The mythical figure of Danae reclines upon a sumptuous bed. Zeus has transformed himself into a golden cloud above, as coins shower Danae’s lap. Cupid, with bow in hand, watches attentively to our right as the action unfolds. The scene takes place within an interior, as architectural features give way to open landscape in the background. Titian’s loose brushstrokes imbue the painting with energy and coloristic nuance.
According to the myth, Danae was the daughter of King Acrisius of Argos. An oracle predicted that Acrisius would die by the hand of an unborn grandson. To ensure his longevity, Acrisius locked his beautiful daughter in a bronze tower to prevent her from bringing forth a child. But Zeus, transforming himself into a golden cloud, entered the tower and impregnated Danae. Thus the demigod Perseus was born, who would later slay Medusa.
Titian began the painting in Venice and likely completed it in Rome, 1545. It was destined for the private rooms of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. The mythical subject granted Titian the pretext to create one of the most sensual female nudes of the 16th century. Once in Naples, the painting was censured for its eroticism in 1815, and relegated to the “Cabinet of Obscene Paintings.” Today it is recognized as one of Titian’s greatest paintings.