Tuesday, April 5, 2022

SAVING FACE art theory by Jorge Cardoso (part 3)


SAVING FACE art theory by Jorge Cardoso (part 3)

to be continued...

MEN ARE DOGS on Titian’s Poesie


The Morgan Library

Cover: Titian, The Rape of Europa (detail), 1559–62, oil on canvas, 70 1⁄8 × 80 3⁄4".
Dear readers,

History echoes louder against Venice’s Istrian stone. The city’s famed Biennale arrives this month amid extraordinary circumstances, its opening delayed a year by the Covid-19 pandemic. The mother of international art exhibitions is as much a crucible for culture as it is a theater for geopolitical agendas, and with the global order in tatters, all eyes are on this edition. And so our latest issue goes there too: a wide-ranging conversation with the show’s curator, Cecilia Alemani; interviews with biennial artists Stan Douglas, Latifa Echakhch, and Lynn Hershman Leeson; smart takes on the works of Shubigi Rao and Kaari Upson; and a harrowing new project by the Kyiv-based artist Nikita Kadan.

On this month’s cover is Titian’s 
The Rape of Europa, a vivid rendering of the violent origins of European civilization that feels as apposite now as it did when the Venetian master finished it some 460 years ago. And I’m reminded that art’s insistence on something like timelessness, its habit of sticking around across epochs, lends it special force, a capacity to multiply its meanings as the world lurches forward.

—David Velasco
Emmelyn Butterfield-RosenTitian, Diana and Actaeon, 1556–59, oil on canvas, 72 5⁄8 × 79 5⁄8''.
Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen on Titian’s poesie for Philip II
“It is a distinctive peculiarity of Titian’s poesie that ‘manly courage’ appears less as an internal property of the human man than as a displacement of his will or impulses onto animal surrogates.”



Titian, Diana and Callisto, 1556–59, oil on canvas, 73 5⁄8 × 80 1⁄2".

FEW FACES TO MEET the public spotlight in recent years have more to tell about the mental mechanisms of male shame, impunity, and self-absolution than that of the furry brown-and-white-spotted Spanish pointer staring out of Titian’s Diana and Callisto, 1556–59. This dog has been a bad dog, as he seems to know. (I say “he” since, according to the visual logic of gender organizing the suite of pictures of which Diana and Callisto forms one-sixth, Titian’s “big dog” simply can’t be a bitch.)1 Sometime previously, on a hunting trip that took an unexpected twist, this Spanish pointer turned against and devoured his master, Actaeon, a human hunter whom Diana, goddess of chastity, transformed into a stag after he came upon her bathing naked. Diana and Callisto asks its viewer to contemplate the aftermath of that attack; his master having passed through his digestive system, Actaeon’s dog, portrayed in another of the series’ pictures, reappears as a tagalong—or the captive?—of Diana’s band of proto-feminist separatists. Titian gives us the gaze of this pointer at the moment Diana is exiling Callisto, a favorite nymph who broke—unwillingly—her vow of virginity. (She was assaulted and impregnated in secret by Diana’s father, Jupiter, who disguised himself as his daughter to perpetrate the rape.) A vector of disdain slashes diagonally across the canvas, leading from Diana’s outstretched finger toward Callisto’s swollen belly, unveiled to the goddess by Callisto’s fellow nymphs, who hold her down and forcibly strip her. Actaeon’s dog turns his snout ninety degrees away from this cruel scene, hangs his head slightly, and looks out frontally to address the viewer. His gaze overflows with oscillating affect—docile and aggressive, imploring and uncomprehending, innocent and guilt-ridden. Does he understand what he’s done? Does he know what’s happening behind him?2

“Beauty, drama and dogs.” These, according to the Titian specialist Maria Loh, were the artist’s “favourite themes.”3 Just how far Titian was capable of pushing them became evident over the past two years in the historic reunion of the so-called poesie (painted poems), six square-format canvases adapting classical myths told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (They are, sequentially, Danaë, 1551–53, Venus and Adonis, 1553–54, Diana and Actaeon, 1556–59, Diana and Callisto, 1556–59, Perseus and Andromeda, ca. 1554–56, and The Rape of Europa, 1559–62.) With a particular focus on myths narrating the subject-shattering and empire-founding consequences of sexual predator–prey relationships, these gutturally emotive pictures, anchored by a series of plushly painted female nudes, are an exercise in erotic painting transformed into a philosophical meditation. They present dynamics of power at play between sexes, between species, between mortals and divinities, and between geographies; they isolate moments when power—particularly in the crude form of physical force—meets obedience or resistance and interacts with instinctive drives, freedom of will, and fate. Technical experimentation followed from this ambitiousness of subject matter. Titian pushed himself toward ever more expressionistic limits of his oil-on-canvas medium in these pictures. In the solar plexus one feels their colored surfaces—alternately opalescent and light-sucking like velvet, smoldering with the tints and textures of pinky silks and rotting underbrush, glistening scales, puckering flesh, and furs.

View of “Titian: Women, Myth & Power,” 2021–22, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. From left: Diana and Actaeon, 1556–59; Diana and Callisto, 1556–59; Perseus and Andromeda, ca. 1554–56; The Rape of Europa, 1559–62. Photo: Julia Featheringill.

Painted in Venice between 1551 and 1562, at the height of Titian’s career, the poesie were made at the commission of the artist’s most powerful patron, Philip of Habsburg. Midway through the series’ completion, Philip ascended his throne as king of Spain. For the rest of the century, he would rule over the world’s first truly hemispheric empire, a domain ranging from the south, west, and east of Europe and the Atlantic coast of Africa to Chile, New Mexico, Goa, and the Philippines, which bear his name. To this potentate, whom Titian addressed as “Very high and powerful Lord” or “Most Invincible Catholic King,” the artist pledged, “I shall devote all that is left of my life to doing reverence to Your Majesty with . . . painting.”4 In the majesty of their execution, the poesie certainly do Philip honor; in their iconography, they also acknowledge and internalize his formidable position of power by participating in the pictorial tradition known euphemistically as the “Loves of Jupiter.” They are organized as a sequence of three pendant pairs that develop and harmonize around a single leitmotif: a woman who is being, has been, or will be sexually violated by the king of Olympus—the god Ovid called the omnipotens pater. In other words, from among the roughly 250 tales in the Metamorphoses (fifty of which involve rapes or rape attempts), Titian’s cycle keeps returning to instances when Philip’s mythological counterpart is the agent acting upon his assumed right to sex. Yet even as the poesie call up a tradition of mythological propaganda for the omnipotence of rulers, Titian took (and was given) extreme artistic freedom in executing, interpreting, and pairing the myths he pictured. As an ensemble, the poesie are surely among the most ideologically equivocal of the many image cycles inspired by sixteenth-century Europe’s sexualized concept of sovereign power, where classical rape myths served to encapsulate princely entitlement tout court, as a freedom to seize and claim dominion by force.5

The poesie were designed to be shown together; they speak to and directly develop one another. Indeed, in three of the six, the same figure—the abovementioned Spanish pointer—reappears as if in sequential frames of a comic strip. But the six, which began to disperse from the Spanish royal collection in the late 1500s, have not been in the same location for four and a half centuries.6 A traveling exhibition jointly organized by several museums that hold individual poesia—the National Gallery in London, the Prado in Madrid, the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston—reunited them for the past two years. The show, assembled together after yearslong legal negotiation and the lifting of loan bans at formerly nonlending institutions, was justifiably touted as a “once in a half-millennium opportunity.” But its timing was both ill-starred and awkward. It opened at its first venue, in London, on March 16, 2020—just in time to be shuttered by Covid. More significantly, the exhibitions delivered Titian’s cycle into a Euro-American world that for the past five years has been shaped by a viral movement dedicated to contemplating and condemning sexual violence against women. The customary veneration lavished on works such as these—central-casting “masterpieces” illustrating a canonical “great book” of Western literature—was thus tempered by an apparent revelation: The enterprise of collecting and exhibiting, not to mention painting, a suite of six pictures representing two rapes-in-progress and one slut-shaming of a pregnant rape victim might perhaps be morally suspect. “The whole cycle . . . invites #MeToo evaluation,” Holland Cotter cautioned in the New York Times under the headline “Can We Ever Look at Titian’s Paintings the Same Way Again?” In Hyperallergic, another (male) reviewer closed with the line, “Exactly as Harvey would have wished.”

I saw the show at its final venue, the Gardner, where The Rape of Europa, the work Titian described to Philip as the “seal” (sogello) of the poesie cycle—his artistic signature and thematic summation—has been housed since 1896.7 There, the curator of this iteration of the exhibition, Nathaniel Silver, departed from the National Gallery’s and the Prado’s more anodyne, old-fashioned curatorial framings, respectively titled “Love, Death, Desire” and “Mythological Passions.” In a presentation retitled “Women, Myth & Power,” the Gardner acknowledged that in exhibiting the poesie the museum potentially placed itself in league with the interlinking subject positions of Jupiter, Philip, and Titian, rather than the cast of persons acted upon by power in Titian’s compositions, whose suffering bodies offer raw material for delectating in both technical virtuosity and prurient observation. On its website, the museum posed the question “Why would the Gardner present exhibitions centered around Titian’s Rape of Europa and its story of sexual violence?” and then attempted an answer, which included the hotline of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.8 (The barcc also advised the museum on content warnings for the exhibition.) While the written moral justification the museum offered in favor of presenting the poesie felt too pat by far, Silver’s presentation did successfully puncture, even if imaginatively and counterfactually, the closed circuit of European men who have historically produced and consumed Titian’s erotic pictures. This decentering of the entitled male gaze was made vivid through a portrait of Mary Tudor, queen of England and the second of Philip’s four wives, hanging alongside Titian’s portrait of Philip, as if she too were overseeing the gallery of poesie. Audio responses to individual poesia recorded by scholars, artists, organizers, and gender educators stressed the perspectives of viewers (both historical and contemporary) who were not male, not European, and/or not cisgender. These responses articulated, for instance, how the thirty-seven-year-old queen of England, much ridiculed by Philip’s courtiers for her advanced age and skinny body, might have reacted to the ample buttocks of the Venus Titian painted for her husband; or, on the other end of the spectrum of power, how an experience lived by millions of women in the age of the transatlantic slave trade might be echoed in the figure of Europa, subjected to forcible capture, transoceanic migration, and childbirth from rape.9 Finally, in a flourish that gave a more spectacular face to the critical posture of the exhibition, the Gardner enlisted contemporary artists to “talk back” to Titian, resulting in two new commissions: a text banner by Barbara Kruger on the facade of the museum reading body/lang/uage, and a loquacious video by Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley featuring a pregnant, pissed-off Europa, semi-clad in contemporary office clothing, speaking in obscene limericks. 

The poesie were designed to be shown together; they speak to and directly develop one another.

A great strength of the exhibition was that these interventions—at once brave and subtle, defensive and didactic—were visually unobtrusive to the marquee works. Ultimately, the exhibition boiled down to a small, sparsely installed single gallery with the freshly cleaned poesie hung in pendant pairs across three walls, arrayed clockwise in the order of their completion in identical new frames. The directness of this presentation preserved the possibility of confronting layers of complexity and internal contradiction only accessible through close looking. The critical language mediating the public’s encounter with these prize possessions of Europe’s emperors and kings almost threatened to obscure, or to filter through a more simplistic scrim, modes of emotion and questioning—as well as excusing—around force, coercion, and conquistador masculinity already embedded in the poesie. But to enter into, let alone critique, the internal logic of Titian’s ambiguous, deeply equivocal cycle of pictures, one must attend to their starring and subsidiary animal figures, who were for the most part sidelined by the framing discourse.

Titian, Danaë, 1551–53, oil on canvas, 73 5⁄8 × 80 1⁄2".

THE FIRST TWO CANVASES Titian sent to Philip—Danaë and then Venus and Adonis—reprise templates of preexisting compositions. They are the least innovative and interesting of the suite, both in terms of paint handling and scenarios envisioned. As a pair—featuring complementary front and back views of the female nude, as Titian stressed to Philip—they set up gendered tropes and scripts that will be complicated or upended in the subsequent poesie, which introduce looser painterly execution (Titian’s signature pittura di macchia, or “painting by blotch”), more challenging compositions apparently unsuitable for endless workshop replication, and more open ambivalence about the dynamics involved in claiming sexual or territorial possessions.

Danaë, the series’ opening salvo, is by far the most serene and beatific of the poesie; it is also, paradoxically, the only poesia to depict penetration without consent in medias res, i.e., rape in its current US legal definition.10 Shown in the moment of coitus that Diana and Callisto recalls and The Rape of Europa anticipates, Jupiter appears in the act of deflowering and impregnating a female virgin, who, in this case, is a prisoner, taken by surprise and without consultation. The myth Titian illustrates tells of a girl locked in a chastity cage by her father, King Acrisius, who has heard a prophecy that his daughter’s firstborn son will murder him. Jupiter invades Danaë’s prison cell by streaming a golden shower through an opening in its ceiling, aiming himself right into her reproductive organs to impregnate her with the hero Perseus. Titian renders this moment of coercive conception with a recumbent and naked Danaë in a pose that recalls the Venus of Urbino, but with folded ankles replaced by raised knees, so that Danaë’s right thigh obscures her left hand, which can be imagined as either shielding her sex or drawing back a piece of gauze to make way for divine insemination. The prominent white of Danaë’s eye frames her upturned pupil, trained with a soft yet fixed gaze on the mist of droplets raining down on her midsection like manna from heaven. (In several variants Titian’s workshop produced of this popular composition, actual gold coins shower down on the woman.) The picture quite straightforwardly realizes the fantasy of the willing woman, formulated most succinctly in a line from Ovid’s Art of Love: “Gratus raptae raptor fuit” (the rapist was pleasing to the raped woman). An ecstatic collapse of the Madonna-whore dichotomy takes place in this image; Danaë is at once a Virgin Mary, assenting to God’s will in the scene of Annunciation and conceiving miraculously without penile penetration, and a venal woman cashing in.

The cause of rape is the beauty of the female body; rape is a reward bestowed on the beautiful; beauties are by definition fertile; to be honored is to serve male power as a seed vessel—such trains of association, already at the core of Titian’s first Danaë version (1544–45), became more explicit in his commission for Philip, which spelled out an equation between a woman’s sexual violation by a powerful man and her financial reward and/or religious salvation. In addition to placing at the top edge of the painting (a section that has since been removed) a source cloud for the golden shower with a male face and an eagle, simultaneously evoking Jupiter’s animal attribute and the Habsburg crest, Titian swapped out a cupid for the so-called attendant-crone compositional element. Danaë’s elderly nursemaid/jailer, corkscrewing her upper body toward the golden shower, holds out her shawl to catch stray sprinkles in a gesture of greed, longing, and vicarious pleasure.

Titian, Venus and Adonis, ca. 1553–54, oil on canvas, 73 1⁄4 × 81 1⁄2".

Titian’s first poesia crystallizes a male fantasy of freedom of entry. Its pendant, Venus and Adonis—which offers the male viewer a surrogate body by which to enter the pictorial world of the female nude—conjures up a complementary male freedom. This is the freedom of departure, a freedom presented simultaneously as a form of unfreedom, an obedience to a masculine call of duty or compulsion to adventure. As Erwin Panofsky long ago stressed, Venus and Adonis—an immensely popular composition which exists in at least thirty versions—invented an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Adonis myth, interpolating a willful “Flight of Adonis” into the mythological source text. In Ovid, Venus ascends to the heavens, leaving Adonis on his own temporarily; he wanders off to hunt in his lover’s absence, forgetting her instruction that he refrain from chasing large game. In Titian’s rewriting of the myth, a deliberate leave-taking happens. Adonis pries himself from the goddess’s clinging grasp “almost as Joseph tears himself away from the wife of Potiphar.”11 Suited for the hunt in a tunic and sandals, gripping a feathered dart staked resolutely in the ground, Adonis strides rightward as if he wants to venture off the far end of the canvas. Straining forward, he pulls Venus’s body off balance as she sits beneath him naked on a tree stump strewn with her underclothes, her arms encircling his chest, her pleading gaze meeting not his eyes but his armpit. The goddess a donna abbandonata, the man a decisive agent and author of his fate. Even if Titian portends tragic consequences, pointing a beam of morning light into the darkness of the forest, where a boar will gore Adonis to death, the picture—referred to simply as “Adonis” by Philip, who like its protagonist was an avid hunter, with a royal prerogative to kill boars and other noble beasts of venery—allows itself to be read as a celebration of precisely what Venus asks Adonis to forswear in the Metamorphoses: “manly courage,” or virtus, meaning literally “quality or trait entailed in being a vir [man],” with vir also linked etymologically to vis, violence/force.12

It is a distinctive peculiarity of Titian’s poesia, however, that “manly courage” appears less as an internal property of the human man than as a displacement of his will or impulses onto animal surrogates. Adonis’s “flight” toward the hunt is led by his pack of hounds, to whom the man is physically tethered. The pack includes a Spanish pointer, a greyhound, and a third dog, perhaps an alano, a large dog of the molosser type that was to become, by the end of the sixteenth century, “the iconic dog of the masculine Spanish self,” used in guarding, hunting, war, and American conquest.13 The Spanish pointer, the only dog not leashed to the protagonist, turns back toward Venus with a submissively lowered head and dangling pink tongue, externalizing the softer side of Adonis—the side of him that is puppy-loving, pussy-whipped, eager to sit-stay for the lust object—that the fiercer, leashed dogs, sniffing the boar’s scent, are about to win out against. Venus’s arms, encircling Adonis’s chest, rhyme with the rings of rope tied around his biceps, attached to the two tethers his dogs strain against, particularly the alano in perfect profile, whose right and left forelimbs are in perfect lockstep with Adonis’s legs. As a proxy for Adonis’s choice of—or compulsion toward—manliness, the striding alano, mouth slightly open to bare the lower canines, distances Adonis from violence as a “quality or trait entailed in being a vir,” displacing it onto a body that is physically separate and potentially capable of overpowering his restraint. At the same time—much as Solomon, one of Philip’s hunting dogs in this period, would have served to externalize his master’s political power and ambition through his kingly appellation—the snarling alano is an extension of Adonis’s identity, an aspirational self-projection.14 The dog, in other words, is a device Venus and Adonis deploys to both amplify masculine aggression and begin to formulate an excuse for it.

Titian, Diana and Actaeon, 1556–59, oil on canvas, 72 5⁄8 × 79 5⁄8".

TITIAN’S NEXT SET OF PENDANTS for Philip were original mythological compositions. These new works pressed much further with Venus and Adonis’s dramatic emphasis on animal presence, whether through the continued presence of dogs in the two woodland pictures sited at Diana’s sacred spring or through the dolphins, fishes, sea monsters, and swimming bull in the closing pair of marine pictures. Particularly important for understanding the emotional and moral logic of the poesie as a whole are the dogs in the two Diana paintings, the works that constitute the cycle’s violent core and, I would argue, its interpretive key. These pictures, the most compositionally intricate of the poesie, take up and transform the first pair’s emphasis on the dog motif, establishing a visual device that Titian reprises and deepens in the cycle’s concluding canvas.15

For the first of the Diana pair, Diana and Actaeon, Titian selected a mythological subject in which dogs play an extremely charged role. Actaeon is a noble hunter who stumbles upon Diana and her retinue of virgin huntresses in the forest as they are bathing naked in a sacred spring. To avert the compromise of her purity and prevent the intruder from reporting what he has seen—and also, implicitly, to fend off the threat of rape—Diana splashes Actaeon with her bathing water to transform the man into a stag.16 (In some pre-Ovidian versions of the myth, she simply throws a deerskin on him.) This transformation prompts Actaeon’s hunting dogs—more than forty dogs and bitches catalogued by name in Ovid, among them Killbuck, Wildtooth, Spot, and Savage—to chase and devour him, as Actaeon, robbed of the power of language, tries and fails to bring his charges back under his command. “Actaeon ego sum: dominum cognoscite vestrum!” (I am Actaeon: Recognize your master!)

Titian’s interpretation emphasizes the myth’s epiphanic character. It is a scene of reciprocal discovery and excitation—ranging from curious arousal to hostile distress—embodied in the polarized postures of two dogs. On the left edge of the canvas, the young hunter, a doppelgänger of Adonis, strides in followed by a Spanish pointer that is seemingly identical to the one in Venus and Adonis, as if hound and hunter have walked out of one composition and reemerged in the next. As Actaeon responds with surprise to the vision of the seven naked nymphs before him, with his arms outstretched and fingers spread, his pointer registers more explicitly the internal arousal of the human master; as John Beusterien observed, the dog’s upward-angled snout “suggests Actaeon’s erect member.”17 This visual rhyming of male genitals and canine snout recalls Titian’s 1533 portrait of Philip’s father, Charles V, in which a large mastiff’s “up-thrusting,” “questing muzzle” sniffs the air just above the king’s codpiece, in a gesture that seems to point—in tandem with his master’s index finger—at Charles’s genitals as the bodily seat and synecdoche of his power, a power that the picture likens to a “keen hunting dog,” “forever cocksure, on the prowl, on the sniff-about.”18 In Diana and Actaeon, this association of the human male’s sex and dog’s snout is repeated to turn against itself, to become the precise locus of the male figure’s vulnerability rather than his power.

Titian, Emperor Charles V with a Dog, 1533, oil on canvas, 76 3⁄8 × 44 3⁄8".

Titian’s poesia signals this vulnerability not only through the slightly open jaws of a dog who will devour his master imminently, but also through the impression that Actaeon’s sexuality is on display or under inspection. This is particularly evident in the interplay of Actaeon and the leftmost nymph, seated beneath him on a marble basin. The interaction of these characters is mediated by a heavy swag of scalloped pink fabric, which hangs inexplicably from the grotto’s vaulted rafters by what looks like the thin filament of a spiderweb. Actaeon appears simultaneously to recoil and to pull back the fabric to intrude on the shrouded space of the women, while the nymph raises the cloth’s bottom edge as if to expose Actaeon’s presence and examine him. Indeed, this nymph, who in one hand lifts the free-floating curtain and in the other holds a mirror, appears more than any other figure in all the poesie to be actively engaging in vision, a vision that in her case seems to have been particularly directed toward Actaeon’s pubic region. Titian distinctly suggests, through the gust of wind that blows the bottom of the hunter’s tunic upward and through the emphasis on the reflective surface of the water beneath him, that a fortuitous play of breezes, angles, and reflections—or maybe even a deliberate manipulation of the mirror’s position—has given that nymph a glimpse between Actaeon’s legs. Her look backward seems to process this vision and gauge the reactions of her fellow virgins. One nymph looks somewhat dreamily toward Actaeon, while Diana, at the far right edge of the canvas, beneath a birch hung with deerskins, stares down sternly and shields her face. Her two closest companions—a Black female maid and a toy spaniel—outwardly express her contained fear and aggression; the maid looks at Actaeon in wide-eyed alarm, and the spaniel visibly barks at him. The myth’s essence is conveyed through a visual triangle that unites three compositional elements: Actaeon’s pointer, with his “up-thrusting” muzzle, Diana’s yapping spaniel, and the stag’s skull facing out from the grotto’s column—a harbinger of Actaeon’s impending death.19 

Titian, The Death of Actaeon, ca. 1559–75, oil on canvas, 70 3⁄8 × 77 7⁄8".

There is no question that the idea of death by dog was a persistent fascination for Titian. In 1559, the painter promised Philip a companion picture of “Actaeon torn to shreds by his dogs,” which he ultimately never delivered but did begin. It shows the hunter’s still-human body, topped with a stag’s head, pounced upon by three hounds, one of whom sinks teeth into his leg. The Flaying of Marsyas, ca. 1570–76, an extraordinary late picture that may or may not have been intended for Philip, famously renders in its center foreground a toy spaniel—like the one guarding Diana in Diana and Actaeon—lapping up the blood of the flayed satyr. In the bottom right corner of Marsyas, Titian included a child satyr who stares out of the picture, restraining by the collar a large hunting spaniel with a prominent lower canine tooth and an eye that glints outward.20 Titian’s evident penchant for envisioning scenarios of dogs feeding on human (or semihuman) flesh suggests that his investment in the Actaeon myth stemmed from more than merely its status as a morality tale in which, in the interpretations of early-modern artists and writers, “dogs convey the image that man is driven to self-destruction by his worldly temptations.”21 The dogs in this myth hold an interest for Titian that is much more than merely symbolic. As Sarah Cohen argues in a forthcoming book on animal representations in early-modern Europe, throughout his oeuvre Titian treats the dog as a “free-standing, psychologically inflected agent.”22 His works give vivid physical reality to individual dogs and dog breeds; they engage imaginatively with the psychological complexities and moral ambiguities of canine existence in companionship with a species claiming “mastery” over them—a moral ambiguity that perhaps Titian also projected onto his understanding of the violent behaviors of humans.

Titian, The Flaying of Marsyas, probable date ca. 1570s, oil on canvas, 86 5⁄8 × 80 5⁄8".

The mythological violence painted by Titian cannot be divorced from real violence in his sixteenth-century world. For instance, the mode of death depicted in The Flaying of Marsyas has been linked, albeit controversially, with the flaying alive of the Venetian commander Marcantonio Bragadin after the Ottoman siege of Famagusta in 1571.23 Particularly given how the dogs in Titian’s mythological pictures, clearly painted from living models, appear like little eruptions of contemporary reality within scenes of fantasy, Titian’s evocation of death by dog in the Actaeon myth may well be similarly shot through with contemporary resonance. Indeed, it is surprising—especially given its commission by Philip, so-called King of the New World (novi orbis rex)—that Titian’s picture of a mythic hunter “whose dogs greedily lapped their master’s blood” (canes satiatae sanguine erili) has not been considered in relation to the devouring dogs that haunt the earliest accounts of the Spanish incursion into the Americas. Such dogs figure on either side of the sixteenth century’s “polemics of possession”—both in the celebratory conquest chronicles and in the condemnations of the conquistadors’ critics.24 Titian sent the first of the poesie to his patron in 1553, just one year after Bartolomé de las Casas dedicated A Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies, his printed denunciation of the atrocities being committed by Spanish colonists, to the “most high and most mighty Prince of Spain, our Lord the Prince Philip.”25 (Las Casas’s subtly sarcastic dedication notes that Philip might have “never found the time to read” the manuscript version of his text, delivered to the prince ten years prior, or else he had “perhaps allowed it to slip to the back of [his] mind.”)26

Artist unknown, Manuscrito del aperreamiento (Manuscript of the Dogging), 1560, ink and pigment on paper, 16 7⁄8 × 12 1⁄4".

“Dogs took center stage” in Las Casas’s tract, as Bénédicte Boisseron emphasized in her recent book Afro-Dog, a brilliant study of how Black life was both pitted against and identified with animal life in the Americas from the earliest phases of colonization and enslavement to the civil rights movement and beyond. Las Casas established a “repetitive and almost compulsive pattern of . . . stories of dogs eating humans,” creating what would become, in the sadistic sympathy of the European imaginary, the “predominant emblem of [colonial] atrocity”: the “image of dogs chasing and eating slaves” and Indigenous Americans.27 The figuration of this emblem occurred on both sides of the Atlantic. The Lienzo de Tlaxcala (Tlaxcala Canvas), painted circa 1552 by a Tlaxcalteca artist from the central Mexican state, which allied with the Spanish invaders to overthrow the Aztec empire in 1521, depicts a mastiff with a huge pink tongue and pronounced penis marching alongside Spanish and Tlaxcalan soldiers toward the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. Another work exactly contemporaneous with Titian’s poesie cycle is the so-called Manuscrito del aperreamiento (Manuscript of the Dogging). Painted by a Nahua artist on European paper in the Mesoamerican city of Cholula in 1560, the Manuscrito del aperreamiento depicts Hernán Cortés presiding over a kneeling Spaniard who holds the leash of a chained dog mauling the high priest, or Tlalchiachteotzin, of Cholula, whose cape of feathers is soaked by a necklace of gushing blood. Six Cholulan noblemen in chains await the same treatment.28 Two decades after Philip received Titian’s Diana and Actaeon, Theodore de Bry published one of the most widely circulated images of Spanish “dogging” in the fourth volume of America (1594), his popular compendium of engravings imagining European exploits in the “New World.” The image, captioned Balboa casts the Indians brought together for the unspeakable sin of sodomy, to be torn to pieces by dogs, represents an infamous incident, dating to the year 1513, when Vasco Núnez de Balboa, en route to becoming the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean, deputized his companion animals to punish a group of Indigenous men for their perceived sexual violations. The print shows six canine co-colonists—perhaps including Balboa’s famous alano Leoncico (“little lion”), who was sired by Becarillo (“little bull calf”), the equally famous dog of Ponce de León—mauling four naked men on the ground in front of a daintily-standing-by audience of eight clothed Europeans.29

Detail of a ca. 1892 lithograph reproduction of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala (Tlaxcala Canvas), ca. 1552.

Much as the “King of the New World” may have wanted such violent practices “to slip to the back of [his] mind,” Philip, the intended recipient of Diana and Actaeon as well as the addressee of Las Casas, could not have been ignorant of these colonial canine associations. They may or may not have been conscious for Titian, though historically, they could have been, given Venice’s position as Europe’s publishing headquarters and hence its “main clearinghouse . . . of New World information.”30 Certainly, it could be argued that the presence of Diana’s Afro-descended female attendant—whose skin Titian deliberately changed from white to black in a late revision of the composition—obliquely acknowledged the ongoing process of American colonization, which involved, in addition to the large-scale seizure of territories and the violent subjugation of Indigenous Americans, the importation of enslaved Africans, a practice that accelerated during Philip’s reign.31 Moreover, small dogs like the one accompanying Diana, as Beusterien has stressed, carried strong New World associations.32 It is hardly surprising that Titian would have found an evocation of geography in the myth of Diana and Actaeon, given the way Actaeon’s discovery of naked virgins resonates with Europe’s consistent sexualization of its initial encounter with the New World. This ubiquitous trope is epitomized in a famous late-sixteenth-century poem by John Donne, “To His Mistress Going to Bed,” in which the vision of a female lover’s unclothed body prompts the exclamation “O my America! My new-found-land.”

Theodore de Bry, Balboa casts the Indians brought together for the unspeakable sin of sodomy, to be torn to pieces by dogs, 1594, engraving, 6 1⁄4 × 7 3⁄4". From America, 1590–1634.

But Titian—in contrast to Donne, who permits the lover-conqueror to gloat, “How blest am I in this discovering thee!”—imagines not blessings but a curse for the discoverer. Diana and Actaeon is a role-reversing picture. Titian’s doubled Adonis-Actaeon figure—Venus and Adonis’s hunter-adventurer, a would-be conquistador—inadvertently (like Columbus) “discovers” virgins, or virgin territory, presented as just across a body of water. For his discovery, Diana subjects the intruder to a contrapasso, inflicting an emblematically colonial mechanism of punishment. Moreover, quite significantly, she inflicts a punishment at times enacted by the Spanish in a symbolically sexualized manner, as a means of enforcing compulsory heterosexuality and imposing their culturally specific norms of “virile” masculinity.33 

In Afro-Dog, Boisseron poses a fundamental question about crime and culpability: “As an accessory, should the dog share the burden of the crime?” For Boisseron, this question touches on the dog’s historical status as “an accessory to racial discrimination,” its entrapment within a historical dynamic of American conquest and enslavement in which “the [European] human and the [imported, large breed] dog compound[ed] each other’s constructed viciousness in a mutual ‘becoming against.’” As she argues, all of that history is “not the responsibility of the dog,” and yet “one may still question the liability of the dog in this bloody mess.”34 Whether or not it can be said that Titian was deliberately evoking colonial violence in his poesie, he was certainly reckoning with questions of culpability, and, more specifically, with the culpability of parties whose full answerability for their actions is ostensibly in doubt.

The figure of Actaeon’s dog haunts the subsequent poesie, in which Titian asks the viewer to consider the aftermath of Actaeon’s violent death from the perspective of his canine murderer.35 This aftermath also marks the moment when Titian’s treatment of animal figures takes on a new degree of indecipherability. (Here, I am bracketing consideration of Perseus and Andromeda, which was painted out of sequence and is to my eye less significant in developing the themes of the two final poesie.)36 In Venus and Adonis and Diana and Actaeon, dogs physically underline actions and clarify emotional impulses of human protagonists; they function much like the colorful swags and gossamer ribbons Titian deploys as “emotional and narrative intensifier[s].”37 Following Diana and Actaeon, the function of animals shifts. In Diana and Callisto and The Rape of Europa, certain animals begin to work more like mitigators or, better, ambiguifiers, complicating any effort to pin these pictures down in terms of their exculpations or indictments. They look out of the pictures in the conventional posture of “choric figures, affective guides to response,” but fail to legibly guide the viewer.38 

Titian, Diana and Callisto (detail), 1556–59, oil on canvas, 73 5⁄8 × 80 1⁄2".

The dog turning out to face the viewer in Diana and Callisto is a case in point. This dog, whose distinctive facial markings denote him as the animal following behind Actaeon in the prior composition, appears alongside a taupe greyhound in a sleeping sphinx posture, his tongue out to lap at Diana’s sacred spring water—the water the goddess orders Callisto not to “pollute” with her stained, sexually violated body.39 The greyhound’s red-and-gold studded collar, matching the one on the pointer in the pendant picture, clearly marks him as a former member of Actaeon’s pack. The presence of Actaeon’s dogs among Diana’s nymphs raises certain questions about canine morality (or amorality) in relation to canine nature and nurture. In Apollodorus’s pre-Ovidian narration of the myth, Killbuck, Wildtooth, Spot, Savage, and all the rest fall into deep, unrelenting mourning after Actaeon’s murder, searching in vain for their lost master.40 Titian evokes but also calls into question that trope of dogged fidelity. The greyhound appears happy as a clam, Actaeon long forgotten; in his apparent contentment under Diana’s domain, the greyhound conveys canine subjection to immediate sensory impulses and the external influence of a master (or mistress), factors that would seem to pose the dog as amoral. The pointer, however, is a more indecipherable figure. He can be read as uncomprehending and oblivious, like his companion. Yet something in his gaze, and his hung head, telegraphs sadness.

It is a distinctive peculiarity of Titian’s poesie that “manly courage” appears less as an internal property of the human man than as a displacement of his will or impulses onto animal surrogates.

Whose side are the dogs on? Has Diana tamed and claimed them? Made them her spoils of gender war, living signs of her triumph over Actaeon? It is unclear whether we are to read the pointer staring out of the picture, surrounded by hunting weapons, as a potential agent of Diana’s retributive justice, a violent force held in reserve that might, in a moment, be unleashed to chase Callisto when she—just like Actaeon, and wearing nearly identical orange buskins—is banished to the surrounding woods. The nymph’s arm, supporting her weight as she sits on the ground in front of the pointer, can look like an improvised gate, placed there to halt the animal momentarily until Diana bids him give chase. At the same time, that arm conveys a sense of the dog’s entrapment, as if he were being held against his will, as if Diana and her band had made him their captive and victim or, perhaps more than anything, made him a victim of himself—a victim of the violent training he received from his master, and by extension a victim of his own intrinsic dog nature.

The pointer’s stare out of Diana and Callisto raises all of these conundrums of interpretation with respect to the story of the prior pendant picture. It also necessarily comments on the mythological event transpiring on the canvas in which it appears. Diana and Callisto—which subtly refers back to Danaë’s insemination by shower, with a stone putto pouring a loaded stroke of lead-white fountain water down its center—is the poesia that presents the darkest view of rape by far. The picture acknowledges and condenses into a single “pregnant moment” rape’s shattering aftereffects: for Callisto, shame and secrecy, the unwanted metamorphosis of her body through pregnancy, the ostracism of her female peers, Diana’s banishment. (After Callisto is banished, Jupiter’s wife, Juno, takes yet more vengeance upon her, punishing her husband’s infidelity by punitively transforming Callisto into an ugly bear. Decades later, when Callisto’s son by Jupiter is hunting and almost shoots her, the god finally intervenes with a compensatory transformation: Callisto and her son become the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.)

How does the pointer relate to this story of rape? One has the impulse to read knowingness into his canine visage; his is the only face in the picture that looks outward to meet our gaze, and the only face that seems to register a pathos commensurate with Callisto’s fate. Actaeon’s pointer can be read as expressing sympathy for her predicament. But also, perhaps, his guilty look bears upon what was done to her. For throughout the poesie, hunting dogs have served, after all, as a proxy for masculinity. And in Diana and Callisto—the only painting in the cycle where divine or human men are absent—Actaeon’s two dogs appear as the only male bodies in the picture.

Titian, The Rape of Europa, 1559–62, oil on canvas, 70 1⁄8 × 80 3⁄4".

“GENTLEMEN, WOMAN IS an animal that micturates once a day, defecates once a week, menstruates once a month, parturiates once a year and copulates whenever she has the opportunity.” A nonpareil sentence, courtesy of W. Somerset Maugham, quoted as damning evidence in Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse (1987).41 We have grown accustomed to feminist critiques revolving around the notion that patriarchy entails the animalization of women. These include critiques of the crudest kind of symptomatic logic put in the crosshairs by Dworkin, as well as recent condemnations of more subtle forms of animalization: for instance, the notion that male dominance enforces itself by training women with rewards and punishments to subordinate their autonomy of will, like domestic animals. Down Girl, the foretitle of moral philosopher Kate Manne’s widely read 2017 book The Logic of Misogyny, is apparently in part a reference to a command lovingly obeyed by Panko, the author’s female dog, who, according to Manne, can thrive under conditions of “rule following” that she, as a “human being,” cannot.42

Perhaps less attention has been paid to the reverse equation, so powerfully materialized in the poesie of Titian: the animalization of men (by men) as an alibi or enabling fiction.43 In closing, I will turn to the poesie’s concluding picture, in which, I venture, Titian transposes the outward gaze of Actaeon’s guilty dog onto a divine rape perpetrator, who now looks out toward us not in the aftermath of violence but in the act.

The Rape of Europa—which Titian referred to simply as “Europa and the Bull”—dramatizes a moment in the life of a mythical Phoenician princess whose identity would be forever memorialized in the naming of a powerful place. The myth of Europa’s capture and transcontinental transport is one in which, importantly, animality serves as a mask of innocence. To trick Europa, Jupiter assumes the guise of a particularly gentle, attractive bull, joining the herds of her father’s cattle. In Ovid’s telling, Europa is charmed by this unthreatening creature. She pets it and twines its horns with wreaths of flowers. When the animal reclines in front of her, she sits on its back, and the bull takes sudden flight, running out to sea and swimming to Crete, where, reaching shore, he rapes her, impregnating her with twin sons, Minos and Rhadamanthus, who become the founders of Minoan and Cycladic—and by extension European, as the myth contends—civilization.

Paolo Veronese, The Rape of Europa, 1570, oil on canvas on wood panel, 23 × 27 1⁄2". Photo: The National Gallery, London.

Titian’s seaborne treatment of the subject was idiosyncratic in its absence of any outward indications—save the bull’s floral crown—of Europa’s complicity in her capture. This complicity, hinted at in the myth itself, is played up by other sixteenth-century painters, such as Veronese, who invariably portray Europa onshore before her abduction, pampering and making a pet of the bull, crowning him with flowers, perhaps nestling in his lap as he licks her foot. In contrast to these tranquil on-land idylls, Titian’s painting is a rendering of the kidnapping. It is a scene of frantic kinetic agitation that seems to unfold in lumbering slow motion. The bull—a strikingly lifelike creature probably based on a closely studied model—heaves Europa’s body across the deep toward an impending storm cloud. Europa, supine, balances precariously on the bull’s back in an ungainly twisting pose, with her legs open and her knees bent to keep her toes out of the water, where a sea monster swims beneath her. She clings to one of her kidnapper’s horns while turning back in the direction of the shoreline, where her friends and family recede into the distance and dissolve into the thinnest layer of paint. Europa’s eyes roll back in her head so that only the whites are visible, as if she were on the precipice of losing consciousness, her face caught in the dark shadow cast by her arm, from which waves a fluttering coral silk that reads as both a distress signal and a matador’s muleta. The amorini who fly in the sky and ride a dolphin behind her, who at first appear as wanting to come to her aid, focalize her impending violation by directing their gazes toward her inner haunches and pubic triangle.

The painting stabilizes around the gaze of the bull: his furry, furrowed, almost frowning forehead; his round, watery eyes; the blushing pink of his eyelid rims and nose leather, which harmonize with the pink cloth Europa waves. His expression has been perceived variously by interpreters. Nathaniel Silver describes an “almost comic expression of feigned innocence.”44 Mary Reid Kelley perceives a knowingly comic figure, “waiting for the laugh,” “looking at you like, Did you get that?”45 The art historian Jane Nash sees him rather differently, remarking that the bull’s expression is “worried,’” a worry she understands to be directed toward the “ugly, toothy fish swimming at his side,” though she acknowledges it is nonsensical for the “omnipotent Jupiter [to] worr[y] about a relatively powerless fish.”46 Indeed, there is something about the bull that makes him appear pathetic or vulnerable—something that tugs at the emotions. “I go all cutesy about the bull,” Mary Beard admitted in a conversation the Gardner organized around the poesie, in which she described herself as “the perfect dupe of Titian.” Because, as she put it, “that cutesy little bull is a tawdry rapist, and not only that, he’s the tawdry rapist that you find if you scratch the surface of any god . . . or any man.”47 Is Jupiter-as-bull owning up to this? When, as in The Rape of Europa, the figure staring out of the picture is not, as with the outward-gazing pointer in Diana and Callisto, an accessory to the main action but rather the actual perpetrator, the act of facing out equates even more with a facing up, with an admission or acknowledgment of guilt. To offer such in an animal form, however, is to perform a kind of self-expiation: I can’t help myself; it’s in my nature.

The gaze of the bull is a solicitous gaze in the sense that it seems to look to us awaiting punishment, or, perhaps, permission, with respect to both the sexual violence unfolding in the composition and, perhaps more broadly, with respect to the violence of the civilization allegorized in the poesie’s concluding composition. As scholars have stressed, a tiny ship with inflated sails on the horizon line behind Europa echoes the form of her body atop the bull, waving her silk that catches wind. In this concluding image of the cycle––a cycle that is Eurocentric in the most literal sense, with everything leading toward and climaxing in a personification of this “continent”—Titian analogizes Jupiter transporting his captive prey across the sea to a ship sailing across an ocean. This quintessential tool of European power in the early centuries of transatlantic colonization would have been a particularly potent symbol for Philip, whose empire—the largest the world had known—was built upon the technology of oceangoing carracks. The impact of this maritime power is reflected in Titian’s iconography as much as in his works’ material structure; the technical revolution in oil painting brought about by the new support of canvas, which Titian pushed forward through his innovative handling of the medium, was born in his hometown of Venice in part because of the availability of the fabric in a city of sailmakers.

And if Europa is the sail/canvas, Titian is the bull/ship: The painter plants a sign of himself and his implement in the body of Europa’s captor. It’s no coincidence that the bull’s long, rippling tail, flying out in a sinuous line between Europa’s bare feet to end in a wild tassel, carries both an obvious sexual symbolism and an allusion to the painter’s brush, that thing “born . . . from the bristle or tail hair.”48 

Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen is acting director of the Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. Her first book, Modern Art and the Remaking of Human Disposition, was released last November by University of Chicago Press. 


1. John Beusterien, in a study that has informed my interpretation, emphasizes the importance of a highly gendered “big–small dog discursive tradition” in the early-modern period, which is pertinent to Titian’s cycle of pictures. See Canines in Cervantes and Velázquez: An Animal Studies Reading of Early Modern Spain (Farnham, UK: Routledge, 2013), 64.

2. Titian, knowingly or not, reversed the order of stories he drew from in the Metamorphoses, where Callisto’s story appears in Book II, before Actaeon’s in Book III.

3. Maria H. Loh, Titian’s Touch: Art, Magic and Philosophy (London: Reaktion Books, 2019), 229. She also asserts that “Titian’s spirit animal was undoubtedly a dog,” 18.

4. See “Selected Correspondence,” in Titian: Love, Desire, Death, ed. Matthias Wivel (London: National Gallery Company, 2020), 194–203.

5. For the representation of this commonplace concept in painted mythological cycles for princes, see Margaret D. Carroll, “The Erotics of Absolutism: Rubens and the Mystification of Sexual Violence,” Representations, no. 25 (1989): 3–30.

6. Titian himself also never saw the works together; he worked in Venice, never traveling to Spain, and sent the pictures piecemeal as he completed them. In his letters to Philip, he assumes they will be hung in a single camerino. It is possible that Philip never saw them or hung them together.

7. See Aneta Georgievska-Shine, “Titian, Europa, and the Seal of the Poesie,” Artibus et Historiae 28, no. 56 (2007): 177–85.

8. “On the Representation of Sexual Violence in Current Exhibitions, with Resources for Survivors and Supporters” www.gardnermuseum .org/exhibition/women-myth-power/representation-sexual-violence. Predictably, this statement attracted scorn from the kinds of cultural theorists accustomed to inveighing against “the triumph of political correctness in art history” by means of such metaphors as “The Rape of the Masters.” Roger Kimball, “The Rape of the Masters,” The New Criterion 22, no. 4 (2003): 28; and Roger Kimball, “Killing Art,” American Greatness, August 14, 2021, amgreatness.com/2021/08/15/killing-art/. Also predictably, such writers seized on the whiff of contradiction they detected in the museum’s motivations, which, according to The Federalist, wanted to “celebrate the paintings but also engage in pearl-clutching about the Renaissance patriarchy,” Jonathan S. Tobin, “Putting Trigger Warnings on Great Masterpieces Misses the Point of Art,” The Federalist, September 2, 2021, thefederalist.com/2021/09/02/putting-trigger-warnings-on-great-masterpieces-misses-the-point-of-art/.

It is worth noting that Titian’s textual source for the poesie has become one of the touchstones of debates about the necessity or misguidedness of trigger warnings on American college campuses. In 2015, Columbia University students singled out the Metamorphoses as emblematic of a broader need for content flagging in the school’s required “Great Books” courses, owing to its “vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault.” See Kai Johnson, Tanika Lynch, Elizabeth Monroe, and Tracey Wang, “Our Identities Matter in Core Classrooms,” Columbia Spectator, April 30, 2015, www.columbiaspectator.com/opinion/2015/04/30/our-identities-matter-core-classrooms/. For some of the copious commentary sparked by this op-ed, see Eliana Dochterman, “Columbia Undergrads Say Greek Mythology Needs a ‘Trigger Warning,’” Time, May 15, 2015, time.com/3860187/columbia-trigger-warning-greek-mythology-metamorphoses/, and Katy Waldman, “Reading Ovid in the Age of #MeToo,” New Yorker, February 12, 2018, www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/reading-ovid-in-the-age-of-metoo.

9. I am referring, respectively, to the audio responses recorded by the art historians Shawon Kinew and Jill Burke. In a further exploration of the question raised by Burke, writer Hilton Als composed and performed a dramatic monologue considering the poesie “from the future Queen’s perspective.” Other responses to works in the gallery were recorded by Helga Davis, Matisse DuPont, Johnette Marie Ellis, Steve Locke.

10. The US State Department’s updated definition of rape is “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim,” “An Updated Definition of Rape,” US State Department, January 6, 2012, www.justice.gov/archives/opa/blog/updated-definition-rape. In Titian’s Italy, the crime of rape was typically only prosecuted if the violated party was a virgin and it was classified as defloratio or stuprum—theft of virginity, which was a property crime against a woman’s father or male guardian. See Elizabeth S. Cohen, “The Trials of Artemisia Gentileschi: A Rape as History,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 31, no. 1 (2000): 47–75.

11. Erwin Panofsky, Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic (New York: New York University Press, 1969), 152.

12. I take the translation of virtus as “manly courage” from Frank Justus Miller’s Loeb Classical Library translation of the Metamorphoses. The associative cluster virtusvirvis, including its links to sexual force, is spelled out clearly in the seventh-century etymologies of Isidore of Seville. “A man (vir) is so called, because in him resides greater power (vis) than in a woman—hence also ‘strength’ (virtus) received its name—or else because he deals with a woman by force (vis),” in The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, trans. Stephan A. Barney et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 242. See also Myles Anthony McDonnell, Roman Manliness: Virtus and the Roman Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). For the tendency to interpret Venus and Adonis as a moral choice between voluptas and virtus and to identify it simply as “Adonis,” see Luba Freedman, “The Vainly Imploring Goddess in Titian’s Venus and Adonis,” in Titian: Materiality, Likeness, Istoria, ed. Joanna Woods-Marsden (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2007), 83–96, 93.

13. Canines in Cervantes and Velázquez, 62. Beusterien attributes to the alano “the status of the Spaniard’s ‘best friend’ in the sense it was a projection of growing masculine and national fantasies, particularly as co-protagonist with butchers in bullfighting, but also with nobleman hunters and conquistadors,” 56.

14. For Solomon, see Juan Rafael de la Cuadra Blanco, “King Philip of Spain as Solomon the Second: The Origins of Solomonism of the Escorial in the Netherlands,” in The Seventh Window: The King’s Window Donated by Philip II and Mary Tudor to Sint Janskerk in Gouda (1557), ed. Wim de Groot (Hilversum, Netherlands: Verloren, 2005), 169–80, 173.

15. There is disagreement among experts about which of the extant versions of Danaë Titian produced for Philip. The exhibition’s organizers embraced the view that it was the one now in London’s Wellington Collection and therefore exhibited that version. Charles Hope and others continue to believe Philip was given the Prado’s version. I agree with Hope that the Prado Danaë is finer in its execution; furthermore, the sleeping toy spaniel at Danaë’s side in that version is echoed by the toy dog that accompanies Diana in a subsequent poesia, an echo in keeping with Titian’s evident attention to interpictorial development through animal iconography across the other poesie. See www.theartnewspaper.com/2020/03/13/titians-poesie-reunited-at-londons-national-gallerybut-is-it-with-the-right-danae.

16. For a reading of the Diana–Actaeon episode as presupposing Diana’s knowledge of prior rapes told of in the Metamorphoses, particularly of nymphs in her retinue, see John Heath, “Diana’s Understanding of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses,’” Classical Journal 86, no. 3 (1991): 233–43.

17. Beusterien, 61.

18. Michael Glover, Thrust: A Spasmodic Pictorial History of the Codpiece in Art (New York: Zwirner Books, 2019), 27–28. Titian’s portrait of Charles V was a copy of an earlier version by Jakob Seisenegger, to which Titian made a key revision. As Sarah Cohen brilliantly points out in a forthcoming book, Titian cropped out the belly of the dog in Seisenegger’s portrait, where prominent teats marked the dog as female, “thus masculinizing the two subjects as a couple.” See Sarah Cohen, Picturing Animals in Early Modern Europe: Art and Soul (Turnhout, Belgium: Harvey Miller/Brepols, forthcoming), 82. The lack of sexual dimorphism in dogs (beyond subtle differences in size) means that, unless sexual organs are pictured, their genders are not readily visible and are thus much more open to socially contingent contextual cues and inferences.

19. Simona Cohen, Animals as Disguised Symbols in Renaissance Art (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2008), 162.

20. See Sarah Cohen, Picturing Animals in Early Modern Europe, 90. Cohen’s reading of this picture profoundly illuminates this crucial figural pair in the lower right corner, which Titian reworked repeatedly to a point of deliberately unresolved perfection. She notes, among other things, how the dog’s limbs fuse with the bodies of other figures around him and how the satyr-dog pair push forward a tendency in Titian’s painting for the viewer to be “engaged as a physical witness by a dog.” On my reading here, this aspect of The Flaying of Marsyas develops a strategy already crystallized in the poesie.

21. Cohen, Animals as Disguised Symbols in Renaissance Art, 159. 

22. Cohen, Picturing Animals in Early Modern Europe, 79.

23. See Loh, Titian’s Touch, 218–19.

24. I take this phrase from Rolena Adorno, The Polemics of Possession in Spanish American Narrative (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).

25. The published Brief Relation of 1552 transcribes the speech Las Casas read in 1542 at the Council of the Indies, which was delivered to the prince in a manuscript version. “Polemics is the abiding trait of all Spanish-colonial-era writings, and it was because of polemics and ongoing controversies that the Council of Castile and the Council of the Indies, under the leadership of Philip II, saw fit to monitor and control the publication and dissemination of writings about the Indies, especially from 1556 onwards,” Adorno, 13. It is also significant that Titian’s commencement of the poesie cycle coincides exactly with the Valladolid debate (1550–51), in which Las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, in front of a junta of fourteen legal scholars and theologians, formally debated whether the Spanish had a just right of war in the Americas, whether Indigenous Americans were inferior to the Europeans, and whether it was therefore legitimate to subjugate them by violent force. The debate ended inconclusively; the junta refrained from announcing a winner, and both Las Casas and Sepúlveda claimed victory.

26. Bartolomé de las Casas, A Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies, Open Anthology of American Literature, pressbooks.online.ucf.edu/aml3031/chapter/bartolome-de-las-casas/. 

27. Bénédicte Boisseron, Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 84.

28. The murder depicted in the manuscript looks back on the aftermath of the destruction of Tenochtitlan in 1521, when Cortés was operating out of Coyoacán, where these executions are recorded as having taken place. See Lori Boornazian Diel, “Manuscrito del Aperreamiento (Manuscript of the Dogging): A ‘Dogging’ and Its Implications for Early Colonial Cholula,” Ethnohistory 58, no. 4 (October 1, 2011): 585–611; Lori Boornazian Diel, “The Spectacle of Death in Early Colonial New Spain in the Manuscrito del Aperreamiento,” in “Death and Afterlife in the Early Modern Hispanic World,” ed. John Beusterien and Constance Cortez, special issue, Hispanic Issues 7 (2010): 144–63. There are also images of Spanish dogging in works that predate the moment of Titian’s poesie, such as the Lienzo de Quauhquechollan and Lienzo de Analco (both ca. 1530s).

29. These murders, reported to have targeted a group of men including the brother of the king in the village of Quarequa, are first recorded by the Italian conquest chronicler Pietro Martire d’Anghiera, in De orbe novo decades (Alcalá, 1516). For a rich discussion of de Bry’s print, see Jonathan Goldberg, Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 179–222. For the history of Spanish-conquest canines, see Abel Alves, The Animals of Spain: An Introduction to Imperial Perceptions and Human Interaction with Other Animals, 1492–1826 (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2011), 149–85; the most comprehensive information about conquest canines is contained in a volume that is appalling in its callous and triumphalist tone, John Grier Varner and Jeannette Johnson Varner, Dogs of the Conquest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983). The use of dogs as instruments for the violent control of Indigenous populations dates to the very earliest phases of colonization in the Americas—Christopher Columbus is reported to have used dogs in this manner in 1494 in present-day Jamaica.

30. Elizabeth Horodowich describes sixteenth-century Venice as “a city of the Americas: not so much in its visual, material, or even commercial forms, but in its print culture and, more significantly, in the mental universe of its learned citizens and their ways of thinking about the wider world.” See The Venetian Discovery of America: Geographic Imagination in the Age of Encounters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 3, 5.

31. Here I am developing Beusterien, who observes that “one may . . . interpret [Diana and Actaeon] through a colonial lens. Actaeon and his large dog ‘discover’ Diana, accompanied by an African servant and small dog,” Canines in Cervantes and Velázquez, 61. For evidence of a pattern of association between the iconography of Diana and Actaeon and perceptions and allegorical representations of America that postdate Titian, see Mia L. Bagneris, “Brown-Skinned Booty, or Colonising Diana: Mixed-Race Venuses and Vixens as the Fruits of Imperial Enterprise,” in Colouring the CaribbeanRace and the Art of Agostino Brunias (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2018), 136–81.

32. He observes: “The early modern period in Europe bred and designed small and large dogs with gendered and ennobling symbolics. Europe represented the Spanish dog, the ‘spaniel,’ as small, while, in contrast, Spain represented the American dog as small. The Spanish invested the big dog with knightly, masculine values and associated the small dog with women and outsiders, most especially native Americans. Spaniards arrived to America with their own large pure-bred soldier dogs and considered American dogs as gozques, a term that implied both smaller size and impurity of casta,” Canines in Cervantes and Velázquez, 58. Boisseron emphasizes, following Marion Schwartz’s A History of Dogs in the Early Americas, “that Columbus found small, nonbarking dogs that he used as company and, occasionally, as food, during his trip to the Antilles. The indigenous Tainos called them Aons,” while, by contrast, “large mastiffs were first imported to the Americas in order to track recalcitrant Indians and later on, during slavery, to chase runaway slaves. This type of canine importation was prevalent in the history of the Spanish, French, and English colonies in the Americas, from the Conquest to the plantation era. Based on what we know now, it is safe to say that large dogs were imported to the Americas as ‘mean dogs,’ and their role was to discipline the ‘bad,’ disobedient black,” Boisseron, 48.

33. Here it is not irrelevant that Jupiter’s seduction of Callisto in the form of Diana became a very popular lesbian subject. See, for instance, Rubens’s Jupiter and Callisto, 1613.

34. Boisseron, 68.

35. Titian, once again, reversed the order of myths as told in the Metamorphoses. The poesie construct a sequential narrative in which Actaeon’s punishment precedes Callisto’s. He began Diana and Actaeon first, as the catalogue suggests; it was meant to be hung on the left side of the pair, so that the pairing conformed to the left-to-right sequence of text. The presence of a stag-hunt scene on the fountain in Diana and Callisto also serves as a recall of a prior incident. And as Mathias Wivel has already observed, “Actaeon’s hound appears to mirror the one huddled among the nymphs behind Diana in Callisto,” Titian: Love, Death, Desire, 160.

36. Perseus and Andromeda was the third poesia Titian painted, but its pairing was not resolved until The Rape of Europa was completed. As the catalogue notes, Perseus and Andromeda is a far less confident composition than the other poesie, and it bears traces of far more extensive compositional changes; see Lelia Packer, “Perseus and Andromeda,” in Titian: Love, Death, Desire, 134–45.

37. Natasha Seamen, “The Problematic Allure of Titian’s Poesie,” Hyperallergic, September 23, 2021, hyperallergic.com/678509/the-problematic-allure-of-titian-poesie-paintings/.

38. David Rosand, “‘Most Musical of Mourners, Weep Again!’: Titian’s Triumph of Marsyas,” Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics 17, no. 3 (2010): 17–43, 21.

39. Rebecca Zorach crucially points out that the word used in Italian translations of Ovid to describe Callisto’s moral stain, for instance Lodovico Dolce’s 1553 translation, is macchia (“corpo macchiato”); the word carries deep resonance with Titian’s late technique, known as pittura di macchia. See “Despoiled at the Source,” Art History 22 (1999), 244–69, 262.  

40. In Apollodorus’s telling, the dogs are finally soothed when the centaur Chiron fashions for them an Actaeon-effigy.

41. Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 260.

42. Kate Manne, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017), 30. The book has much unexplored overlap with Yi-Fu Tuan’s classic study Dominance and Affection: The Making of Pets (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984). Manne’s newer book presses on with this analogy, comparing misogyny to the “shock collar worn by a dog to keep them behind [an] invisible fence.” See Kate Manne, Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women (New York: Penguin, 2020), 11.

43. Elizabeth Schambelan’s stunning recent analysis of the retracted Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” in relation to mythic tale types and real and mythic ancient practices of male initiation involving “becoming a dog/wolf,” is a notable exception that is deeply relevant to my analysis here. See “The League of Men,” n+1 28 (Spring 2017), www.nplusonemag.com/issue-28/essays/league-of-men/

44. Nathaniel Silver, “The Rape of Europa,” in Titian: Love, Death, Desire, 168–75, 171.

45. Mary Reid Kelley in “The Larger Conversation: Creative Collision,” Isabella Stewart Garnder Museum, October 6, 2021, video, 55:10, www.youtube.com/watch?v=stCUTByZ_E8.

46. Jane C. Nash, Veiled ImagesTitian’s Mythological Paintings for Philip II (Philadelphia: Art Alliance Press, 1985), 39.

47. Mary Beard, quoted in “Titian’s Women: Europa, Andromeda and Beyond,” Isabella Stewart Garndner Museum, November 11, 2021, video, 81:29, www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyD-6xGxYA0.

48. Agnolo Bronzino, “Del penello” (On the Paintbrush, 1538), as cited in Deborah Parker, “Towards a Reading of Bronzino’s Burlesque Poetry,” Renaissance Quarterly 50, no. 4 (Winter 1997): 1,011–44, 1,025.