OIL PAINTING: Danae, 1907
Here Klimt tackles a mytological subject. Danae was a legendary princess of Argos. Her father, Acrisius, who had been warned by an oracle that her son would one day kill him, had decided to keep her locked her in a bronze tower away from any male company.
Zeus, who loved Danae, turned himself into a shower of gold and came to the despondent princess through the roof. The shower of gold poured down into her lap; as a result she had a son. When Acrisius discovered Perseus, he locked both mother and son in a chest, and set it adrift on the sea. Eventually Danae and Perseus were rescued.
Later, after many adventures (see Perseus and Andromeda), Perseus returned to Acrisius' kingdom, where he fulfilled the prophecy of the oracle by accidentally killing the king while throwing the discus.
Looking at the Renaissance paintings and at what was produced later, it becomes obvious that more often than not, the exploitation of these myths was done as a way to both express and excuse erotic content (Tintoret, Blanchard or Goltzius) or to expose the charms of wealthy contemporaries (see Portrait of Mlle Lange as Danae by A-L. Girodet). Why otherwise concentrate on that particular episode of the legend? Gossaert's version stands out as perhaps the most faithful illustration of the legend with Danae depicted alone in her bronze room receiving in her lap the shower of gold.
Strangely, the shower of gold is sometimes painted as a shower of gold coins which some old servant hastens to collect (Tintoret, Titian or Van Dyck). What a let down for our amorous god! With the advent of Baroque and Rococco, angels have been added to the picture. Which somewhat dampens the erotic atmosphere of the scene (Titian, Blanchard, Van Dyck and Goltzius).
Closer to us, some of the masters of modern art exploited the theme in their own idiosyncratic ways. In his sensual portrait of Danae, Klimt depicts the imprisoned princess in an amorous embrace with Zeus. True to the legend, the latter is represented as an amorphous stream of gold.
Many other painters like Klimt tackled the subject. They include:
Danae : Corregio, Artemisia Gentileschi, Mabuse, John Waterhouse
, Joachim A. Wtewael, Edward Burne-Jones, Giovanni B. Tiepolo