While out hunting, Actaeon accidentally happens upon the secret bathing place of Diana, chaste goddess of the hunt. Titian explores the dramatic impact of his intrusion through a dynamic arrangement of figures, sparkling light, intense colour and animated brushwork.
Actaeon's fate is foretold by the stag's skull on the plinth and the skins of Diana’s former prey hanging above her head. The conclusion of the story is shown in the National Gallery's painting 'The Death of Actaeon'. The outraged goddess immediately avenges herself by transforming Actaeon into a stag to be devoured by his own hounds.
These pictures are part of a series of famous mythological paintings by Titian. They were painted for King Phillip II of Spain when the artist was at the height of his powers. The subjects were based on the Roman poet Ovid's Metamorphoses - Titian himself referred to them as ‘poesie’ (poems).
Titian planned 'Diana and Actaeon' and 'Diana and Callisto' as a pair and the two works have always hung together. The National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland have acquired both so that they remain together in perpetuity.