The National Gallery — Level 2, 1200-1500: Sainsbury Wing, Italy

Last Wednesday of March, I’m in London staying with Jenn up in Archway, a few days of meetings and generally having a riot. I have to be at Gatwick for a 9pm flight, which means leaving before 5pm is probably the sensible thing. So I have an afternoon of museum-ing.

The National Gallery was second on my list after the V&A, which dealt to me on Sunday, and was duly blogged once I was back in Berlin (via Oldenburg and more museums). It’s more than three months later (and more museum-ing in the interim), and the folder of images sitting on my desktop had been haunting me until the weekend. It’s like the Louvre, I had to divide it up into sections in order to make it manageable. Close to 500 images (a bit under half are the artwork captions) which I ended up ‘reducing’ to two hundred and forty something. A bit excessive; I’ve been having a conversation with self about moderation.

And now I’m trying to write about all that art, which is a tall ask.

From Archway into town, Trafalgar Square is packed like it’s a tourist parade. Not sure which is the proper entrance, but find my way to the Salisbury Wing, offload bags and up the stairs to mediæval art land. It’s vast and airy and light, and the white walls are teeming with the stuff, and for a north-west European city, it’s heavy on the Italian art. So that’s what this post is. The Northern European stuff is in another.

We start around the early-mid 1300s, the usual for mediæval art unless it’s a rare museum that goes back to the 10th or 11th century. I’ve been looking mostly at Northern European mediæval art for the last some years, and seeing so much of art from south of the Alps is probably why I photographed so much. I don’t even know where to start. I love so much of this, each work for different reasons. Master of the Blessed Clare’s Vision of the Blessed Clare of Rimini for the softer gold tones, the cluster of heads, the contrasting left half almost entirely blank, reminding me of Persian miniatures. Jacopo di Cione and Workshop’s The San Pier Maggiore Altarpiece for its repetition across six separate pieces; The Coronation of the Virgin with Adoring Saints for the massed Saints and the musicians below the central panel — these I could spend a whole day on.

Barnaba da Modena’s The Coronation of the Virgin; the Trinity; the Virgin and Child; the Crucifixion, the solid lapis blue of the robes and the gold lines of their draping, and the animal heads with Mary below the Crucifixion, which I have no idea about, but are strangely comforting. Bernardo Daddi — who I feel I’ve seen before — The Coronation of the Virgin, almost an altogether different style, soft, light, detailed, like some of the later Netherlands artists.

More massed heads in Fra Angelico’s Christ Glorified in the Court of Heaven, the predella of the high altarpiece of San Domenico in Fiesole. This was a beast to photograph, being so long, and pushed me into photographing each panel separately, admittedly worth it. Lorenzo Monaco’s The Coronation of the Virgin with Adoring Saints was my first sighting of The Young Pope in his tiara; a later sighting is in Pisanello’s The Virgin and Child with Saints, this time in a hugely wide-brimmed hat. Yes, I did indeed go, “Heh, Young Pope.”

Paolo Uccello’s Saint George and the Dragon for the butterfly-like wings of the green dragon, the portentous dark clouds behind George, and the princess who looks rather too relaxed. The musicians in Piero della Francesca’s The Nativity, as well as the muted, pastel colours and verging on perspective depth. Another Uccello, the massive and dense The Battle of San Romano one of the first real breaks from religious art, and so complex, becoming a geometric abstract when approached.

There’s a couple of Botticellis, an artist I find uninteresting, yet ‘Mystic Nativity’ is far from his usual blandness, full of joyous movement. The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine by an unknown Portuguese artist, cold, muted colours, fully into the perspective and naturalistic period, and shot with gold. The Master of 1487, probably Pietro del Donzello’s The Departure of the Argonauts, another huge work, another horribly difficult one to photograph, but the knight on the horse with a scimitar, all the fabric billowing in the wind, and there’s violence going on in the background. Carlo Crivelli’s The Vision of the Blessed Gabriele, which I thought was Saint Francis at first, for Mary coming out of a mystical, celestial womb beneath a pear tree. Sometimes this art is like witnessing another planet.

Carlo Crivelli’s The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius, the photograph does not do it justice. The perspective in this small work is mesmerising. I came back to it more than once, it’s like looking down into another world, not out a window and across a courtyard, plus the supernatural light beaming out of the sky, and the mundane articles in her apartment. It’s a busy work that manages to look simple and uncluttered.

Lucao Signorelli’s pair, The Triumph of Chastity: Love Disarmed and Bound and Coriolanus persuaded by his Family to spare Rome have the same soft, muted fresco technique I am always drawn to, and form part of the Three Frescoes from Palazzo del Magnifico, Siena along with Pintoriccio’s Penelope with the Suitors. I love Pintoriccio’s the most. She’s totally, “Sorry, can’t marry. Working.” and her assistant is all, “Nope, not even looking up.”

The mediæval and Renaissance art was both Italian and Northern European, but I had to make arbitrary divisions somewhere, so they each get their own posts. Off to Northern Europe next.