Shakespeare's Myths

The vast iconography illustrating the story of Diana and Actaeon is often centred on the representation of Diana bathing and, less frequently, on the punishment of Actaeon. The myth was very popular in France since artists used it to honour Diane of Poitiers (Henry II’s mistress). In England as in France, the story inspired a wide range of decorative arts, embroideries, tapestries, decorated fireplaces – and was therefore likely to have been readily identified by theatre audiences.


1.  Some Famous Paintings:


Titian.  “Diana and Actaeon”.  Oil on canvas (National Gallery of Scotland, 1556-1559), 184.5 x 202.2 cm, Inv. NG6611.


Titian.  “The Death of Actaeon”.  Oil on canvas (National Gallery of London, c.1559-1575), 178.8 x 197.8 cm, Inv. NG6420.


François Clouet.  “Le Bain de Diane”.  Oil on panel (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, c.1565), 136 x 196 cm, Inv. 846.1.1.


Ecole de Fontainebleau, after François Clouet.  “Le Bain de Diane”.  Oil on panel (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours, after 1565?), 97 x 130,5 cm, Inv. D-1952-6-1.


Studio of Annibale Carracci. (Bologna 1560-1609 Rome). Diana and Actaeon.  Oil on panel, 82 x 110cm

This painting was probably in England since it is documented in the collection of Charles I of England (1600-1649) before it was sold to Vicenzo II Gonzaga (1594-1627), 6th Duke of Mantua, in 1627-28 together with the majority of Charles’s collection. See A. van der Doort, Inventory of the Collections of Charles I of England, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, Ms. Ashmolean 1514, folio 61.

A catalogue of the works of art in the Long Gallery, Chair Room and Cabinet Room at Whitehall, National Arts Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Ms. 86.J 13, folio 11, no. 5: ‘A Peece of Diana, Acteon and foure Nymphs by Augustine Caratz’.

L’Ecole de Fontainebleau, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1939, p. 64.

The School of Fontainebleau, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1940, p. 64.


2.  Examples of chimney mantelpieces (in France and England) such as the one described by Giacomo in Cymbeline:


Anonymous.  “Diane et Acteon”. Stone mantelpiece, from Châlons-en-Champagne, Hôtel de Hugues Lallement (Musée de la Renaissance, Ecouen, c.1562), Inv. 19095.


Anonymous.  “Actaeon devoured by his hounds”.  Medallion.  Mantelpiece, The Luttrell Arms Hotel, Dunster, Somerset. 

(Also reproduced in John and Jane Penoyre, Decorative Plasterwork in the Houses of Somerset 1500-1700, A Regional Survey, Somerset County Council, Hammett & Co. Ltd., Taunton, 1994).


3.  Other Examples of English Appropriations:

Anonymous.  “Diana and Actaeon”, or “The death of Actaeon”.  Framed panel, originally a cushion cover, after an engraving by Virgil Solis [cf ] (The Drawing Room at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire), The National Trust, n. 26182


Anonymous.  “Actaeon Attacked by Hounds”.  Plaster panel from Stodmarsh Court, Kent (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1590-1610), possibly oil on plaster, 33.25 x 46.75 in., Inv. W28C-1913.


Francesco Fanelli (1572-1664), (workshop of, sculptor).  “Actaeon devoured by his hounds”, Statuette, Britain (possibly, made) / Italy (possibly, made) (Victoria and Albert Museum, first half of 17th cent.), bronze. Salting Bequest, Inv. A.119-1910.


How to cite

Agnès Lafont.  “Actaeon.”  2013.  In A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Classical Mythology  (2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

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