Inspired by Titian: ‘Metamorphosis’ at the National Gallery brings together art, ballet and poetry by top British talent

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is an exciting new multimedia arts project from the National Gallery London, featuring works by contemporary artists and poets in a unique collaboration with The Royal Ballet. Today we look at this fascinating and creative exploration of the Old Master’s works. We also leaf through a lovely new anthology of Titian-inspired poetry, which includes new poems by Carol Ann Duffy, Wendy Cope, Seamus Heaney and Simon Armitage.

If you are looking for something enriching to do on what is likely to be a characteristically soggy weekend, the National Gallery’s new multi-arts project Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 might be just the ticket (no tickets needed however as entry is free!).

Part of the London 2012 Festival, Metamorphosis, which opened on Wednesday at the Sainsbury Wing, draws on the powerful stories and imagery of Titian’s masterpieces Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon and the recently acquired Diana and Callisto, revealing how these spectacular paintings continue to inspire living artists.

Unlike any typical exhibition, Metamorphosis extends beyond the walls of the National Gallery, drawing on a plethora of artistic practices, including visual art, poetry and dance. A genuine synthesis of old and new, this project brings together the ideas in Titian’s high renaissance painting with the immediacy and creativity of contemporary British art.

The exhibition showcases work by a group of specially commissioned British artists, responding to Diana and ActaeonThe Death of Actaeon and Diana and Callisto, which depict stories from the Roman poet Ovid’s epic 15-volume work Metamorphoses. The paintings, displayed at the heart of the exhibition, will be seen together for the first time since the 18th century.


The display, by contemporary artists Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger, includes set designs and costumes for three new ballets at The Royal Opera House. 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. On 16 July (this Monday), the performance will be simultaneously relayed on huge screens in Trafalgar Square and other venues across the UK.

As well as this exciting fusion of art and dance, 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.

Titian: Diana and Callisto

Girls, look where I point:
it’s not about her belly’s soft pout,
or a god whose name is a planet,
whether she was or wasn’t compliant
when she heard him pant
as his seed was spent,
each bruise on her skin his fingerprint,
her unfit to bathe in so much as a pint
of our sacred stream, pregnant, penitent;
not about any of that, even should she repent
or prove her innocence conclusively, pin it
on him, on the stars, on myth, plant
the thought that she’s the victim here; my point,
ladies, is this – it’s all about paint.

Carol Ann Duffy


Metamorphosis: Poems Inspired by Titian

These poems are brought together in the National Gallery’s lovely new book Metamorphosis: Poems Inspired by Titian. These new works, each illustrated with full-colour details from Titian’s paintings, demonstrate the quality and range of writing in Britain today, and show how Old Master paintings continue to inspire living artists. There really is an amazing list of British talent on display here (visit the National Gallery’s website to watch videos of some of these poets reading their work).

The book’s introduction by Nicholas Penny, (Ovid, Titian, and English Poetry), shows how Titian incorporated specific elements from Ovid’s verses in his paintings, and compares some of the most famous translations in English, from the first version by Arthur Golding (1565) to those by Joseph Addison (1717) and Ted Hughes (1997).

A really unique event, Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 will fascinate anyone interested in how artists ideas evolve and metamorphosize, from Ovid, through Titian, to today’s leading poets and artists.

Metamorphosis: Poems Inspired by Titian is available now from Yale University Press.

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is now open at the National Gallery, London

Share this

You must be logged in to post a comment