Yesterday I decided to take the day out and head into London city and visit the National Gallery for some inspiration and downtime. Other than the commute (which is an absolute nightmare between rail strikes, xmas shoppers and general city hustle and bustle) it was a very worthwhile trip and extremely inspiring.
The main reason I went was to go and see the ‘Beyond Caravaggio’ exhibition currently being held there which I’ll write up in a separate post later in the week.
I’ve visited numerous galleries and museums in London and some of them several times, including the National Gallery, but this was the first time I got up close and personal to every artwork that caught my eye; I was scrutinizing every brushstroke and mark in as great detail as possible with the naked eye.
Here is a selection of some of my favourites from yesterday’s visit –
This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837. The ancient Greek grammarian and poet Musaeus is most famous for his poem on the lovers Hero and Leander. Leander swam the Hellespont to join Hero. When he drowned, she flung herself into the sea.
Scenes of the occult were rare, though not unknown, in 17th- century Italy. During his years in Florence (1640-9) Rosa produced a number of scenes of witchcraft, of which this (signed) painting is the most ambitious surviving example. It may be the painting referred to in a letter by Rosa of 1666 as having been painted twenty years earlier and one of his finest, and it is probably contemporary with one of Rosa’s poems entitled ‘The Witch’.
Spells are cast in the centre, below a man hanged from a withered tree. The brightly illuminated foreground is contrasted with the nocturnal landscape behind.
Rembrandt portrays a Bible story about the nature of God’s forgiveness for those who sin. The subject comes from the Gospel of Saint John. The Scribes and Pharisees, knowing that Jesus took pity on wrong-doers, tried to catch him condoning disobedience to the Law. They brought a woman to him who had been caught in the act of adultery and said, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?’ Christ replied, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her’ (John 8: 3-7). In Rembrandt’s interpretation, Christ’s stature is exaggerated to make him seem taller (and by analogy morally superior) than those trying to trick him.
The best-known account of the story comes from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ (I, 583ff). Io was seduced by Jupiter and he then transformed her into a heifer in an attempt to deceive his wife, Juno. Juno, however, made Jupiter give the heifer to her whereupon she put it in the charge of Argus, the hundred-eyed watchman. Here, Lastman shows the moment when Juno descends to earth, surrounded by peacocks and asks for the heifer. He adds two figures not mentioned by Ovid – Cupid and the man with the mask which are allegories of love and deceit respectively. The tails of the peacocks have no ‘eyes’ yet. Jupiter later had Argus killed, and his hundred eyes were transferred to the peacock’s tail.
This painting was probably the backboard of a bench or chest in a Florentine palace. Furniture was often made to celebrate marriage; the subject would have been regarded as entertaining for such a purpose. It is from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ (XII, 210ff.) and shows drunken centaurs disrupting the wedding feast of the king of the Lapiths, one of them seizing the bride by her hair (right foreground). Among many grotesque and lewd incidents is the lyrical episode of the centaur Hylonome kissing her lover Cyllarus as he dies from a javelin wound.
This painting is one of the largest battle paintings by Wouwerman and one of his few dated works. The scene seems to be entirely imaginary as neither the colours of the troops nor the buildings point to any particular historical event.
The central figure represents Pax (Peace) in the person of Ceres, goddess of the earth, sharing her bounty with the group of figures in the foreground. The children have been identified as portraits of the children of Rubens’s host, Sir Balthasar Gerbier, a painter-diplomat in the service of Charles I.
Andromeda was betrothed to Phineas, until Perseus rescued her from a sea monster and it was agreed she would marry him instead. At the wedding celebrations Phineas and his followers burst in to attack Perseus, who unveiled the severed head of the gorgon, Medusa, and turned them to stone. The subject comes from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ (V, 1-235).This scene of high drama, recalling more tranquil feasts represented in 16th-century Venetian painting, is focused on the figure of Perseus in rich blue and his furious assailants, led by Phineas, who wears a helmet in the far left of the painting, turning the colour of stone as they prepare to hurl their spears
The subject derives from Homer’s ‘Iliad’ (XXIV, 25-30). Jupiter sent Eris, the personification of strife, to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis and she provoked a quarrel between Juno, Minerva and Venus as to who was the most beautiful. Mercury brought the goddesses to the shepherd Paris to be judged. In the foreground Paris hands the golden apple marked ‘to the fairest’ to Venus; Juno is on the left and Minerva (with helmet and spears) on the right. Paris’ choice led to the outbreak of the Trojan war. Paris is seated in the centre with Mercury behind him.
The captions are those that accompany the artworks in the National Gallery which is an incredible source of inspiration for painting and storytelling, especially in a classical manner.
The artworks I have shown here are a tiny portion of all the pieces that I found awe-inspiring and motivational but the ones that struck me the most (other than those in the Caravaggio exhibition, I can’t wait to get them posted) and reinvigorated my passion for this craft.
I also saw a smaller exhibition that is currently there called Maino’s Adorations: Heaven on Earth and I will be writing a post on them as well soon.
In the meantime I’m still processing all the new stimuli and I’m going to work on a few studies of the artworks to learn more about them and get a feel for the compositions and other elements.
Until next time, farewell!