“Shepherd and Nymph” by Titian. Master’s mistake or image of deceit?

Titian. Shepherd and Nymph
Titian. Shepherd and Nymph. 1570. Art history museum in Vienna. Wikimedia Commons.

Once Titian painted a picture for himself, not for sale. He experimented.

His “Shepherd and Nymph” is one of the most mysterious paintings for me. After all, he depicted the hero with THREE hands! An experiment in the spirit of Pablo Picasso!

You see, the shepherd is holding a pipe with both hands. But at the same time, with one more hand… he hugs the nymph.

Yes, yes, I am sure that this is NOT a woman’s hand. Too big, with sleeves. And in general, she would not be able to turn her out. If you look closely, you can see that the hand goes to the shepherd’s shoulder. Here is a fragment where the hand can be seen up close.

Titian. Shepherd and Nymph (detail)

Honestly, I thought for a long time that Titian simply did not hide the pentimento. This is when the artist decided to change the detail of the painting and paint over it with paint.

That is, at first the Shepherd hugged the nymph. Then the master changed his mind, decided that he should play. But he did not remove the extra hand. And why not, it’s still the painting for yourself.

But the other day, one participant of my course wrote to me that Titian probably didn’t leave his third hand for nothing … maybe the answer should be sought in the love and tragic stories of mythological heroes.

And I found a more plausible explanation!

According to the main version, Titian depicted a love date between Paris and a nymph. He was in love with her until the whole story with Helen and the Trojan War.

But there is an assumption that this is a meeting of Daphnis with a nymph. If you remember, Daphnis, the son of Apollo and one of the nymphs, a fine young man, played the flute well.

He was also an excellent shepherd who managed huge herds of cows. Therefore, he is more suitable for this role.

But having analyzed the myths about Daphnis in detail, I decided that there was NOT a nymph next to him!

Pay attention to the situation around the characters. Broken tree, very cloudy sky. In general, the color gives the impression that a storm has passed. Yes, such that the trees broke.

And also the woman… she lies on the skin of a dead animal. Such a vivid hint of aggression and violence. Moreover, her look at us is self-confident …

So, there is a myth that Daphnis was in love with the nymph Chloe. But the daughter of a certain king fell in love with him. And she decided to get him at all costs, having drunk him with wine, and possibly some kind of love potion. So it is the image of deceit!

Of course, Daphnis succumbed to her charms. And when he came to his senses, he could not forgive himself for betrayal. In desperation, he threw himself off a cliff and died.

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So, maybe Titian portrayed Daphnis with this treacherous lady. And the master made an attempt to convey this OBJECTION of the main character. Intoxicated, he almost unconsciously hugged the woman. And he had a hard time understanding what he was doing.

Also, take a look at the deer. It stands on its hind legs and nibbles on the leaves of a broken tree. I don’t know if deer do that? So, in this, too, there is a hint of inadequate behavior of the characters.

Of course, this is just a version. But for me it now seems more understandable than the simple “Well, the master didn’t want to remove his extra hand” …

What do you think?

You also can read another article about Titian’s painting “Bacchus and Ariadne. Interesting symbols and details”.


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