On the side of the Angels, Part 8: Memling


Another in a series of observations of early medieval paintings in the National Gallery London, an endless source of inspiration and amusement. Intended to show how I find stories in a painting, not my opinion of the subject matter nor its creator. Nothing replaces seeing the real thing!

Virgins and Children, with Donors and Angels

(Readers of this blog may know I have a bit of a thing for Memling.)

The ‘dead’ dragon curled like a whippet at the feet of St George is about to take a nip out of the back of the Donor’s knee. George has had to whip the Donor’s hat off at the last minute.  You can imagine the conversation in the studio

But Herr Memling, it is my best hat it cost me a month’s income.

Indeed Sir, but would you truly wear it when you bend your knee to the King of Heaven?

Compromise, in the hands of the artist, and in this case, St George.

The child beats time to the angel’s lute, and crumples  a leaf of his mother’s book; the old man leaves the garden.

She wears the same dress, sits in the same seat, is backed by the same material, holds the same child – but each virgin is her own self captured in that moment in time, not slavishly copied from the last.

The finished edge of the cloth that makes the cover of the cushion the child sits upon – a Flemish weaver’s eye for cloth, from a German.

The Donne Triptych

St John looks as though he expects the lamb to do tricks and it has disappointed him.

Come on Larry, he says, count to five for the baby!

The child waves delightedly at Mr Donne. One angel smirks as it plays the organ, the other offers the child an apple. St Catherine looks severe, impatient with  Mr Donne who seems unaware the child is there.

Look, she says, these tickets cost me a martyrdom, you could at least engage.

Barbara hikes her tower up to perform a momentary illusion in the surrounding landscape and places a solicitous hand on Mrs Donne’s shoulder.

Never mind, she says, he’s a fool, but I’ll look out for you and the girl.

The evangelist isn’t sure his magic trick with the snake in the cup is going to come off.  In the distance a waterwheel turns, and a cow grazes.

© Cherry Potts 2013

On the Side of the Angels, part 2: Fra Angelico


Another in a series of observations of early medieval paintings in the National Gallery London, and endless source of inspiration and amusement. Intended to show how I find stories in a painting, not my opinion of the subject matter nor its creator. Nothing replaces seeing the real thing!

Christ Glorified in the Court of Heaven (1423-4) by Fra Angelico 1417-55

The Angelic Host are rolling up their sleeves for the finale; they’ve brought out the portative organ, which is heavy, even in heaven, where you would think the physics would be different.

Clearly the viol player in green has hit a bum note, its neighbour (in pink) rolls its eyes, resigned to imperfection. And the shawm player is out of time.

The big trumpets are out – is it Judgement coming? five of them – three on the left and two on the right, and drums – unbalanced – for what reason?

Christ leans noticeably to the left, as though he heard that wrong note and is taking his own, to Speak Later.

There is an audience of saints, some of whom are chatting amongst themselves, not that taken up with the music.

It doesn’t look as though the noise is at all heavenly.

© Cherry Potts 2013