Tag Archive for 'The National Gallery'

The Big 3 at The National Gallery


With the Michelangelo and Sebastiano exhibition closed at National Gallery we are privileged to hold on to Michelangelo’s marble Taddei Tondo from the Royal Academy until the end of January, while they complete the bicentennial refurbishment. This has given us the opportunity to show the sculpture along with a number of paintings from our collection by Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, the three foundational figures of what we have come to know as the High Renaissance.

The display is on in room 20 of the North Galleries, smack dab in the middle of our new display of Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century paintings, incongruously but necessarily because of logistics. If you’re in London, I encourage you to visit what I think is a compelling display telling the story of the creative and, to a lesser extent, personal interrelations of these three very different giants of art.

If you wish to know more, do check my introduction to the display via Facebook Live.

Happy Easter


I hope you are all well. If you’re in London, do consider visiting my exhibition, Michelangelo & Sebastiano, at the National Gallery. It includes the juxtaposition, above, of Michelangelo’s two Risen Christs. I naturally recommend it.

Michelangelo & Sebastiano


In a couple of weeks’ time, on 15 March, the exhibition Michelangelo & Sebastiano opens at the National Gallery (trailer above). As its curator, I’ve worked on it for the past two and a half years and of course look forward to people seeing it.

Briefly, it aims to be a focused show, examining the extraordinary friendship and collaboration between Michelangelo (1475-1564) and the Venetian painter and expat to Rome Sebastiano Luciani, known to posterity as Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547). Michelangelo is not known for his ability or willingness to collaborate, in part due to his own efforts in his later years to play down any such activity, but also because he genuinely worked best alone, or with assistants who were essentially subservient to him.

Remarkably, the partnership with Sebastiano, which started in late 1511 and lasted on-off, and mostly in long-distance form — Michelangelo in Florence and Sebastiano in Rome — between 1516 and 1534, was essentially a collaboration among equals. Yes, it was asymmetrical, as one would expect of any collaboration involving one of the greatest artists who ever lived, but each of the two men brought their unique ideas and sensibilities to their joint projects. Essentially, Michelangelo would provide Sebastiano with drawings which he would use in his paintings, but in many different ways and often quite independently of any oversight from Michelangelo. Sebastiano was hugely influenced by Michelangelo and spent most of his career assimilating his example, but he did so in his own, highly original fashion.

At the time of their falling-out in 1536, apparently over the choice of medium (oil or fresco) that Michelangelo would use for the Sistine Last Judgment — the great project that had brought him back to Rome, Sebastiano had developed a monumental, uniquely still and intensely spiritual style of painting that would prove immensely influential of painters of the following generations, not just in Rome but across Europe, from Caravaggio to Poussin and even Zurbarán.


Anyway, all this and much more — including the dramatic historical context, one of upheaval, war, schism and theological and artistic rejuvenation — will be explored in the exhibition and in its catalogue, which is shipping from its distributor as of yesterday. Edited by me, it features scholarship by, among others, Costanza Barbieri, Paul Joannides, Piers Baker-Bates, Silvia Danesi Squarzina and Timothy Verdon. Read more (and purchase) here.

Merry Christmas from the National Gallery

This is the kind of thing that helps me cope. Apologies for any awkwardness!

What I’ve been up to


It seems increasingly meaningless these days, right? Yet, these are some of the things I’ve been up to over the last month or so.

ITEM at Apollo Magazine online a few weeks ago, I wrote an appreciation of the great Harewood Titian drawing (above), which is currently under temporary export bar and risks leaving the UK for an overseas home if a matching offer isn’t met before 20 December.

ITEM In the latest National Gallery Technical Bulletin (vol. 37), Chris Fischer, Rachel Billinge and I analyse new technical evidence concerning Fra Bartolommeo’s Virgin Adoring the Child with St Joseph in the National Gallery’s collection. Newly recorded infrared reflectograms reveal underdrawing that straddles the gap between his disciplined Florentine training and the flowering lyrical undercurrent in his work that was stimulated so decisively by his visit to Venice in 1508. We also publish a series of replicas/copies of the composition, including the one in Brescia and a previously unknown one in a private collection, both probably made in his San Marco workshop. The issue also contains articles on Dutch seventeenth-century flower painting, Daubigny and Van Gogh. Consult at your art library or wait till the content is made available online.

ITEM The latest volume of Studi Tizianeschi (no. IX) contains my review of Tom Nichols’ flawed but occasionally stimulating book Titian and the End of the Venetian Renaissance. But don’t get it for that — the issue contains Paul Joannides’ and Jane Turner’s long-awaited and magisterial examination of Titian’s and his workshop’s many versions of the quintessential Venus and Adonis composition, a material that would pose a heroic challenge to any Titian connoisseur. There are other interesting articles on Titian-related matters too, naturally. Again, check it out at your library or order here.


ITEM a couple of my comics reviews have been published in Information (in Danish). Firstly, it concerns the Danish omnibus-like edition of Simon Hanselman’s bleakly funny and deranged comics about Megg, Mogg and Owl (above). It predates last year’s Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam, but pretty much every strip he made prior to that is in it. Next up is Drømme i tynd luft (‘Dreams in Thin Air’), a comics documentary on the formation of the first Tibetan national football team told by the Danish idealist who helped it happen, Michael Magnus Nybrandt and illustrated by the talented Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen. It’s a fascinating story, but the comic lacks dramatic and psychological interest, despite a few inspired passages. Anyway, even if you don’t read Danish, you may be able soon to see for yourself, as several international editions are in the works.

ITEM Oh, and I’m back writing story notes in the Fantagraphics Carl Barks series, which is of course fantastic fun. In the latest book, I wrote about the so-called ‘Donald Duck Rants about Ants’ — a true horror comedy steeped in 1950s paranoia as only Barks can do it. But, you know, get it — and the series — for the comics.

Bacchus and Ariadne: the Long and the Short


Serendipity would have it that two separate digital initiatives at the National Gallery had me talking about one of my favourite paintings in the collection, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, for two consecutive weeks. One was our #PaintedLovers campaign for the Valentine’s Day season, which consisted of a series of very short and (hopefully) to the point expositions on selected paintings with love as their theme by myself and colleagues (above). The other is a new initiative, #NGYouChoose, where the public votes for paintings in the collection to receive more in-depth facilitation from the curatorial staff. This consists of a public lecture of half an hour or so that is then posted to the Gallery’s YouTube channel (below).

It was a fun exercise, and hopefully the lectures and videos have been useful to some of you. I’ve got to admit, however, how difficult I find it to talk to a camera. This is particularly evident in the #PaintedLovers video, where I was ad-libbing a presentation where everything had to be on point, i.e. clear, devoid of mispronounciations, uhs, digressions, etc. I come across (to myself, at least) as mannered and robotic. As such it is a pretty good reminder that I need to loosen up when speaking into the dark glass.


The #NGYouChoose lecture was also improvised — which is the way I tend to prefer it — and its lack of tight coherence shows it, but at least I feel more relaxed. I am talking to an audience that is right there, and that helps. It doesn’t change the fact, however, that the camera mercilessly captures every nervous head scratch, every superfluous gesture, and my incessant shifting of feet. I get sea sick watching it.

Sorry, this is mostly a bit of autocriticism. If nothing else, I hope it will help me do better videos in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy at least some of what I have to say on this terrific painting. Do let me know, and thanks for watching.

The Week


It’s been forever since I did one of these. Such is the half dormant life of this blog. But anyway, the itch is still occasionally there so here we go.

The above video was made a few months ago to coincide with the opening of the Sansovino Frames exhibition at the National Gallery. We had just successfully acquired the beautiful Venetian (non-Sansovino) frame which now adorns Titian’s Allegory of Prudence, partly through crowdfunding, and which features in the clip. I think it encapsulates well some of the very real pleasures of working with great artworks: the fact that details count; the kind of holistic thinking the works demand of you when you plan their display; and not least the passion and expertise that they demand. I appear for a brief moment and contribute nothing, but do watch the video for the insight it gives into our framing department and the great work Peter Schade and his staff do there.

OK, here are some links:

  • London Art Week. I haven’t yet really done the rounds, but I did have a chance to look at this drawing attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo. I’m unsure about the attribution, but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful. And while we’re talking Sebastiano, there’s what I do believe is bona fide painting by him in Christie’s day sale.
  • Mikkel Sommer. A rising star on the Danish comics scene. He hasn’t yet delivered a work really delivering on his great talent, but if he keeps dropping gems like this brilliant GIF he’ll keep at least this reader watching him.
  • Roskilde 2015. No, I’m not there this year, sadly, but if you read Danish, you can follow the coverage of the hip hop at the festival by my homies at Rapspot here. Prominent in the line-up was El-P and Killer Mike’s by now ubiquitous-in-hipsterdom-but-no-less-awesome-for-that project Run the Jewels. They surely killed it, if their performance last weekend at Glastonbury is anything to go by.
  • The Week

    Paolo Veronese, The Conversion of Mary Magdalene, about 1548, oil on canvas, 117.5 x 163.5 cm. London, The National Gallery.


    In a couple of weeks’ time, we’re opening the first major show of the works of Venetian Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese in decades at the National Gallery. Although it falls within my area of responsibility and will therefore occupy much of my time for the next few months, it’s an exhibition I have had nothing to do with, having started at the gallery only a few months ago. But needless to say one I’m looking forward to immensely: it’s a privilege thus to be dropped into the midst of a great project on an artist of immense generosity.

    It’s not just that his pictures pull out all the stops, that his art is a rarely paralleled display of elegance, magnificence, and virtuosity, it’s that there is something profoundly touching about those qualities in his work. He is one of the few artists who really understood the lessons of Raphael. His immaculate sense of composition, his grasp of form, two- as well as three-dimensional, his sensitive use of gesture, and the subtlety of his portrayal of human interaction are all elements in what seems to me a distinctly civilising art, to paraphrase Kenneth Clark’s characterisation of Raphael. Contemplating Veronese is not only a joy, it makes you feel better about life and who we are.

    That’s the high register. Keep an eye on the NG website for further thoughts and more concrete analysis during the course of the exhibition. I’ll keep you posted here and on twitter.

    Links:

  • “There Are Good Guys and Bad Guys.” Bhob Stewart’s classic essay on/obituary of Wally Wood reprinted at the Comics Journal to mark the passing of its author. RIP. Read it, it is one of the most evocative, personal texts of its kind in comics. Really brings the great, flawed cartoonist to life.
  • Nikoline Werdelin interviewed. Arguably the greatest living Danish cartoonist, Werdelin has rarely if ever been interviewed about her comics (she has often talked to journalists about other things — life, style, death, and everything in between), so this in-depth, work-oriented interview by Thomas Thorhauge is a major scoop. Unfortunately it is only available in Danish, as is indeed the case with most of her work. English readers can sample her in From Wonderland with Love.
  • Finally, this uncredited photo, from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, is arresting, sobering, terrible. A reminder that something has to be done there. A no-fly zone blocking the government’s use of their air force remains a good place to start.
  • At the National


    It’s been a month already, and it’s been the blast. This is my new workplace — I’m doing my best to be steward to a mind-blowing collection of Italian paintings, with some really big shoes to fill. (Wish me luck). It’s still a little unreal, not the least because I’m still segueing between Copenhagen and London, moving only in January. In between at the National.

    The Week


    The week in review

    I’ve been asked a few times about the painting that the National Gallery in London has recently cleaned and put back on display as Titian’s portrait of the physician Girolamo Fracastoro, as mentioned by Vasari in his Life of Titian of 1568. It’s a difficult one. The argument, as presented in an article in last month’s Burlington Magazine, is based partly on plausible provenance, but mostly on the fact that it it carried on the back of its frame a 19th-century note identifying its sitter as Fracastoro.

    The painting is clearly Titianesque, but rather dull. As mentioned repeatedly in the press coverage, by far the most attractive area is the lynx fur worn by the sitter — compelling tactile eruption flecking through an otherwise rather bland surface. In any case, it pales in comparison with the other Titians in the same room at the National Gallery. None of this means the attribution is wrong, however: it is apparently quite damaged, which probably accounts in large part for its somewhat unconvincing appearance, and although very consistent, Titian did have bad days.

    Another problem is the identification of the sitter. He looks quite different from known portraits of Fracastoro, such as the woodcut on right. The sitter in the painting is clearly slimmer of face and with a thinner, more elegant nose, but he is also clearly older in the woodcut, which might account in part for his fuller, more plump appearance. Plus, we still know very little about the extent to which, and how, painters at this time idealised, rejuvenated, and otherwise altered the appearance of their sitters . It’s an issue, which always makes identification of sitters in Renaissance (and later!) portraits difficult. The nineteenth-century label helps in this case, of course, but is far from proof, even if it repeats an older tradition.

    Summing up, I don’t see any reason to disagree outright with the proposal made by the gallery, which largely convinces, but cannot help but feel a little uneasy about it.

    Links!

  • TPB AFK. A lot of people are of course already unto this, and have only watched the beginning, but I’d still like to point in its direction: Simon Klose’s documentary on the Pirate Bay trial promises an important document about a important moment in the development of digital rights discourse. Youtube link.
  • Eddie Campbell on the ‘Literaries’ and reception of EC Comics. Yes! Campbell formulates much more precisely than I could important aspects of what I’ve been trying get at in my comics criticism of the past few years. A must-read for people interested in comics and how we read them.
  • David Frum on Booker T. Washington. I’ve only started digging into these stimulating posts occasioned by the publication of Robert J. Norrell’s biography of the early black American leader, but warmly recommend them. Washington has long needed the nuanced and revisionist treatment he seems to be getting now.
  • G. W. Bush, naivist painter. This is almost too weird — and good! — to be true, but these are supposed to be bathroom self-portraits by the erswhile president. His vacant expression is very well captured indeed.
  • Stephen Greenblatt on Richard III’s bones. Typically intelligent, if breezy, take on the archeological find of the week.
  • And finally, this article on the problems faced by museums when accepting gifts with stipulations from the donor is an informative read. I’ve long thought that the control exercised by donors over what happens to their collections once donated to a worthwhile institution is often counterproductive, even onerous, especially in America. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is merely one egregious example that I’ve written about in the past.