Naoto Kawahara, La leçon de guitare, 2007, 55,1 x 74,2 cm, oil on canvas.

The Persistent Myth of Diana and Actaeon, Chastity and Lust

Jan Brueghel d. Ä.und Jacob De Backer, Diana und Actaeon, um 1595, Öl auf Kupfer, 26,6 x 36,2 cm, Johnny van Haeften Ltd., London.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Diana mit Aktäon und Kallisto, 1634, Öl auf Leinwand, 73,5 x 93,5 cm, Foto: Achim Kukulies, Düsseldorf, Fürst zu Salm-Salm, Museum Wasserburg Anholt.

Pierre Klossowski, Roberte et Gulliver II, 1980, Buntstift auf Papier, 129 x 150 cm, Sammlung Speck, Köln, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008.

George Platt Lynes, Acteon, 1937, Eigenhändige Retuschierung durch den Künstler, Vintageprint, Silbergelatineabzug, 33 x 25,4 cm, Betsy Wittenborn Miller, Courtesy Robert Miller Gallery, New York.

Gipsabguss der sog. Aphrodite Braschi, einer Variante der knidischen Aphrodite, (München, Glyptothek, 258) Gips, Erwerbungsjahr: 1866.


Stiftung museum kunst palast
Ehrenhof 4-5
+ 0211 8990200
Diana and Actaeon.
The forbidden glimpse of the naked body

October 25, 2008-February 15, 2009


While out on a hunting expedition, Actaeon chances upon the goddess Diana whom he accidentally beholds bathing in the nude, together with her nymphs.

Incensed at Actaeon’s lustful glances as he looks upon her unprotected nakedness, the goddess of hunting instantly turns the hunter into a stag. The helpless Actaeon fails to be recognised by his own hounds and is torn to pieces by them.

The exhibition is a singular combination of paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs and videos that focus on the thematic complex of chastity and lust, seeing and being seen, voyeurism and exhibitionism — a complex of artistic interest and has its place in art history, illustrating a thematic area where depictions are still under a taboo: the explicit presentation of sex.

Yet the exhibition is not meant to be another study of the erotic in art. Rather, it focuses on specific issues that are raised in visual works of art as they deal with the forbidden glance at sex, usually in the female form.

The works from international public and private collections are shown at the exhibition: You will see not only Diana, but also Venus, Susannah, Bathsheba, Nyssia, Phryne, Potiphar’s wife, Baubo and numerous other nudes of the classical and liberal kind, not listed by name.

The exhibition is about carnal desires, the intertwined connection between sex and sexuality, on the one hand, and beauty, truth, ecstasy and even death, on the other.

It is about taboos, violations of taboos, guilt and punishment and about knowledge that cannot be obtained in any innocent way. Topics include the multifaceted fascination of beholding the beauty of the female body and also the horror that can be triggered in the beholder by the unashamed revelation of demonstratively feminine sexuality.

Around a core of works of art that explicitly relate to the myth of Artemis/Diana and Aktaion/Actaeon as told by Ovid, this exhibition brings together over 300 works in a scope to be shown as such only in Düsseldorf.

On its agenda is that view afforded at all periods of art, upon "The forbidden glimpse of the naked body." Diana's fate is also that of Venus, Susanna, Bathsheba, Nyssia, Phryne, Potiphars Wife, Baubo, Sheela-na-Gig and a host of unnamed nudes in modes classical and explicit who pass before the visitors eye.

They do so now in works by more than 200 artists, as paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs and videos from German and international private and public collections.

Together they provide a unique account of a broad field interesting from both an art-historical and cultural-historical angle ! of chastity and desire, of seeing and being seen, voyeurism and exhibitionism.

The exhibition tells first of attraction and desire, that is to say, as much of the tangle of connections between sexuality and sex, and beauty, truth, ecstasy — and death; it tells of taboos and their breaching, of guilt and retribution and of knowledge that cannot be had in innocence.

The show looks, too, at the ambivalent fascination of the beautiful female body exposed to view, in other words both the erotic and eroticising relish, the sensuous charge in beholding and the horror that the beholder may sense in looking on the naked truth of the demonstratively, shamelessly unconcealed female sex: the apotropaic effect, then, of Baubo.

The exhibition tells of the exhibitionism, but so too of the voyeurism of works of art and of artists male or female, of eyes cast upon the naked body and again of representation ! the presentation and provocative exposition of the unveiled sex.

In Metamorphoses, Ovid relates the story handed down from Classical Greece, of the hunter, Aktaion/Actaeon, who surprises Artemis/Diana, goddess of hunting and the guardian deity of feminine chastity, at her bath together with her nymphs. He looks on; she punishes him, the mortal who has looked upon her, the goddess, in her nakedness, by changing him into a stag: his own hounds spontaneously hunt him down, to the kill.

With progressing interest in Classical Antiquity, this fatal, conceivably chance meeting with Diana, culminating in Actaeon's death, became a favourite subject for artists from the Renaissance to the Classicists. By the 20th century this myth had already passed out of general knowledge and become in principle the preserve of exclusive epistemological circles, of psychologists and those with an iconological interest, with some few artists processing the concept in various media. One of those to have engaged with the Diana-and-Actaeon myth consistently if not indeed obsessively over several years as a painter and draughtsman as well as a philosophical writer, is Pierre Klossowski — grounds enough for his work to be given its own area within the exhibition.

In exploring the mythological sources of erotic art the exhibition describes a wide radius, traces the complex question of the forbidden gaze into the art of our own day, presents the progress of the female nude through the ages from a figure of chastity to one flirting with her nakedness and sensuality; light is cast on the voyeuristic traits inherent in images of the nude all the way to the playgrounds of erotic and pornographic art.

Besides works from Classical Greece and Rome and by the classics of older art history, for example Artemisia Gentileschi, Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens and Paolo Veronese, the show presents works by masters such as Pierre Bonnard, Lovis Corinth, Marcel Duchamp, Ferdinand Hodler, Gustav Klimt, Pierre Klossowski, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Egon Schiele and, from the realm of contemporary art, standpoints represented by Nobuyoshi Araki, Balthasar Burkhard, Judy Chicago, Marlene Dumas, Noritoshi Hirakawa, Robert Mapplethorpe, Markus Raetz, Arnulf Rainer, Cindy Sherman and others.

Marlene Dumas, the winner of this year's City of Düsseldorf Art Award, will be installing her own gallery with her latest works for this exhibition.

To accompany the show a comprehensive publication is being prepared with plates of all the works in the exhibition. This catalogue contains texts by authors whose take on the subject is not only art-historical but also incorporates philosophical and literary perspectives.

Beat Wismer was responsible for the idea and draft for the exhibition. Curators of the exhibition are Beat Wismer with Sandra Badelt and Mattijs Visser.

Marlene Dumas, Caressing the Pole, 2000, Öl auf Leinwand, 200 x 62 cm, Olbricht Collection.

Albrecht Dürer, Zeichner der liegenden nackten Frau, 1538, Holzschnitt auf Papier, 7,5 x 21,4 cm, Erlangen, Graphische Sammlung der Universität.

Eric Fischl, Bad Boy, 1981, Öl auf Leinwand, 167,5 x 244 cm, Privatsammlung, Courtesy Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zürich.