The painter Susannah Fiennes continues an occasional column in which she tells us what is happening in great paintings. This month, "Perseus and Andromeda" by Titianby Susannah Fiennes / January 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Perseus and andromeda at the Wallace Collection in London may not be considered one of Titian’s finest works. But it provides a good case study in how to use an abstract pictorial language to dramatise a story. The saga of Perseus’s rescue of Andromeda from the sea monster, on condition that she will be his bride, offered Titian the opportunity of painting the female nude in a dramatic setting. With geometry and colour he defines the relationship between the three characters and creates a theatrical illusion of light and space on the flat surface of the rectangle.
The curtain opens, as it were, with the dynamic figure of Andromeda stretching nearly the height of the picture. She is positioned close to the “surface” of the painting with her left breast and knee appearing almost to touch it. From various points on her body, Titian makes a connection across a horizontal plane to other parts of the painting. In so doing, he asserts the flat surface of the picture while at the same time placing objects in an artificial pictorial space. He establishes a standard grid system of verticals and horizontals. For example, the raised right hand of Andromeda points across to the right foot of Perseus and over to the top of the red cloth on the right. Correspondingly, Andromeda’s right foot is anchored with the help of strategically placed seaweed and shells at an equivalent distance from the bottom of the painting.
Another horizontal plane is established from Andromeda’s bent knee across to where the monster’s head touches the water. This provides the base of a triangle, the tip of which is Perseus’s right foot. The action revolves around this central triangle. Its right side is implied by the angle of Perseus’s right calf and this diagonal is echoed by the slant of Andromeda’s body, forging an immediate link between them.
A further connection between the couple is made by following the vertical movement up through Andromeda’s feet to the end of the monster’s tail, at which point the eye moves across the monster and up through his jaws to the rescuing arm of Perseus.
The dramatic mood of the picture is created by parallels and right angles. The strong diagonal of Andromeda’s body is counteracted by the angle of her right forearm, the fabric across her hips, the upturned back of the monster (which makes a right…