Tag Archive for 'The National Gallery'

On the Road


I recently had the pleasure of sitting down (online) with Howard Burton of Ideas Roadshow podcast to discuss my life and work, particularly at The National Gallery in London. The resulting podcast is now online! Clocking it at over two hours, it’s rather wide-ranging covering in particularly how my life in comics intersects with that in art and how hip hop changed my life. Check it out here:

Titian in Boston


The exhibition of Titian’s six great so-called poesie for King Philip II (c. 1551-1562) that I helped organise at the National Gallery in London, and which showed in modified form at the Prado earlier this year, has now opened at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston under the title Titian: Women, Myth & Power.

From what I’ve seen in the press and online, I’m greatly impressed with their installation and didactic material they’ve put together, and it pleases me greatly to see these great Titians united in my American home away from home in Boston. I can’t wait hopefully to see it later in the autumn.

If you’re anyway near it, do go see it. It is truely and without hyperbole a once-in-a-lifetime chance. These are some of the great paintings of the Western tradition and they haven’t been seen together since the 1570s.

The Shape of Time in Milan


Postponed by Covid, the exhibition La forma del tempo (‘The Shape of Time’) at the Poldi Pezzoli in Milan finally opened last month and runs till 27 September. Centred around the museum’s extraodinary collection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century clocks, it examines conceptions of time in the renaissance as expressed in the visual arts. The National Gallery has lent Titian’s Allegory of Prudence, a picture that grapples with issues of family, succession, memory and time through a creative interpretation of a traditional iconography that represents time in the form of three heads, either human or animal. Anyway, I wrote the entry for the painting and would encourage readers who are in MIlan or find themselves there to go see the show. It looks fascinating. Check our Works section for info on the catalogue.

Lorenzo Lotto’s Monte San Giusto Crucifixion


One of Lorenzo Lotto’s greatest altarpieces can be found in the small church of Santa Maria della Pietà in the town of Monte San Giusto in the Marche. Painted in 1528-29, it is a stunningly ambitious representation of the Crucifixion, conceived by a master at the height of his powers, but also an artist who was increasingly struggling to find work in his native Venice leading him to seek employment elsewehere, especially in the Marche where many of the greatest of his later works can still be seen today.

In preparation for the twin Lotto exhibitions of 2018-19, Lorenzo Lotto Portraits at the Museo del Prado and the National Gallery and Lorenzo Lotto: Il richiamo delle Marche, Prof. Enrico Maria Dal Pozzolo and I visited Monte San Giusto to see the altarpiece in July 2018. It was a great experience and we susequently agreed to help produce videos on the work for the Commune. These have now been released to the public and will hopefully help attract people to the altarpiece, the town and the region. I cannot recommend it highly enough. For help, check this guide to seeing Lotto in the region.
Continue reading ‘Lorenzo Lotto’s Monte San Giusto Crucifixion’

Titian Poesie at the Prado

Titian, The Rape of Europa, 1559-62, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum


This week, the Museo del Prado in Madrid opened their exhibitions Passiones Mitológicas, or Mythological Passions. The show is their version of the exhibition I helmed at the National Gallery, which gathers for the first time since the sixteenth century Titian’s six mytholgical paintings, so-called poesie, originally painted for the Spanish king Philip II between around 1551 and 1562.

The show at the Prado is a kind of homecoming for these masterworks, a return to the royal Spanish collection to which they belonged and in which they became a cornerstone, influencing generations of artists. The Prado is therefore uniquely positioned to tell a broader story of the development of European painting in the early modern era and Titian’s crucial role in it. They have also taken the opportunity to tell the story of the development of secular, mythological genres of painting in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as kind of liberating format that encouraged experimentation.

Diego Velázquez, Las hilanderas (The Spinners), 1655-60. Madrid, Museo del Prado


It is of course incredibly difficult to travel at the moment, but if you’re in Madrid this exhibition is a rare treat, showing as it does the great poesie with masterworks by Veronese, Velázquez, Poussin, Rubens, Ribera and others. It is on until 4 July, so I for one am hoping for a summer visit! In the meantime, I believe they will be offering a virtual tour.

Giorgio Vasari’s Allegory of Patience


It seemed to come out of nowhere. Thought lost, Giorgio Vasari’s Allegory of Patience of 1542 popped up on the art market. It was acquired by the Klesch Collection in London where I first went to see it. Greatly impressed with the picture, we expressed an interest in taking it on loan at the National Gallery and the owners kindly agreed: it has been on display at Trafalgar Square since March last year, finding a natural place among the Florentine sixteenth-century pictures and significantly complementing the collection. In my opinion, it’s as good as Vasari gets as an easel painter — a monumental picture with great wall power. This may in part be due to the probable involvement in its design by Michelangelo, but it is in any case a bravura piece of painting.

Now, the Klesch Collection has published a small book on it, authored by the distinguished scholar of Florentine renaissance art Carlo Falciani. He, my colleague at the Gallery Caroline Campbell, and I also contributed to a short film on it. Check it out, and do come see the picture if you’re in London when the Gallery is open again!

Order the book via its publisher, Paul Holberton.

Merry Christmas!

Dosso Dossi, The Adoration of the Kings, about 1527-9, London, The National Gallery


 

Poetry in Paint: A Titian Conference at the National Gallery


This November, we staging a large virtual conference devoted to Titian’s late mythological paintings at the National Gallery. Organised by Thomas Dalla Costa and myself on the occasion of the exhibition Titian: Love Desire Death, which is still on view at Trafalgar Square (until 17 January), it will bring together scholars, conservators and scientists from Europe and North America to speak on a wide variety of topics relating to Titian and his mythological paintings, from technique to meaning and the wider context: from politics and identity to sex and violence!

The conference It will also feature four artist’s talks, with Nalini Malani, Michael Armitage, Phoebe Gloeckner and Tom de Freston — all reflecting on what Titian means to their practice and how they grapple with the enduring issues so central to his work.

The dates are 3, 10 and 17 November. You can see the full programme and register here.

Titian Behind Closed Doors at the BBC


The BBC2 documentary Titian Behind Closed Doors, directed by Matthew Hill, aired on the BBC on Saturday night. It’s a treatment of Titian’s relationship with Philip II, the king of Spain, and the series of mythological paintings, the so-called poesie, that he painted for him. It coincides with our now-shuttered exhibition, Titian Love Desire Death, at The National Gallery. I was involved in pitching it to the BBC and gave an interview for it, but have not otherwise been involved. I recommend taking a look if you’re interested in the subject — it covers a lot of ground on a complex and rich topic. If you have access to the BBC iPlayer, you can watch it here for the next twenty-odd days.

Titian at the National Gallery


Before the world went sideways, I was working on an exhibition, Titian Love Desire Death, uniting seven masterpieces of mythological paintings by Titian (about 1488-1576) at the National Gallery. We managed to open the exhibition on 16 March. Three days later it closed along with the rest of the Gallery which was one of the last European institutions of its kind to do so. We have no idea when we will be able to reopen again and therefore whether we will be able to share this extraordinary collection of paintings with the public before they have to be packed and shipped onwards. I wrote about this situation for Apollo Magazine last week.


Titian called these pictures poesie in order to emphasise the inspiration he had taken from classical poetry and the ambition to have them work as visual poems. The group of six canvases were executed for Philip of Habsburg, King Philip II of Spain from 1556, between about 1551 and 1562, while a seventh was never sent and only completed towards the end of the artist’s life. The six have not been seen together since, probably, the 1570s, and the seventh has never been displayed with the rest of the group. This was a dream project, not just of mine but any Titian or Italian renaissance enthusiast for generations.


I have been privileged to play a part in its realisation and hope you will want to take a closer look, if not in person at the National Gallery, then perhaps at one of our partnering venues: the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, the Museo del Prado in Madrid or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, to where the paintings will tour, if all goes well and the pandemic doesn’t get in the way of that too. And if not there, then perhaps virtually — we will doing our best to share our knowledge and appreciation online over the next months, in part under the #MuseumFromHome tag. Also, there will be a documentary dedicated to Titian and the poesie, in which I participate, broadcast on BBC 2 on 4 April and I believe Mary Beard will be featuring the works on Front Row Late sometime soon as well. Will post links in here when and if.

Our exhibition film is based on the BBC’s footage, a taster of which can be seen in the following short video on the paired Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto:

Here is a Facebook Live I did on 16 March, before we opened to the public. It was done under the worrying shadow of Covid-19 so bear with the slight incoherence. In the run-up to the exhibition my colleagues and I also did a series of FacebookLives on the individual paintings — they can be accessed here.

A creative decision that we made early in the process and which I was particularly happy with was to reframe Philip’s six pictures in matching frames in order to harmonise the display. Handcarved in the National Gallery framing department by Peter Schade, our Head of Framing and his team, they are based on the original sixteenth-century frame around Titian’s late Pietà at the Accademia in Venice. Check out this nice video the Gallery produced on the project:

They *are* such wonderful paintings.

Lorenzo Lotto: Last Days


The Lorenzo Lotto Portraits exhibition at the National Gallery, which I co-organised with Miguel Falomir and Enrico Maria Dal Pozzolo, is now in the last days of its run. It’s been a great season for Lotto, what with us putting Lotto on at two of the major art museums of the world, the Museo del Prado in Madrid and The National Gallery, and with the concurrent Lotto initiative, inspired in part by our exhibition, in the region of the Marche, which has included an additional, more specialist-oriented exhibition in Macerata as well as the introduction of a joint ticket for visitors wanting to go on the Lotto trail through the region. Something which I’ve done and highly recommend — not only does it feature some of the artist’s greatest altarpieces and other paintings, the Marche is also a beautiful part of the world, mercifully free of tourists. Now, with tours, academic conferences, study days and other activities behind me, I can only say that I’ve become even more devoted learning about to this astonishing artist. I hope you have too.

Encouragingly in that regard, the London iteration of the exhibition, smaller but arguably more focused than the magnificent Madrid one, has been a success. It is heartening to see so many people show an interest in a great artist who is virtually unknown outside Italy. I attribute it to Lotto’s very direct, intimate and relatable approach to his subject matter — he is an artist of great empathy who cannot but invest a lot of himself in his work, and it shows. If you haven’t seen the show yet and are in London, I hope you might be able to find the time. It’s open till Sunday. Check my introduction to the show above.

Lazarus explained


At the National Gallery we’re currently running a series of half-hour lunchtime lectures on the history of the Gallery told through six key paintings. I kicked off the series a couple of weeks ago with a talk on a painting that has become near and dear to me for perhaps obvious reasons, The Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo, from partial designs by Michelangelo. It was an ideal place to start since it was the first painting inventorised at the founding of the National Gallery in 1824, with the number NG1. See it above. The talks are all available at the National Gallery’s YouTube page.

Lorenzo Lotto Portraits


For the past couple of years I’ve been working with Miguel Falomír, director of the Museo del Prado in Madrid, and Professor Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo of the University of Verona, to bring you this exquisite exhibition of one of the greatest portraitists of the Western tradition, Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1557). It gives me great pleasure finally to see it open in Madrid tomorrow, where it will remain till 30 September before travelling to London for a more concise showing between 5 November and 10 February. It includes a large, varied selection of his portraits as well as a number of objects of the kind he depicted with such care in them — jewellery, books, sculptures, clothing, carpets… — for what I hope will function as an extension of portraiture and our understanding of it into so-called material culture.

Lotto is one of the great idiosyncratic artists of the Renaissance, painting like nobody else. His religious paintings are full of energy, humour, and a striking down-to-earth pathos, as are his portraits which are amongst the most varied and empathetic of the period. Itinerant for most of his life, he found the greatest success in his early career in Treviso in the first decade and especially Bergamo in the second, though he continued to produce fascinating, personal work through his late, depressed years.

Rarely able to attract the kind of elite clientele that was available to his great contemporary Titian, he distinguished himself for posterity by painting mostly the emerging bourgeoisie, the demographic that would increasingly dominate European politics, economy and culture down to the present day. His portraits seem remarkably frank, warts-and-all without being ostentatious about it, and as mentioned deeply empathetic. His sitters always invariably appear interesting to us, as if the artist is bringing forward their unique qualities for us to contemplate, not just on their behalf but on the behalf of humanity.

Conceived by Miguel and consolidated by Enrico, who is one of the premier Lotto specialists working today, the exhibition is one to which I’ve contributed mostly as a junior partner, but I am proud of the results, also of my own labour on it. The Prado has produced the catalogue, which we hope will stand as a significant contribution to Lotto scholarship, as well as an easy to access introduction to his activities as a portraitist and the historical and social context within which he worked. I’ve contributed the entries on the portrait drawings and the National Gallery’s three Lotto portraits, among other things. Do seek it out if you’re interested, and most importantly go see the exhibition. Please note that the exhibition is significantly larger at the Prado, which is definitely the place to see it for completists and specialists, while it will be more select, but hopefully no less beautiful and poignant at the National Gallery.

Enjoy!

The Renaissance in Six Pictures

Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434


A bit late here with this, but still thought I’d post it: as part of the BBC Civilisations Festival, which is approaching the end of its run, I wrote this piece on the European Renaissance, in which I try to convey as sense of its meaning and significance through close looking at six pictures from the National Gallery’s collection (the Gallery is a partner in the festival). 200 words each. Not easy, especially considering that, whether you like it or not, any such endeavour will be made in the ghostly shade of Kenneth Clark, whose original 1969 documentary series is still at high watermark in television about art, ideological criticisms be damned. Oh yeah, this all is of course prompted by the current revival of the concept at the BBC with their Civilisations, which so far I’ve found more admirable than inspiring, but still well worth watching for the many insights and the passion of its three hosts and its occasionally inspired editing.

Christmas odds and ends


So it’s nearly Christmas and I realise that I’ve been running behind even on the self-promotion (such as it is) in here. Fear not, I’ll have you caught up in no time, or just in time to wish you a merry one.

ITEM My exhibition Michelangelo & Sebastiano, which showed at the National Gallery last spring, was nominated for Exhibition of the Year at the Apollo Awards. Although we were beaten for the award by the amazing Raphael exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, it was needless to say an honour to be considered. I am proud of the work we did, warts and all, and hope some of you had the chance to come see it.

ITEM Speaking of Michelangelo and Raphael, they are — of course — two parts of the ‘Big Three’ constellation we are currently showing in room 20 at the National. The Royal Academy generously lent us Michelangelo’s Taddei tondo for Michelangelo and Sebastiano and have let us keep it till the end of January while they’re renovating and preparing its new display in time for their anniversary. For various reasons, my full online interpretation treatment on went live a few weeks ago. You can look at it here, and you can of course watch my Facebook Live introduction — previously posted – here.

Cornelis Cort after design by Titian, The Annunciation, second state, c. 1566, engraving


ITEM I reviewed Peter Lüdemann’s Tiziano. Le botteghe e la grafica in the December issue of The Burlington Magazine. on the use of graphic media in the Titian workshop. A stimulating if slightly incoherent book, which at times skirts the difficult issues but nevertheless collates little-studied material in enlightening ways. Here are my concluding remarks:

Lüdemann’s book is a welcome
addition to the literature. In addition
to providing the first analytical overview of
print production both in Titian’s workshop
and outside it, its central argument about
collaboration is strong. Titian himself never
cut, engraved or etched, which means that
any consideration of prints relating to his
output necessarily involves his workshop
practice and his arrangements with fellow
artists, printmakers and printers. It should
be obvious to any reader of this flawed but
fascinating book that the prints, and indeed
the drawings relating to them or otherwise
analogous to their function, are a particularly
illuminating key to a better understanding
of Titian’s work as a whole.

Read it at your local art library!

ITEM Our Christmas video series at The National Gallery this year focuses on gold as its theme. I participated briefly (see above) in the section devoted to the gilding of frames, discussing with our Head of Framing Peter Schade the spectacular altarpiece frame he created for the Gallery’s Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano and Michelangelo, which debuted in the aforementioned exhibition and is now on view around the painting in the Gallery’s room 8.

Merry Christmas!