Diana and her nymphs surprised by Actaeon
oil on panel, 51.7×62.5 cm
The story illustrated by this painting is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (III, 138-252); the young hunter Actaeon, who comes across Diana and her nymphs in various stages of undress while they are bathing in a watercourse, is turned into a stag by the goddess as a punishment, and ends up by being torn to pieces by his own dogs, who fail to recognize their master.
The splendid composition is one of the most felicitous creations of the painter Francesco Albani, a pupil of Calvaert in his native city Bologna who later also worked in Rome where he became a leading figure of Classicism together with the Carracci cousins, Domenichino and Guido Reni. In fact, several versions of this work are known, among which the one that has until now been deemed to have been executed wholly by the artist is found at the Louvre in Paris (inv. 15); the execution of this painting, which is practically the same size as the one presented by us but which is painted on copper, has been dated to the first quarter of the 17th century. A noteworthy specimen on canvas, belonging to the Kress collection, now hangs in the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art (see F. Rusk Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress collection, Italian school, XVI-XVII century, London, 1973, p. 77). According to Maurizio Marini the painting presented here is by the hand of the artist himself, and may be dated to a moment close to that of the specimen kept at the Parisian museum. The scholar observes “reconsiderations in the course of the work, which are visible even to the naked eye, in the nymphs in the lower left corner”, a part of the painting which, furthermore, does not seem to have been completely finished.