This year’s major summer exhibition at the NGA is Renaissance – pictures from the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo.
I guess the first response is ‘Where?’ – in fact the Accademia Carrara has a good, if obscure collection of works from the late Medieaval onwards through the Renaissance and it was this collection that has been mined for the current exhibition – starting with late medieval devotional works that – while more stereotypes and individualistic than Byzantine works of the same period show the same stilted repetitive composition – here’s St Peter – don’t worry he looks the same as St George, you can tell them apart one has a big gold key and the other a sword.
Iconography to tell the stories to the people by the use of standard set of images. But behind the seemingly similar images you can see signs of change – a crucifixion that might almost have been drawn by Goya – portraits of young men that start to look like people rather than stereotypes.
You see a similar effect in the Madonna paintings. The Madonna moves from this stereotypical image to a much more individualistic pictures of a real woman with a real child. Now personally my reaction to Madonna paintings en masse is ‘God! not another bloody virgin Mary’, but put together as they are you can trace the evolution of style, of individualism, as well as the gradual improvement in technique
There are two other things that are interesting – first of all the exhibition covers the change from painting in tempera on smooth wooden boards – as in Byzantine icons, to canvas as in modern oil paintings with oil based paints, which allows more fluidity and larger paintings.
The other is the change from purely devotional art to the development of secular portraiture, first by the inclusion of pictures of the sponsors of the works in devotional paintings to portraits in their own right – saying ‘here I am, look at me’ such as in the portrait of Giovanni Bendetto Caravaggi, Rector of Padua University, which is most definitely all about saying how important a scholar Giovanni Caravaggi was.
The change in technique from board to canvas and the development of secular portraiture is neatly brought together at the end of the exhibition with two full length portraits by Giovanni Moroni that could easily pass as Dutch old masters. Comparing these with the first, late medieval, paintings in the exhibition shows just how far art travelled during the Renaissance.
The exhibition is on from now until Easter. Being members we went to the members private viewing on the opening night. Like the exhibition a couple of years ago of paintings from the Musee d’Orsay the NGA had managed to get access to the paintings due to restoration work back home.
Unlike the opening night of the Musee d’Orsay exhibition, there were no frightening haircuts or beards on show – perhaps because the exhibition this time required a serious interest in art history. Of course there were those there who were there to be seen but make no mistake – this is a serious exhibition – not intellectually easy but definitely rewarding.