A long time ago, in a country far, far away, we decided to break away from the theatre company we were with and create our own. At the time I only wore black, being vaguely artistic and not the least bit Goth. We needed a name for our new, adventurous theatre company.
It was Karen who came up with the lowercase acronym ‘blac’. It stood for Bellini’s Little Acting Company. Bellini was the name of a character I played for which I won the Best Supporting Actor award at the Wagga Theatre Festival a few years previously. I don’t remember the play but I do remember the slowly deflating blow up chair which possibly should have won Best Actor.
Moving along a few years (and getting to the point of this seemingly pointless reminiscence) we discovered two more Bellinis. One of them is a cocktail which generally features peach and Prosecco and which is too sweet for me. The other is one of the greatest Italian Renaissance painters to have ever lived.
Last week when my gout was at its worst (or best depending on the perspective) I was disappointed in not being able to venture up to London to visit an exhibition at the National Gallery. The exhibition was titled Mantegna and Bellini and I really wanted to see it given my love for all things Renaissance. Well, today I went instead.
At first I almost didn’t given the weather. After the gym and shopping and during my walk back home, I was attacked by long darts of icy cold rain, the sky black with clouds. Then, as if desirous of me going into town, the clouds vanished and the sky once more shone with blue. I decided to go.
At various times it rained again through the day but each time I managed to be inside something and avoided getting wet again. Rather, I’d emerge from where ever to be surrounded by puddles which reflected the sun and sky beautifully.
As usual Trafalgar Square was crowded. Today a lot of them looked quite damp though the National Gallery looked bright and clean.
I went down to the Sainsbury Wing and the exhibition.
Mantegne was the older painter who married Bellini’s sister. Their father, Jacopo Bellini, was an artist as well and so a dynasty of art was begun. Bellini and his brother-in-law spent a lot of time perfecting their styles, growing in stature as rich (usually religious) sponsors ordered massive great paintings to impress their friends at dinner parties.
Their art is beautiful. There’s a lot of technical brilliance as well given how pivotal they both were in the development of future art but it’s the beauty that strikes you as you wander among their works. Rich, deep colours, photo realistic faces, pained martyrs, it’s there in every frame. I’ve seen a lot of exhibitions but this was easily one of the most beautiful.
One Bellini work that we’d seen in Venice was the Doge below. It’s incredibly realistic, almost as if the man could speak. I discovered that the face is in two halves. The left side shows warmth and an almost smile while the right side is the darker, more malevolent side. All this is achieved mostly by the painted light across the painting. The photo is from the catalogue so it probably doesn’t work but it was incredible in the flesh.
Of course I took the audio guide and was taken step by step through the lives of both painters as their work met and diverged while they developed and grew. Theirs were lives full of extraordinary skill and innovation. I always wonder why everyone doesn’t get the audio guide because it truly opens the exhibition up into a whole extra level, beyond just ‘looking at pictures.’
Anyway, what do I care about the reasoning of other people? I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end and once more stepped out into a Square only recently made freshly wet by a now retreating storm.
I guess I should mention that the trains were all stuffed up today but, given they didn’t actually impact on me, I don’t think I’ll bother.