The Hunt of Diana was executed in 1616-1617 by Domenichino and commissioned to him by his patron, Cardinal Pietro Aldrobrandini. The painting became a belonging of Cardinal Scipione Borghese when he took it by force from the study of the artist, depriving the original client, a nephew of Clement VIII, his main rival.
The story of this painting is unusual: Cardinal Aldobrandini commissioned it as a sequel to Titian’s Bacchanals which he had recently included to his collection. Domenichino’s skill to handle light helped to take a fresh approach to the artwork.
Unlike Titian, the Emilian master wanted to get rid of explosive use of colour and movement
Moreover, he concentrated on a serene contemplation of the beauty of females, animals, and the countryside.
The subject is inspired by a passage from Virgil’s Aeneid (canto V, 485) and shows the archery competition between Aeneas’ friends. In his Diana, Domenichino revived antique topics and the embodiment of nymphs. From Virgil’s Aeneid, warriors are described competing in an archery contest and shooting a tree with their first arrow, a ribbon with their second and falling bird with their third. Most probably, it was Mons.
A major theorist and adviser on iconography at the time, Giovanni Battista Agucchi, proposed the subject matter into the realm of the nymphs led by Diana. Also, the archery theme is used as a metaphor for shrewd arguments that hit the mark, which was important at the time, as the consecration of the “Dicerie sacre” by the poet Giovan Battista Marino to Pope Paul V indicates.
The sequence is transferred to the region of the disciples of the nymph Diana, the goddess of hunting, an idyllic and luminous environment, which represents the mythical Arcadia. Literary metaphors stem from Domenichino’s cultural involvement with G. B. Agucchi, the cardinal’s secretary and adviser to the artist in the concept of the work.
Presenting the play of the nymphs, the artist tried to paint a poetic and chronological narration of facts, raising the visual art over poetic art and, in general, breaking the limit traditionally established for various artistic forms; a topic that was widely discussed during the Baroque period. The pose and expression of “attachments” (feelings) on faces help to explain the sequence of events, while the unbridled play is contained in classical equilibrium. A nymph holding a greyhound shows us what happens to two male figures hidden in the bushes on the right side of the canvas.
According to the myth, the terrible rage of Diana was unleashed against the hunter Actaeon, who, upon seeing her bathing, was turned into a stag and devoured by his own dogs. One of the nymphs, immersed in water, gentle and sensual, looks at the viewer and connects the inner and outer spaces of the artwork; another attempt to overcome the limitations, which is also typical of Baroque art.
Domenichino captured nature in clear compositions that prevail over the use of colour. The artist used Venetian tones, and there are extraordinary passages from green to yellow, white to blue and different shades of purple. But what introduces a new chapter in the rendering of the atmosphere is its gradual and calculated changes in tone towards the pale blue mountains using thin glazing, which show a new interest in Leonardo’s aerial perspective theories (studied and trained by the Theatine monk Matteo Zaccolini, who taught Domenichino perspective in the 1620s).