Franco and King Henri III

Similar to his inspiration of exquisite women in the Venus of Urbino, Titian takes images of courtesans and relates them to the mythical story of Danaë. The painting entitled Danaë with Cupid (1554) is a sensual female nude being rained upon by gold coins. The myth of Danaë involves the roman god, Jupiter. The god takes the form of gold coins, and as Danaë is reclining, he rains down upon her. As the coins fall, Jupiter rapes her, producing an intense and sensual image.[1] In Titian’s painting, Danaë looks up into the sky in an expression of anticipation, suggesting that Jupiter has reached her and she is embracing sheer ecstasy. Her right hand tightly grasps her sheets, indicating sexual pleasure. Danaë’s left hand missing from the viewer’s sight, creating a mystery as to its location. Without the knowledge of the position of her hand, the viewer wonders if it is sliding under the sheet onto her inner thigh, inching slowly toward her vagina. Showered in gold coins, Danaë is compared to the courtesans of Venice, as they are given high amounts of money for sexual acts. Veronica Franco uses the fantasy of obedience in her letters to her lovers, relating to Danaë’s submission to Jupiter. To associate herself with Danaë, Franco writes an alternate verse of the myth, where she compares the king of France to Jupiter.

As sometimes from heaven to humble roofs

Jupiter, benign, descends to us here below

And, to prevent earthly eyes from being blinded

By such a sublime sight, takes human form;

So to my modest dwelling

Without the shine and dazzle of royal pomp

Came Henri, called to so vast a kingdom

That one world alone cannot contain it.

Although he came disguised, he nonetheless

So imprinted upon my heart his heavenly merit

That my natural strength abandoned me.

So, being assured of my great affection,

With a gracious and open spirit, he took my portrait,

Worked in colored enamel, away with him.[2]

It is within the depiction of the narrative by Franco that she is focusing on the exchange of gifts. Since Henri is a king, he has given his royal presence to the house of Franco. In return for his honor, she gifts to him her portrait. The exchange between Franco and King Henri is reminiscent in the image that Titian depicts. As a viewer, we see that Danaë enjoys her relations with Jupiter by grasping the sheets and curling her toes, just as Franco is elated to have Henri grace her “humble roof.” The monetary exchange that Titian depicts in his Danaë with Cupid is reminiscent of the influence of courtesans in Venetian society, which Franco accepts through the patronage of King Henri III.

[1] Wethey, 132.

[2] Veronica Franco, “Untitled,” in The Honest Courtesan: Veronica Franco, Citizen and Writer in Sixteenth-Century Venice, 108.

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