Friday, July 29, 2011

Italian Color at the National Gallery

Tuesday afternoon I met my friend Sarah at the National Gallery for a docent-lead tour of paintings from Venice, Rome, and Bologna.  I'm more fond of art from the 19th-20th centuries, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to broaden my horizons.

The docent reminded me a bit of Sir David Attenborough and was suitably eccentric and animated, although we sometimes had trouble hearing him as it was a large tour group and he tended to stroll around quite a bit as he spoke.  (Not to mention all the other museum visitors who were chatting amongst themselves in a variety of languages.)  He focused on three Italian paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries, depicting scenes from the Bible and ancient history.

The Raising of Lazarus
about 1517-19, Sebastiano del Piombo
Our guide pointed out the various clues that the artist gives us to determine who the main subject of this painting is: the color of his clothing, they way he is posed, his positioning within the scene (elevated on a platform, unobscured by other figures), and the fact that everyone else is looking at him.  He is helpfully pointing at the secondary subject (Lazarus).  This artist was a contemporary of Michelangelo.  If Lazarus had his hand outstretched and you flipped the scene, it might bring to mind his depiction of the Creation of Man on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The Family of Darius before Alexander
1565-7, Paolo Veronese
This painting depicts a historical scene in which the mother, wife, and daughters of the slain Persian king Darius offer obeisance to his conqueror, Alexander the Great.  By mistake, they bow to his friend, who is better dressed, but Alexander forgives them.  The artist clearly took some creative license with this painting, as the architecture and royal ladies don't look Persian at all.  In reality, the event occurred in a tent, but that would not have lent itself to such a grand scene.

The Dead Christ Mourned ('The Three Maries')
about 1604, Annibale Carracc
Actually, this should be called "The Four Marys," as all four women lamenting the death of Jesus are named Mary (including his mother and Mary Magdalene).   Mary Magdalene is clearly overwrought over the body of Christ, which is nearly white to show is has been drained of life.  The other two women are trying to console Mary (or possibly cop a feel), who would also appear to be dead were it not for the contrast of her pink hand against her son's chest.  It is a mercifully bloodless representation, with only a hint at the nail holes in his hands and feet, and his crown of thorns set aside in the lower left corner.

Thus enlightened, we ventured out in search of a late/light lunch and ended up at an Italian cafe a few blocks away.  Sarah told me a little about her recent weekend in Prague and I suggested some easy day trips they could do by train on the weekends.  It's great getting travel tips from other expats -- I'm looking forward to putting them to use sometime soon.  I also told her about my trip to Partridges the previous day and asked if she'd been there or to the Whole Foods in Kensington.  She said they call it the "Museum of Food."  That seems appropriate, because everything is displayed so nicely, but you tend to look more than buy once you take a gander at the price tags. In that sense, London is full of museums!  The Museum of Clothes, the Museum of Shoes, the Museum of Consumer Electronics...

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