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.


Gemäldegalerie: El Siglo De Oro

Thursday before last, I took the day off and biked over to the Gemäldegalerie for El Siglo de Oro: Die Ära Velázquez, their new special exhibition of ‘the golden age’ of Spanish art and sculpture in the 17th century. As with previous large temporary exhibitions, the Gemäldegalerie’s massive central atrium was converted into a meandering series of rooms and aisles, and for this one also spilling over into some of the chambers of the permanent collection.

And as usual, photos weren’t permitted, which is a wry experience seeing how many of the works come from the gallery’s own collection and I’ve photographed before. Nonetheless, I timed one of the attendants walking between rooms and snuck off a few of Gregorio Fernández’ Camino del Calvario, or Gang zum Kalvarienberg as it’s known here, a splendid Baroque piece that reminded me of a similar work I saw in the Muzeum Narowode we Wrocławiu (still one of my favourite museums in Europe).

I also bought the catalogue because I suspect I won’t try and persuade the Gemäldegalerie to let me photograph the exhibition as I usually do (high probability of a sour “No.”), so I’ll probably just blab on about the catalogue in my usual parochial manner shortly.

If you’re in Berlin, it’s totally worth seeing, really nicely put together (could do with a few more earlier works of the seriously fucking marvellous El Greco Immaculata Oballe type); consistently high quality lighting; audio guide up there with the best — and if you take the audio guide allow for at least three hours to get through; it’s definitely one of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s finest exhibitions, though predictably on the slim side when it comes to exactly what Imperial Spain was up to (and that was under the Austro-Germanic House of Habsburg) with all their colonising and empiring. Context. Art is not outside it.

b file at la mama

Another afternoon chat with Bonnie, this time while slurping orange juice and eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches on fresh, soft vienna bread. So while hell and other nasty pieces of my repertoire are going to be screened sometime soon in Berlin, Bonnie was rather enthusiastic about B File, fresh from the Adelaide Fringe and on at La Mama this and next week. And it’s in an airport! My favourite place.

Paulo Castro and Jo Stone are responsible, who are off to Dance North soon, and who have been hanging out with the usual contemporary dance and theatre enfants terrible in Europe. I won’t get to see it until next week though, but you can see it now.

La Mama presents


@ the Carlton Courthouse
– 349 Drummond St. Carlton
Tue April 3 – Sat April 14
Wed/Sun @ 6.30pm
Thu/Fri/Sat @ 8pm
Tickets: $20 full / $10 conc. Phone: 03 9347 6142

Directed by Portuguese director Paulo Castro, B-FILE is loosely based on a text by English writer Deborah Levy.
Co-written and interpreted by Jo Stone, Paolo dos Santos, Karen Lawrence, Paulo Castro, Silvia Pinto Coehlo and Madeline Lawrence.
B-File has toured Germany, Portugal and Spain and Adelaide since 2004. (nominated recently for an Adelaide Fringe Award 07)

The action is unveiled in a claustrophobic room somewhere in an airport.
A group of passengers are sub-merged into a rigorous, absurd and violent interrogation with the police force.
The police begin to abuse their authority as people arrive from different countries.
Marked with menacing questions and satire, the game becomes more dangerous as the narrative structure unfolds.
The B-file undresses the theme of power and collective paranoia over seccurity which since Sept 11th has increased in dimension and is now a big theme in contemporary society.
It is grand reflection on the abuse of control.

— b file – la mama