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Danaë and the Shower of Gold
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If you’re like me, you may stand in front of Danaë and the Shower of Gold by Orazio Gentileschi, and ask yourself, ‘Why, dear god, are gold coins being flung at this woman’s face?’

To understand, you must know the Greek story of Danaë from Ovid’s "Metamorphosis." King Arcisius of Argos locked his beautiful virgin daughter, Danaë, in a bronze chamber for all eternity after learning from an oracle that one day she would have a son that would ultimately become a king slayer. Zeus (Greek)/Jupiter (Roman), a god that likes a good challenge, decided he must have the beautiful Danaë. Being he’s a god, he transformed himself into golden "rain," flooding Danaë’s chamber, impregnating her. Danaë’s son, Perseus, went on to kill Medusa—AND his grandfather, King Arcisius. The story over time evolved from a golden rain shower to a gold shower of coins. And Danaë became an immoral seductress, because, come on… she took gold coins for sex!

In Gentileschi’s painting, Danaë willingly receives the “golden shower” directed at her face rather than at her modestly covered nether parts, probably thinking, “I’ll get hit in the face this one time if it means I can get out of this place.” Hmmm… just like a porn star working to pay off her law school loans. Gentileschi painted this—a pagan story—and two other grand paintings: Lot and His Daughters from the Old Testament, and Penitent Magdalen from the New Testament, as a loosely themed triptych for the Genovese, Giovanni Antonio Sauli, in the 1620s. Art historians have been speculating about the theme. Maybe it’s about women and their relationship with God—the ravished, the ravishers, the redeemed. But probably, the theme was just a guise for Sauli to own pretty pictures of sexy women. The painting stayed within the Sauli family until the 1970s. Since then, it’s been a slippery minx.

In 1977, London dealer, T.P. Grange, shipped the life-size painting to Norton Simon in Los Angeles who expressed interest in the masterpiece. And waited for a Simon’s response. And waited… Finally, Simon sent the painting back to London to have it inspected. When it was discovered the painting was indeed one of the three painted for Sauli, Grange gave Simon a deadline of midnight, October 29 to take it or leave it. And then Grange waited… and waited.

In the meantime, back in New York City, interested American collector Richard Feigen flew to London and waited Simon out. The midnight deadline came and went, and Feigen snatched it up. But lo and behold, a telegram arrived from Simon at 5:41 Pacific time, but 1:14 AM London time. Oops. Too late. Simon sued. After a year, both Grange and Feigen gave Simon $100,000 each for damages, but Feigen kept the painting. And a good thing he did! Flash forward to 2012. The painting was on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who hoped upon hope, that Feigen would just give the painting to the Met. Imagine the Met’s disappointment when they learned the painting was the highlight of Sotheby’s Master Painting Evening Sale slated for January 2016 and priced at a cool $25-35 million. “Hey! But we called this painting an ‘extraordinary tour de force!’ It’s right here on the label! Hanging on our wall!”

Alas, the painting wasn’t in the Met’s budget—but not for the deep pockets of the Getty Museum. The painting was snapped up for $30.5 million and installed at the Getty right next to one of its two sister paintings, Lot and His Daughters, (acquired in 1998) which as a story, is another whole crazy ball of wax.

 

 

Sources

Sources

  1. Christiansen, Keith, and Mann, Judith Walker. Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001.
  2. J. Paul Getty Museum. “Danae and the Shower of Gold.” Los Angeles: Getty.edu, 2016.
  3. J. Paul Getty Museum. “Orazio Gentileschi in Genoa: Paintings for the Palazzo Sauli.” Los Angeles: Getty.ed, 2002.
  4. Knight, Christopher. “Getty Purchases Gentileschi’s ‘Danae’ now owns 2 or 3 paintings in set.” LA Times, June 30, 2016.
  5. Moore, Susan. “Old Masters: trophies of a Golden Age.” Financial Times, November 15, 2015.
  6. Muchnic, Suzanne. Odd Man In: Norton Simon and the Pursuit of Culture. California: University of California Press, 1998.