The mystery behind Titian’s Diana masterpiece

The artists responded to the great paintings by Titian of the myth about Diana and Actaeon, which is a visualisation of Ovid’s poem, Metamorphoses. The story is about a hunter who is turned into a stag when he happens across the chaste goddess Diana bathing in a sacred grove with her nymphs. The stag is then torn to pieces by the hunter’s hounds.

What Ofili loved about the original storytelling of the Roman poet was the open-endedness. He claims that the stories which Ovid tells are never quite concluded, although they do have a beginning; a middle and an end. He makes suggestions as to what the reader may think, with visual poetry, teasing the reader.

Ofili started by working on a series of sketches, refining them as he went along. When he was completely happy with his backdrop design it needed to be scaled up to 50 times the size. Ofili claims that he was really excited while being scared at the same time, as his creativity was laid bare.

Ofili could have stopped at this point, handing his designs over to professional set painters to do the job. Not he: Ofili simply wanted to do it all himself and he painted the complete 21 metres by 11 metres backdrop himself, with the help of only two people.

The first of which was a professional set painter, the second helper had a very skilled job, and they were responsible for correctly mixing the paints. The original sketches were scaled up and laid on the floor as a guide. Then Ofili redrew the forms, whilst refining the designs so that they would flow.