They were deemed too racy for the Royal Court of the 16th century. But a trio of paintings by Titian are now revered as among his greatest works – and have been reunited for the first time in more than 200 years for a new exhibition.
Two of the masterpieces were recently sold to the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) and the National Gallery of London from the Duke of Sutherland’s private collection for a “cut- price” £95 million. They are said to be worth two to three times the price.
The three paintings go on show to the public in London from tomorrow.
A spokeswoman for NGS, which will exhibit two of the paintings next year, said: “They are very important works.
“Titian was considered one of the great masters of paintings. They are very valuable masterpieces. You don’t want them ending up in private collections. They were bought for the public. Putting them on show together is very exciting.”
The series of works depict scenes from Greek mythology, telling the story of how the young hunter Actaeon stumbled upon Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt, bathing naked.
In revenge, he was turned into a stag, and torn apart by his own dogs.
A total of six works were created by Titian for King Philip II of Spain in the 16th century.
At the time, they were thought so sexually explicit that they were covered up with a curtain in the presence of the ladies of the Royal Court.
Over the years, they were split up into various private collections. But the National Gallery now owns three, the most recent purchase – Diana and Callisto – being bought in a £45m deal agreed with the Duke of Sutherland in March.
The galleries also saved sister piece Diana and Actaeon in 2009 for £50m.
Both works had been part of the Duke of Sutherland’s massive art collection of Old Masters for more than 100 years.
When they were put up for auction, the galleries made a desperate bid to save them for the nation.
Also on display will be a classically inspired peep show inspired by Titian’s work.
Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger took to Twitter to find six women, all called Diana, willing to take turns to be spied upon by the public while they sit naked in a mocked-up bathroom.
The work, also called Diana, is inspired by the three paintings by Titian, which form the centrepiece of the exhibition.
Visitors to Wallinger’s work can look through peepholes, blinds and a keyhole to catch a glimpse of the women, who perform the role of Diana working in two-hour shifts.
He said: “Diana is about watching and being caught in the act and evolved out of my desire to find a way of representing Diana bathing in a contemporary way.”
He said there were very few rules for what his models could and could not do, but they had to behave “suitably goddess-ish”.
He said finding his Dianas was difficult, adding: “Finally, Twitter was the key that unlocked it.”
The show, called Metamorphosis: Titian, is on at the National Gallery of London from tomorrow until 23 September.