Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, at the National Gallery, London

Inspiration is a difficult word. Many artists seek it, whilst others deny its existence. The alternative to inspiration is investigation: a laborious approach that sometimes leads to a life’s work. Transcription can be the convenient middle ground between inspiration and investigation.

Titian was a painter during the Renaissance: a period when almost all works of art were transcriptions. Metamorphosis at the National Gallery uses Titian’s re-interpretation of Ovid as a starting point. New contributions from Mark Wallinger, Chris Ofili and Conrad Shawcross brush alongside those of seven choreographers and the Royal Ballet. The result is a complex gathering of fine art, design, musical arrangement and performance.

Diana and her entourage of nymphs are in sharp focus. The Royal Ballet’s nymphs are bruised, lithe and nimble, whilst Titian’s are voluptuous and reclined. Ofili’s Diana is Trinidadian and ephemeral, while Shawcross represents her as a robot with a magic wand. For Wallinger, Diana is real and on the toilet and we are peeping toms.

Titian’s paintings came from a deep and sustained interest in Ovid’s poetry, but the meaning given here is in pure assemblage rather than continuity. Contemporary transcription in the hands of an art historian as curator has resulted in neither conversion nor subversion, but diversion – and some handy commissions.


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