with the curator:

Listen to the curator

Titian's 'The Death of Acteon' in The National Gallery

Titian’s ‘The Death of Acteon’ in The National Gallery

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012’ – featuring new work by contemporary artists Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger in a unique collaboration with The Royal Ballet.

This multi-arts project, part of the Cultural Olympiad’s London 2012 Festival, draws on the powerful stories of change found in Titian’s masterpieces, revealing how these spectacular paintings continue to inspire living artists.

A multi-faceted experience celebrating British creativity across the arts, ‘Metamorphosis: Titian 2012’ brings together a group of specially commissioned works responding to three of Titian’s paintings – Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon and the recently acquired Diana and Callisto – which depict stories from Ovid’s epic poem ‘Metamorphoses’. The three paintings, displayed at the heart of the exhibition, are seen together for the first time since the 18th century.

Contemporary artists

Contemporary artists Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger have created new work for the exhibition at the National Gallery. The display, which includes set designs and costumes for three new ballets at The Royal Opera House, reveals how they have responded to Titian’s masterpieces.

Choreographers, composers and dancers

Top British choreographers, dancers and composers have collaborated with the artists to create an evening of three new works, performed at The Royal Opera House by The Royal Ballet in July 2012.

Watch excerpts of the ballets, recorded live on 16 July.


Leading poets including Carol Ann Duffy, Seamus Heaney and Simon Armitage have been commissioned by the National Gallery to respond to Ovid’s text and Titian’s paintings. Discover how they have been inspired in the accompanying publication Metamorphosis: Poems Inspired by Titian.

Watch the poets reading their Titian-inspired poems.

About ‘Metamorphoses’

Roman poet Ovid’s (43 BC–17 AD) 15 book poem was written in Latin and features the story of Diana, which inspired Titian’s three great paintings.

Based on the theme of ‘change’ (‘Metamorphoses’ means ‘transformations’ in Greek), these mythical tales were as renowned in Titian’s day as Bible stories, and were a popular source of inspiration for many Renaissance artists.


More than mere depictions of Ovid’s stories, Titian referred to his mythological paintings as ‘poesie’ – the visual equivalent of poetry. The three paintings in this exhibition fit within a greater body of Titian’s works, in which the artist visually reenacts scenes from ‘Metamorphoses’ in dynamic compositions across large-scale canvases.

This excerpt from The National Gallery Website
sourced on 25/05/2015

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