The Rape of Europa: The Intriguing History of Titian's Masterpiece
The Rape of Europa is a completely novel popular history of art book centering on one of Titian's most celebrated masterpieces. By telling the history of this painting from its origin to the present day, Charles FitzRoy includes fascinating accounts of King Philip II of Spain and how his art collecting reveals a dichotomy at its heart. The painting itself is an extremely erotic description of the famous classical myth based on the account in Ovid's Metamorphoses. It was commissioned as a wedding present for Charles I and his French queen Henrietta Maria, and was later copied by Rubens and exerted a strong influence on Velázquez. In the eighteenth century the painting was given by the King of Spain to the Duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XV. Orleans was the greatest art collector of his day, using the brilliant connoisseur and dealer Pierre Crozat as his agent. At this stage the story becomes one of skullduggery.
The Rape of Europa painting is the most celebrated example of how rich Americans managed to purchase works of art from British collections and how Bernard Berenson made a huge fortune out of authenticating paintings for rich patrons, always purely for profit. This thrilling book is part art history and part detective story, and is an entirely original way of telling a story.
ever since. The Rape of Europa has been the centrepiece of a number of great art collections, but it has also survived a number of near catastrophes. In the mid-eighteenth century the painting might easily have been destroyed by Louis, Duke of Orléans, a religious fanatic who attacked two of the finest mythological works by Correggio, a contemporary of Titian, because he disapproved so strongly of their erotic content. At the end of the century it was fortunate to emerge unscathed from the chaos
other major royal residence to be decorated during this period, was placed under the overall control of the count-duke, who proceeded to fill the interior with Spanish paintings. To demonstrate his powerful position, Olivares placed his portrait by Velázquez beside that of the king, an unheard of liberty. The count-duke was a great admirer of Velázquez, a fellow Andalucian, and hung many of his finest works in the palace: the Surrender of Breda (Prado, Madrid), a major Spanish triumph in the
full advantage of this apathy. He had launched a series of invasions of the Spanish Netherlands which Spain was ill-equipped to prevent. By 1700, Louis’s success meant that France had replaced Spain as the dominant nation in Europe. The Rape of Europa, which had travelled from Venice to Spain, following the rising fortunes of the Habsburg monarchy, was about to move to a resurgent France, where it was to be housed in one of the most splendid palaces in the kingdom. 5 The Dukes of Orléans and
Europa, to Fiesole as usual. I am sending a poor photograph which will suffice if you look patiently to give you an idea. And now, dear Mrs Gardner, I have told you my doleful tale. Forgive me. Get the Europa, and if you decide to get her – by the way she is on canvas, 5ft 10 high, 6ft 8 broad, signed TITIANUS PINXIT – please do not speak of her to any one until she reaches you, so as to spare me with Mrs Warren. Please address Fiesole until June 3. Very sincerely yours Bernard Berenson Won
them, or else considered to be an imitator. But ambition, which is as natural in my art as in any other, urges me to choose a new path to make myself famous, much as the others acquired their own fame from the way that they followed. Titian, of course, was absolutely right to disagree strongly with Michelangelo’s verdict. It was precisely his ability as a colourist as opposed to a draughtsman that was his greatest talent, and one that constitutes his claim to be one of the very greatest Old