Notes from a Permanent Exhibition

More (and the last for the time being, until I find time to go again) from my National Gallery series, but not so much about angels.

The National has two Filippino Lippi Virgin & Child paintings, one with St John as a child, 1480 the other with Saints Jerome and Dominic 1485: in each she looks washed out and exhausted, her head at exactly the same level of bowed, only her nose is slightly different, the nostrils flare more with St John, as though she is attempting to keep up appearances for the child-saint.

On the subject of children:

The Master of Osservanza Birth of the Virgin circa 1440

Aside from a newborn baby able to stand, over which we will draw a veil, in the left hand panel we have St Jerome being informed by a child that he has a daughter.  Nothing of the kind. If you look closely, Jerome is telling the boy he has a baby sister, and he is not at all pleased.

A veer away from the religious subjects to Cosimo Tura’s thoroughly modern Muse. This girl has attitude: her dress is incompletely laced, her legs wide, her fist on her thigh. her well-plucked eyebrows raised in contempt she sits on a throne bedecked (it is the only word) with golden dolphins with ruby eyes, a shell above her head. she wears flock and carries a branch of fruiting cherry tree. She looks like she’s escaped for a dungeons & dragons role play programme – a Lara Croft for the 15th Century.

overheard by an altarpiece:

Mother: Nearly done, sweetheart.

Just pre-adolescent daughter: How many more sections are there?

Mother: Sixty-six.

Stop counting and enjoy.

© Cherry Potts 2013

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 6: Pintoricchio

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!

Saint Catherine of Alexandria with a Donor 1480-1500, Pintoricchio  1454-1513

Her wheel is broken.

She rests the upright sword easily by its pommel on the rim, her hair is slightly disordered, as though she’s just got out of bed – despite the crown.

She doesn’t look impressed with the fat friar, who might be a Borgia. She tucks the border of the robe, and the book, into the crook of her arm, getting ready for something.

He is smirking, embarrassed into a fit of giggles – perhaps he has just farted.

© Cherry Potts 2013

On the Side of the Angels, part 4: St Peter and Dorothy

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!

St Peter and Dorothy, Master of the St Bartholomew Altarpiece circa 1505-1510

St Peter is about to drop his accumulated gear – two enormous keys, a book (in chamois cover) and a pair of spectacles. He is eyeing  Dorothy’s cleavage decorously, but not decorously enough.

Her incredibly fine dress is effectively inside-out, the white, demure exterior raised to reveal red and gold velvet lining and a velvet petticoat, even the lining of the sleeves is traced with flowers, like the ones in her hair, and the extraordinary goblet shaped basket she’s carrying. One can’t help feeling she’s not as devout as she’s pretending. She looks a bit of a good-time gal, and very pleased with herself.

They each step out of the picture towards us: he barefoot, she in sharply-pointed pierced-leather shoes of high fashion and a rather strange gait, her left foot seems to be on backwards.

It is as though he’s just asked her for a dance, and astonished that she has accepted (if not the idea of dancing, then dancing with him), is fumbling his catch.

© Cherry Potts 2013

On the Side of the Angels 1

An occassional dip into the early medieval paintings in the National Gallery, London, prompted by a four-hour longeur at a conference and proximity to beauty – and my inability to resist putting words into the mouths of painted faces, and motives into painted attitudes.
Wilton Diptych 1390’s anonymous.
richard IIKing Richard II kneels on the left, gazing towards the Virgin, his hands raised but slightly apart as though waiting to catch something.

On the right, Heaven looks crowded, the sky golden and figured, more like a great gate than the firmament, pressing up against the regiments of cobalt clad angels.

The back row are there under protest, even though they all wear the white hart brooch as Richard does.  Their arms are crossed or interlinked, as they tug at each other.
Come away, they say, he’s not dead yet, and he’s not at all good, so why would we be interested in his prayers?
The kneeling,shrugging angel rose-bedecked angel, who perhaps should be interceding with the virgin, raises a hand indicating lost causes, it will shrug in a moment.
Lady, it says, there’s nothing here for you.
On the far side of the virgin, an angel points derisively, and its companion sniggers.
You aren’t going to listen to him are you?

It seems that despite the heavenly chorus, the virgin will listen.
To Richard’s benefit, he has on his team Edward the confessor and St Edmund, both English kings, like himself, and both venerated as saints – and the Baptist.

Is Richard implying that all it takes is for the Baptist (his patron saint) to give the word, and this callow youth will also be sainted? There is something of hubris here.
The only angel notionally fighting Richard’s corner carries a St George pennant, but can only bring itself to point him out to the Christ child with a furtive finger, embarrassed at the scorn of its fellows.
welcoming childThe child stands out against the heavenly blue in his golden blanket, his feet press against his mother upper arm and hand, and leaning vigorous and gurgling towards Richard, he crooks a welcoming hand.
Come on in, he says, you get used to the laughter, and it’s a great deal better than weeping – your choice, obviously.
The angels sneer discreetly and waft off, no doubt to ensure good seats at the latest harp concert.

Go and see the real thing at the National Gallery, make up your own story…

© Cherry Potts 2013

Judging a Book By Its Cover

Teresa Villegras' magnificent painting

Joan Taylor-Rowan talks about choosing the right cover for her novel, The Birdskin Shoes, and discovering the work of artist Teresa Villegras

joan taylor-rowan clip 6 book cover

© Cherry Potts 2012

Etruscan Smiles at the Estorick Collection

Marino Marini Quadriga, 1942 Bronze, 40 x 40 x 4 cm Estorick Collection

The Estorick’s collected twentieth century Italian art, a period and region I thought I knew nothing about, but there are a couple of Modiglianis, the piercing turquoise gaze and pursed lips of Doctor Francois Brabander standing out in a room of more muted pictures.  I did find myself thinking oh yeah Modigliani and moving on.

Then I recognised the pot-shaped women (or are they woman-shaped pots?) of Massimo Campigli with their brittle ceramic smiles looking like ancient Etruscan goddesses, until you come across one of them blandly gazing across a loom, and then another – side by side, one in polychrome, the other in red pastel (the pastel is a more accurate loom) – and the domestic usefulness makes the women seem at once more human and more unlikely.

There are some really interesting paintings by people I hadn’t heard of – I was particularly taken with Giacomo Balla‘s The Hand of the Violinist, which is a multiple image of a hand on the strings of a violin, broken into lines perhaps by the strings, and shaped like the sounding board of a dulcimer, an odd thing but pleasing.
Zoran Music‘s Horses and Landscape made me think of Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, a group of multicoloured horses, spotted and striped in blues and pinks, haunches touching in a dispirited huddle against the cold, retreat into a landscape of dusky hills.  It just begs for one of the riders to turn back to the viewer and say: A cold coming we had of it.
There are a few sculptures: I especially liked Marino Marini‘s Quadriga, a wall plaque of four horses face-on, crowding through a doorway knees raised as if contemplating a delicate can-can, that had overtones of ancient Rome.
Giacomo Manzù‘s Bust of a Woman is a distorted long-necked bust wearing an expression of self-possessed happiness, that I think I could  live with if someone asked me to; although there would be days when I’d be yelling what are you smiling at, and throwing a blanket over her.

There are some works that left me indifferent, a lot of sketches that are only of significance because of who drew them, some very studious studies of still life, and a very ugly Death of a Hero by Renato Guttuso which isn’t something I’d give house room to, but led to an animated conversation with the lady on the desk about Flemish Medieval art and Gerard David’s The Flaying of Sisamnes being even more not what you’d want in the livingroom, although neither of us could remember who it was by, or the exact name, she knew it from my description and recollection of seeing it in Bruges. And this in a gallery specialising in Italian art of the twentieth Century.

A collection worth seeing, particularly with smells of Italian cooking wafting up from the caffé.

Wednesday to Saturday 11:00 to 18:00 hours.  Sunday 12:00 to 17:00. Late night opening Thursdays until 20.00.  Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

£5.00, concessions £3.50, includes permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.  Free to under-16s and students on production of a valid NUS card.

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art: 39a Canonbury Square, London N1 2AN

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011