When Florence met Venice

I’m fairly certain that of all the artistic periods that I’m familiar with, the Renaissance is my favourite. So whenever there’s an exhibition of some Renaissance master or other, I rush to get tickets and stare in wide eyed wonder at the brilliance on show. It was obvious, therefore, that I should go along to the National Gallery and see the Michelangelo and Sebastiano exhibition. I had a ticket for lunchtime today.

Before leaving the house, I took the girls for an early walk in the park, leaving Mirinda to continue to the station, something which totally confused Freya. It was a glorious morning, everything looking alive and (mostly) green.

Avenue of Trees

We met a massive dog (I thought it was a pony at first) who Freya managed to rub noses with when it bent over a long way. In fact the dog’s nose was about the size of Freya’s head. It was a very big dog. After talking to us his owner jumped aboard and rode the dog away.

We also met a pug which was very keen on playing with the girls. His owner kept apologising then cooing over the girls. She thought Freya looked like a lamb and Emma a teddy bear. Of course she as perfectly correct. We see an awful lot of dog walkers when we go up early in the morning, which is generally good fun.

Before finally heading for home, I remembered to check up on Thomas and Erika, something I noted a year or two ago.

All seems well

At home, it was a brief rest then off and out and headed for London.

The exhibition was quite crowded, which is unusual for a Tuesday but I guess it may be because the exhibition is almost over and, of course, it’s a lunchtime slot. The 10am is generally the best but it means a very early start from home. Still, it wasn’t so crowded as to be horrid and I hired a an audio guide and headed around the rooms.

The National Gallery always puts on a great show…well, from the ones I’ve seen anyway. (Actually, if I think about it, I can’t think of many exhibitions anywhere that I haven’t liked.) The inventiveness of the subject is always a bit of a treat.

Take this one. Michelangelo and Sebastiano were contemporaries. Michelangelo was well known for not getting on with fellow artists and, in fact, was quite irascible with just about everyone. Fortunately his artistic skills were far in excess to anyone else’s. I guess this meant he could be as awful as he wanted.

Sebastiano, I’d never heard of but his skills were exquisite as well. He was a great fan of Raphael and they worked together in Rome. Apparently Michelangelo couldn’t stand Raphael so, some posit, that’s why he decided to take up with Sebastiano.

St Sebastian by Sebastiano del Pombo (1518-19)

The two worked together on various projects both in Rome and Florence and there was a large and affectionate correspondence between them both. This is very unusual for Michelangelo who never wrote an affectionate letter to anyone, even his wife. The thing is, they appear to have really got on and their work together is a beautiful combination of their separate skills.

As well as seeing some amazing paintings by the pair of artists, the exhibition also had two amazing pieces.

Firstly an extraordinary copy of the famous Borgherini Chapel in Rome. Obviously the whole chapel couldn’t be moved and the paintings are painted directly onto the wall so, rather than just show a photo, the organisers recreated the chapel using 3D printing technology and hi-res imagery. The effect is amazing. It’s so real. And that’s not to mention the beauty of the painting itself.

In two halves, Sebastiano painted with oils directly onto the plaster of the wall of the chapel at the bottom, something that was very difficult until he perfected the process. This process gives the image great depth of colour and light. The painting above is a normal fresco style and while bright and cheery is not nearly as moody.

Secondly, and I have to admit to being my favourite, was the presentation of Michelangelo’s two versions of The Risen Christ. Made about five years apart, the differences are as amazing as the similarities. Most extraordinary is the ease with which the master manages to create a stone figure that looks both real and ethereal. The legs alone look like they could just walk off, something I wish mine would do.

It would be impossible to normally see them both together so this is a unique opportunity and one I took full advantage of, remaining in the room for quite a while comparing and contrasting the two. (This is despite one being a plaster copy though it’s virtually impossible to tell they are not both marble.)

Of course, no photos were allowed but I’ve snapped a few photographs from the guide book. First is the St Seb above and this one is of a story about Jesus I wasn’t aware of.

The Descent into Limbo (detail) by Sebastiano del Pombo (1516)

This is just after Jesus has died. He goes to Limbo because that’s what happens when you die and before your final destination is decided. And guess who Jesus finds there. You’ll never guess. It’s only Adam and Eve isn’t it! So these two have been hanging about for yonks, all naked and waiting for some decision to be made on their fates when all of a sudden Jesus pops in and decides they can go to Heaven. I guess that just underlines the fact that he’s a good deal more forgiving than his bastard of a father.

Confusingly, there are various interpretations of the biblical story. In most of them, Jesus actually goes to Hell (or Hades) and frees a bunch of souls, including Adam and Eve. Whichever, it makes a great story of redemption and forgiveness.

My favourite painting was The Visitation by Sebastiano. It is a meeting between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of St John the Baptist. The faces on the two women are superb. There is so much emotion that it’s hard to believe it is merely a painting.

The Visitation (detail) by Sebastiano del Pombo (1518-19)

So, a beautiful day, a wonderful exhibition and a lovely day out.

National Gallery and Trafalgar Square

As I was leaving the National Gallery I stopped in the final gallery to take this video:

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1 Response to When Florence met Venice

  1. Mum Cook. says:

    I think those two women look ugly the visitation one has a awful face and the other has a big nose. But if you enjoyed it then that is good. Love mum xxxxxx

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