Friday, 8 July 2016

The National Gallery 2

Thursday 7 July 2016

Because I had a rather busy morning, Linda and I decided on a central target and a second slice of the National Gallery. Being orderly folk, we continued chronologically, and set off through the 'High Renaissance and Mannerism' galleries.

Many of these artists were based in Venice. Florence was being ripped apart by civil wars, religious extremism and the like, whereas Venice was sitting snugly on Europe's growing demand for Eastern luxuries,  so Veronese had a good market for his historical, allegorical and religious works.  So we saw Alexander being kind to Darius's family; four depictions of aspects of love: this one is 'Unfaithfulness; and Saint Veronica mopping the face of Christ.

We found ourselves more taken by the faces of people, whether young men or popes, and paused reverentially before the very unfinished Michelangelo which you can see here. We were a bit baffled by Tintoretto's Allegory of Prudence, supposing it to be about different ages and attitudes to life, whether lion-like of hound-like.

 The National Gallery has several El Grecos, instantly recognisable and interesting, and a number of Titians.  He (or maybe one of his customers) seems to have been a bit obsessed with the story of Diana and Actaeon, and we were glad we had paused before them as we were to meet them in another form later. He had also painted the story of Diana and Callisto, which we didn't know and which had slight modern resonances: Jupiter had seduced her by disguising himself as Diana, which maybe says something about the way Diana's chaste band of maidens behaved;  but when so was found to be pregnant, she was expelled from Diana's entourage as if it were her fault alone.

I suppose I should admit that I found the stories more engaging than these large and opulent paintings, and found it rather a relief to move into the room with the Dutch artists, dominated by the great painting of the Ambassadors.  We were sure it used to be displayed with a clever device which showed you where to stand to sort out the foreshortened skull in the foreground:  now you work it out for yourself, or watch other viewers and then 'get it'.
It was a delight to see a Lucas Cranach, or rather to see the model he so frequently used, this time as Venus:  Cupid is being stung by a lot of bees, because he has stolen their honey.  She, like most mothers, though perhaps slightly less completely dressed than most mothers, is telling him it serves him right.

We loved the portrait of Erasmus, by Holbein, looking strangely like Mark Rylance.  It has glass on it so Linda could not get a picture, but it's here.

In the next room there were some splendid Titians and Giorgiones, including a man sporting a sumptuous ermine collar

We felt that was enough for one afternoon:  we also reminded ourselves that these pictures are here every day, conveniently placed for quick visits, and so we thought we would leave the 17th and 18th centuries for another time.  

But we did visit two smaller, temporary exhibitions of a very different nature before we left.  First, there is a single room with about 24 Dutch flower paintings.  Detailed and luminous, they reminded us that tulips and chrysanthemums were new and much valued in the 17th century.  We had not heard of most of these artists, but were surprised and delighted to see that Breughel the Elder took time off from painting religious and rural scenes to paint some vases of flowers.

The other exhibition, also no photography allowed, displays the results of the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation's project.  The artist George Shaw produced 'My Back to Nature' while working among the pictures of the National Gallery. The introductory film showed him thinking and working, and he was especially concerned with the Diana and Actaeon pictures we had see earlier. His own work does not normally include people, but he made the point that an awful lot of the events and shenanigans of classical art happen on the outskirts of woods or among trees. The works that he had made were detailed depictions of modern woodland scenes, litter and all. We liked them better than this Daily Telegraph reviewer seems to have done

We had enjoyed our visit to this National treasure house, and will be back.

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