I wrote my notes room by room so I’ll write them up that way here too. I was only supposed to be going to see three or four paintings (in detail) but I couldn’t help myself and I did have all day so I ‘stopped by’ a lot more than I looked at ‘critically’.
While I was going through the online catalogue room by room feature on the National Gallery website, this one caught my eye as one which might be interesting. It doesn’t really use the same colouring or style as most religious painting (which is probably why I found it more interesting, the other can get a little samey on first glance) and I liked the inclusion of clearly modern (at that time) figures within the picture. It’s quite small and indistinct in person though and the gallery lights were quite dim, I was glad I’d picked another in the same room as back up (see the Titian below).
The caption in the gallery reads:
“The Doge of Venice (with his back to us), the Pope (facing us), and King Philip of Spain (in black), kneel amid the heavenly hosts. Above, angels adore the monogram of Christ. The jaws of hell are represented on the right, and in the distance figures are cast into a fiery gulf.” National Gallery, London
This was larger than I’d imagined. Standing in the gallery up close to the painting Christ looks positively boss-eyed which was the first thing I noticed about the painting (surely not Titian’s intent). Almost like he’s looking through the man not at him.
At my eye level the coin that the man is holding up to Christ is very noticeable in the composition, and he’s holding something metal in his other hand which I hadn’t noticed when I viewed the painting online, a purse perhaps? He also has a ring on that hand I hadn’t noticed. Christ’s hands are much paler than the other mans (no rings either), I don’t know why that is though.
The painting was large enough that when standing under it you notice the light reflecting off the surface of the top of the painting, I guess in the time it was painted lighting would have been much more subdued anyway, possibly lower and from candles. The light level in this room is controlled by the sensor in the caption beside the painting.
The surface of the painting is very smooth, you cannot really see any paint texture in it. You can see the painters brushstrokes in the highlights on the cuff and neck of Christ’s clothes though.
“During your gallery visit, take a look at one or two religious paintings. These can be quite hard for the modern viewer to interpret because few of us now have the level of biblical knowledge that contemporary viewers would have had.” (Course Notes p51)
A critically looked at painting, already written about here in this blog post:
This one wasn’t on my list I’d taken with me to check out but I had noticed it when browsing the catalog. This looks like a portrait and not really a religious painting because of the little depiction of Venice in the back ground. However, in the gallery I couldn’t take my eyes off it. She stares out from the picture at you and her cloak is luminous. It looks so real. It’s set off really nicely by the rather gloomy background on the right hand side of the painting. Its a rather odd pose really because she looks like she’s smuggling something under there but I think its just her hand.
“The story is recounted in the New Testament (John 20), and Mary Magdalene is here identified by the pot of ointment with which she anointed Christ’s body, and by the glimpse of her traditional red dress beneath a silver-grey cloak.” National Gallery, London
Light in the galleries seem highly dependant on the outside light, perhaps because this smaller room didn’t seem to have any of the electric lights on. I came in here to see the ‘Ugly Duchess’, which I’ve written about in this separate blog post.
Room 31 – Mond Room
This portrait is the largest I’ve ever seen as noted in my main gallery visit write up.
The texture of the surface is very smooth. I thought the colours look quite muted, wonder if it needs cleaning?
It’s all very grand, but for me the stars of the gallery space were these striking red background royal portraits. They look so realistic. The lace, the embroidery, really really amazing.
You can see the details a lot better in the proper National Gallery online reproductions (here and here) but the red looks much less vibrant in those than in life (probably why they hadn’t made it to my list of paintings to visit).
This was one of the grand old rooms with sofas still in it instead of seating. I came to this room to see the famous Rokeby Venus, which I’ve written about in this separate blog post.
The first thing I noticed when looking at this is that the artist has chosen to make Christ look extremely feminine with soft round features. Also, the colours are nicer and the whole painting is a lot brighter than the gloomy online reproduction. I did not see a postcard for this one so could not compare that. Also, its slightly bigger than I imagined.
The man on the right with the wheel on his front has a weird perspective thing going on with his far hand, its looks enormous. The white scarf in his pocket attracts the eye, so I assume it means something significant.
Note to self – todo: read the technical bulletin again and write some more.
I added this one to the list to see after seeing this video on youtube. I did very much enjoy seeing this painting despite not being able to see it in the context of the exhibition mentioned (which I missed unfortunately due to having a sick baby to look after in its final week).
The skin tone on the face did look a bit pallid but it is such a beautiful portrait. The surface of the painting isn’t very smooth like many I’d seen this visit. You can see the brushwork of her veil against the light for example.
These were all I wrote notes about (by this time I was a little arted-out for critical looking) however, I took a few more photos of interesting paintings that caught my eye.
In the same room another great portrait by Rembrandt
Next door, in a very dark Room 25, was the rather smaller than I had anticipated, ‘A Young Woman standing at a Virginal’ by Johannes Vermeer
This room held a small exhibition which I wrote about in this blog post.
I wanted to get time to visit the Sailsbury wing to see the two I wrote about in my portraits blog post but there just wasn’t. Maybe next time.
Reflection on the visit.
Thinking about it now and looking back at my notes I really did try and cram too much into my visit. I expect students who are pushed for time ‘out in the field’ often do this. My personal circumstances are such that I have easy access to London but I’m incredibly short on opportunities to actually go ‘out’ there. When I’m there, I’m working, and when I’m home, I have my baby to look after. My coursework fits nicely into the time that she’s asleep or when I’m commuting I can read but actual opportunities to get to a gallery are ‘by special arrangement’. Thus although I tried to critically look at the paintings, study them, and note what was interesting at the time, or notes and impressions that could only be obtained by actually standing in front of them; the other details of a formal analysis which can be obtained by merely looking at the details of the paintings can easily be obtained by zooming into the pictures on the website.
I did find myself arted-out, by that I mean I’d lost the concentration needed to really look at the works properly after a while. I thought this might happen which is why I tried to prioritise those that I was intending to write about for the assignment near the start of the visit, however it did mean that my trip to the National Portrait Gallery afterwards was a bit of a washout.
I was very pleased that I’d taken the time to create myself a list of paintings to see (despite it being a bit too long), with room numbers an pictures. Also, I thought to take along the Essential Reading How to Write Art History, D’Alleva, with the relevant passages about critical looking marked so that I wouldn’t miss something.