Titian in the National Gallery


The best way – the only sensible way – to listen to this podcast is to bring up, first, the National Gallery’s online reproduction of Ariadne and Bacchus (just do a “search” for Titian – Ariadne and Bacchus) and refer to it as you listen to Helena talk about the painting. And then, come the second half of the podcast, bring up the NG’s online reproduction of Titian’s Noli me Tangere and refer to it as Helena talks about it.


How to put this. For someone like me (David), who knows nothing about art, listening to Helena talk about Titian and these two paintings – Bacchus and Ariadne and Noli me Tangere – well, it’s like coming upon an oasis after a 50-year-long trek across the trackless wastes of the Sahara.

Let me put that another way… you earn your B.A. degree from an American university by enrolling in and passing approximately 40 ‘three credit’ courses over your four year long university ‘career.’ If what Helena does here were “translated” into a university Art History and Criticism course it would be everybody’s favourite course of the 40 they took to get their BA.

Her palette is just so rich…

Who knew, for example, that Titian’s coming from Venice meant that Titian “had the pick of pigments.’

Who knew that “you ‘read’ Bacchus and Ariadne from left to right.”

Who knew that “the sash around Ariadne’s body describes her pirouette.”

Who knew that “Titian had his critics, most notably Michaelangelo.”

Who knew that a guide’s description – “a bearded swarthy man with snakes writhing round his body” – could be as vivid as the figure in the painting.

Who knew about the corona borealis above Ariadne.

Who knew about the little ship on the horizon.

Who knew that Titian was “the king of colours.”

Who knew – until Helena makes us see it – that “the cheetahs are exchanging knowing glances.”

Who knew that “the tree [in Noli me Tangere] divides the painting into two halves’

Who knew about the two “arcs” in Noli me Tangere.  How the one “forms a protective arch.”

Who knew what the x-rays and infrared imagery reveal about Noli me Tangere

Who knew about the World War II history of Noli me Tangere

Who knew about the solace – the comfort, the reassurance – Noli me Tangere has brought to countless people in times of great distress.

Who knew about the barren ground over against the lush pastures in the painting.

And so on…

It’s an astonishingly rich, an eye-opening 41 minutes, this listen. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

You see these paintings with Helena’s eyes. Which means you’ll see things in them that you would never have seen otherwise. You’ll know them, really know them. This will in all likelihood be the single best use of 41 minutes you’ll make this week, maybe this month.

If this podcast made you want to go to the gallery yourself why not take a National Gallery Tour with our expert guides to continue your artistic education?

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