By assembling six masterpieces painted by Tiziano Vecellio (c. 1488-1576) — known to modern audiences as Titian — over a period of years during the mid-16th century, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has pulled off one the great coups of American art in recent years.
The six great canvases based on Ovid’s epic poem “Metamorphoses” were painted for King Philip II of Spain (better known for his launching of the Spanish Armada at England roughly 25 years after the paintings were finished) and originally displayed in the Alcazar in Madrid. But the sextet has since been separated. The Gardner, which purchased “The Rape of Europa” — the last of the six to be painted — 125 years ago, has brought them together for the first time ever to be seen in the United States.
The works are among the best examples of what art historians call poesie — painted poetry — in which classic literary texts are