scape (though the Benois landscape remains unfinished). Subconsciously, this accentuates
the intimacy and tranquility of the setting. Both paintings were originally done on wood
panel before being transferred to canvas (and retouched) a century ago. Both paintings are
named for the family that at one point owned them. One difference is in the style. The Litta
Madonna has crisper outlines—either because it was done in (less subtle) tempera or by a
(less subtle) apprentice.
What they have in common is realistic emotion, and this sets all of Leonardo's Madon-
nas apart from those of his contemporaries. With a tilt of the head, a shining face, a down-
turned mouth, the interplay of touching hands and gazes, Leonardo captured an intimacy
never before seen in painting. He draws aside a curtain to reveal an unguarded moment,
showing mother and child interacting as only they can. These holy people don't need ha-
loes (or only the wispiest) to show that sacred bond.
• The door across from the Benois Madonna leads to room 221, where we'll find...
Danae (1553-1554): One of art history's most blatantly sexual paintings, this nude has fas-
cinated people for centuries—both for its subject matter and for Titian's bravura technique.
The Hermitage's canvas is the second (or third) of five nearly identical paintings Titian
painted of the popular legend.
It shows Danae from Greek mythology, lying naked in her bedchamber. Her father has
locked her up to prevent a dreadful prophecy from coming true—that Danae will bear a
son who will grow up to kill him. As Danae daydreams, suddenly a storm cloud gathers
overhead. In the lightning, a divine face emerges—it's Zeus. He transforms himself into a
shower of gold coins. Danae tilts her head and gazes up, transfixed. She goes weak-kneed
with desire, and her left leg flops outward. Zeus rains down between Danae's legs, impreg-
nating her. Meanwhile, Danae's maid tries to catch the divine spurt with her apron.