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 5: ‘Follower of Hugo van der Goes’


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!

Virgin and Child, Follower of Hugo van der Goes circa 1485

Gentle, intimate, devotional: the virgin can’t quite bring herself to look directly at her child, and he doesn’t look at her, staring off into middle distance, his lips open on a sigh, he rolls the beads of a crystal and coral (?) necklace – too many beads for a rosary? – and tangles his fingers in the cord.

She looks a though she will rest her forehead against his in a moment – feel the astonishing heat from his skin, breathe in the scent of him.

It feels as though he will pat her kindly on the cheek and turn away, his mind on things to come.

© Cherry Potts 2013

On the side of the Angels, part 3: ‘Follower of Roger Campion’


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!

Virgin and Child before a Firescreen circa 1440. Follower of Roger Campion, much ‘restored’.

The screen dominates, beautifully woven from rushes(?) it creates her halo, the fire just visible above the edge.

She offers her breast awkwardly and forcefully to an undernourished and louche child, who is more interested in the his own hair and the viewer than in feeding.

Her book, abandoned on the couch beside her, catches a page in the breeze from the apparently open window. The floor tiles’ perspective is wobbly in the corners (it turns out only the central section is definitely original, and that real fire has caught the virgin’s fur cuff at some point. The irony of those little flames licking around her haloing screen.)

Somewhere along the line this image has found its way into something I’m writing at the moment – although the woman is definately not a virgin, the child isn’t hers and anyway is a girl, the window is not open and she is feeding the child from a horn cup… and it’s three centuries later.  It’s still this image though – it takes up the same space in my mind’s eye.

© Cherry Potts 2013