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Danae with Cupid, one of several renderings of the mythic beauty painted by the 16th-century Venetian master Titian, has endured a life on the run. In 1798, as Napoleon approached the city of Naples, the painting was hurried for safekeeping through a secret passageway to a British ship captained by Lord Horatio Nelson, who took it to Palermo. It was secreted to an abbey 145 years later to hide it from approaching Nazis. Now safely back in Naples, Danae with Cupid is one of 300 paintings whose stories are told on the interactive website Mapping Titian, the product of a three-year effort by Jodi Cranston, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of Renaissance art, and a team of students from the CAS history of art and architecture department.
Many of the tales of Titian’s work seem ready-made for Hollywood, but Cranston’s purpose is bigger than entertainment. The art historian says she hopes to help people “visualize one of the most fundamental concerns of the discipline of art history: the interrelationship between an artwork and its changing historical context.”
Created with support from the Kress Foundation and BU’s Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, Mapping Titian allows users to customize collections of paintings and maps that show the movement of the pictures over time. It includes a glossary with short biographies of patrons and collectors of Titian’s pictures and references with a selected bibliography of relevant scholarship.
Putting the website in historic perspective, Cranston sees a prototype that could be applied to artists throughout all history—a Google-sized undertaking with a profound and lasting reward.
“The goal,” says art historian Jodi Cranston, “is to help people visualize the interrelationship between an artwork and its changing historical context.”
In 1798, as Napoleon approached the city of Naples, this painting was hurried for safekeeping to a ship captained by Lord Horatio Nelson and bound for Palermo. Returned to Naples in 1815, Danae with Cupid enjoyed more than a century of peace, until 1943, when it was moved to the abbey at Monte Cassino in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to hide it from Nazi officers. Transported to Berlin, the reclining nude was considered as a likely adornment for the hunting lodge of Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göering, who instead relegated the painting to his bunker at Kurfürst. In 1945 it was liberated by Allied troops, and in 1947 it was returned to Naples. It currently hangs in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples.Follow the painting through history