In March 2020 the general public were treated to the opening of a unique display at the National Gallery in London. For the first time ever a series of masterpieces by Titian went on show together – the “Posie”, depicting scenes from classical myths and legends.

The Coronavirus epidemic saw the Gallery close its doors shortly after the opening and it remains to be seen if and when access will re-open before the scheduled closure of the exhibition (in June 2020) and whether or not the dates will be extended.

Titian was one of the great masters of Renaissance art, living a long life (to somewhere between 80 and 100, which was a remarkable age for that period) and enjoying a highly successful and lucrative career, with estimates of over 400 works completed (approximately 300 of which remain in existence).

Titian was a versatile painter and works included landscapes, portraits and religious and mythological scenes. Perhaps he is best known for his use of colour – vivid and vibrant – especially in his early work – and an increasingly loose style as he matured. Together with Giorgione he was recognised as a leader of the 16th century Venetian School. Titian based himself in Venice for most of his career and following the deaths of Giorgione (in 1510) and Bellini (in 1516) Titian emerged as the pre-eminent master of Venetian art.

Titian found favour with many of the most significant figures in Europe and undertook commissions from the Medici, Este, Farnese and Gonzaga families and completed portraits of Emperor Charles V, King Philip II of Spain, King Francis I of France and Pope Paul III. He held a longstanding (although interrupted) commission to paint portraits of successive Doges of Venice and completed 5 in total.

In the latter part of his life Titian worked largely for Philip II of Spain including undertaking a series of mythological paintings. Titian based these largely on works from Ovid and in particular his “Metamorphoses”. The images depict high drama, violence (even rape) but also sensuality and a range of imagery. Titian’s use of colour and his loose and free techniques with paint (which included using his fingers to apply the paint) allowed him to portray the characters, landscapes and textures vividly and with exuberance and yet with great subtlety in capturing a range of emotions. The title of the exhibition – “Love, Desire, Death” accurately reflects the scope of the works.

Titian called these paintings “Posie”, being in his view, equivalent to poems. When each of the works were completed they were sent to his patron in Spain, over a period of time and Titian himself never saw the complete series together in one place.

King Philip had not specified the subject matter for the works and, he and his successors being of a very religious nature and somewhat prudish, gave a number of the works away. Only two now remain in the Prado in Madrid. Others are in London and Boston.

The National Gallery has hung the complete set of Posie together in one room (as originally intended) and for the first time in over 400 years, a remarkable achievement and a dazzlingly display.