The scene: Actaeon, a young hunter, stumbles into a woodland grotto where the goddess Diana is bathing with her nymphs. Horrified at the intrusion, Diana transforms Actaeon into a stag who is chased and killed by his own dogs. Painted around 1556 and drawn from Ovid's "Metamorphoses," a Roman story-poem popular in the Renaissance, Titian's work shows the frailty of human life and the caprice of fate. MARY ABBE
  • Actaeon reacts in horror, his eyes on the stag skull atop the pillar that symbolizes his fate.
  • His faithful hunting dog will soon become his killer.
  • A brilliant crimson sheet adds color and drama.
  • A lion's head atop the arch at left signifies Spain's King Philip II, for whom the work was painted.
  • The half-moon tiara of Diana (right) identifies her as the goddess of the moon. Deer hides hanging in the trees remind us she's also goddess of the hunt.
  • Diana's yapping lapdog adds a human touch in an amusing standoff with Actaeon's huge hound.
  • Black people were a common sight in Venice, and painters often included them for the beautiful contrast of flesh tones.
  • Titian made changes as he worked -- a column in the middle of the painting was originally a tree trunk.
  • The tilted fountain and other distortions of perspective and scale imply a world gone awry.