• 2021.03.31
  • Mythological Passions - Pasiones mitológicas
Since my stroll in the snow earlier this year I had been staying at home, unless there was some need or urgency, but with the coming of spring, I began getting irritable, impatient, just like an insect cooped up underground wanting to emerge. I disregarded the stay-at-home restriction and went out to see the exhibition at the Prado Museum that started recently on March 2, an unnecessary and non-urgent expedition for which I cannot avoid censure.

The title of the exhibition is "Mythological Passions.” Since the museum started out as a royal collection in the first place, it is the Spanish royal family who has been collecting the works that sit at the core of the collection. Among them, Charles V (reigned 1516-1556), who was the Holy Roman Emperor and at the same time the king of Spain, and his son Phillip II (reigned 1556-1598) favored Venetian artists, most notably Titian, who painted Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg.

Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg by Titian used on a box of brandy called "Carlos I," which has helped me out personally quite a lot. The brandy is made by the long-established sherry maker Pedro Domecq. This emperor cum king is also known as “Charles I of Spain and Charles V of Germany (Carlos I de España y V de Alemania).” Although the name of the brandy is “Carlos I,” the portrait on the box is of “Charles V” according to the Prado Museum’s notes on the original painting.

Titian was commissioned by King Phillip II to produce a series entitled Poesías, six works addressing mythological subjects, based on the Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid. The works took him a little over nine years to complete. They were kept in the private chambers of King Phillip II, but later five works went in different directions and now only one is owned by the Prado Museum. The subjects in this series are sensual figures of voluptuous, nude women and goddesses, which he has painted quite freely, and it is said that he pursued the mythological world so he could render them without the constraints of religion.

The sole work from Poesías in the Prado Museum collection

Venus and Adonis (1554)

This is Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, trying to stop her young lover Adonis from going on a dangerous hunt. Here the goddess is painted from the back, and the painting is meant to be viewed as one of a pair of paintings, contrasting against the frontal nude painting of Danae, which I mention below, and this is intended to give the painting a 3D, sculptural feel.

This exhibition is a miraculous opportunity to bring together for the first time in four centuries the five works that had been separated from the painting in the Prado Museum's collection.

Danae (1553), Apsley House, Wellington Collection (London)

This is the first work in the series completed for Phillip II, who commissioned the series. The subject is the scene where Zeus, transformed into golden rain, showers affection on his beloved Danae. The goddess’s naked body is depicted from the front. Titian produced several works on the same subject, and the Prado Musem also owns Danae and the Shower of Gold (1560-1565). This was purchased and added to the royal collection when Velázquez was living in Italy. In this exhibition, these two images of Danae are exhibited side by side.

Perseus and Andromeda (1554 - 1556), Wallace Collection (London)

This portrays the scene where Perseus, born after Zeus' union with Danae in the form of golden rain, saves the Ethiopian princess Andromeda from a monster.

Diana and Actaeon (1556 - 1559)

Jointly owned by the National Gallery (London) and the National Galleries of Scotland (Edinburgh)
This painting portrays the hunter Actaeon peeping at the goddess Diana and her nymphs bathing before being transformed into a deer stag as
punishment. In other words, a classical version of Peeping Tom? Or in Japan, Kametaro Ikeda perhaps?

Diana and Callisto (1556 - 1559)

Jointly owned by the National Gallery (London) and the National Galleries of Scotland (Edinburgh)
This painting portrays Callisto, who is pregnant with the child of Zeus, transformed into the goddess Diana, and is banished and turned into a bear when the fact is revealed. At any rate, Zeus will use any means possible, sometimes turning into golden rain, and sometimes appearing as a woman... What can you say but Zeus is amorous.

The Rape of Europa (1559 - 1562) Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston)

Here the god Zeus is disguised as a white bull and is trying to kidnap the princess Europa. This time he is transformed into a bull. He really is a god with great vigor that Zeus. I wonder if he had been drinking a lot of some nutrient tonic known as the Nectar of the Gods like Yunker Kotei Eki.

The Poesías series is said to have been named by the artist Titian himself. Did he mean to say that he was also a poet? Perhaps the only difference is in the means of expressing the ideas in his mind, whether he uses a brush or a pen, and he could be both a painter and a poet. Which reminds me, poetry and painting have long been the subject of comparison, and the genius Leonardo da Vinci, a contemporary of Titian, left behind the words:
“La pittura è una poesia che si vede e non si sente, e la poesia è una pittura che si sente e non si vede.”
"A painting is a poem that can be seen but not heard, and a poem is a painting that can be heard but not seen.”

Although the exhibition fits into a compact space with a total of 29 works, including Titian’s six Poesías, it has been curated to let visitors appreciate representative works by Renaissance and Baroque (16th and 17th centuries) masters, who used mythological subjects to freely and openly celebrate humanity.

There are restrictions on movement even within Spain, and it is difficult to expect visitors from overseas in these times, so the Prado Museum is in the process of preparing a virtual tour of the exhibition, which should be available in two to three weeks.

Mythological Passions: Titian, Veronese, Allori, Rubens, Ribera, Poussin, Van Dyck, Velázquez
Venue: Prado Museum, Madrid
Dates: Tuesday, March 2 – Sunday, July 4, 2021

This is the exhibition poster at the entrance to the museum. Works by Titian (from left): Actaeon, Perseus, and Diana.

All six works in the series Poesías are scheduled for exhibition in London and Boston after the present exhibition ends in July.
Website for this exhibition at the Prado Museum:


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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