National Gallery, London
(image from Wikimedia)
What's wonderful about exhibitions like this is how they remind you how long people can live on in their portraits.
The people in the portraits in this exhibition all lived in the 15th and 16th centuries and most have been dead for well over 500 years - and yet their humanity speaks volumes due to the skill of the artists.
The German artist Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) explained that portraiture preserves the likenesses of men after their deaths. Remembering people was the main purpose of portraiture in the Renaissance.
Phillip II by Titian
Museo del Prado
(image from wikipedia)
- how artists often create illusions which flatter the subject - Phillip II's legs got a lot longer after he sat for Titian. He really looked like this ( think!).
- how artists often focus on an idealised version of beauty - and how this always seems to vary according to time and place
- how Holbein rarely worried about what to put in the background! Blue green seems to go with everything! ;)
- how enigmatic faces always make you look longer at a portrait. I'm still puzzling over what exactly the artist does to make a face look enigmatic. It's something to do with the direction of gaze, the eyes and the mouth.
- how portraits can be constructed after death (like this one) - and how sometimes people anticipated their own death by commissioning their portraits for their tombs in advance of their death
- how you didn't have to be wealthy or an aristocrat to commission a portrait
- how a good self-portrait very often promotes the work of an artist
- how painterly Titian was!
- how long portraits can survive in a really excellent condition
- how painting can improve on photographs in so very many ways.
You can see sketches I made while in the exhibition in Renaissance Faces - in my sketchbook.
Slideshows of the paintings are available as follows:
- National Gallery - Paintings from the Exhibition
- The Guardian: Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian (14 pictures)
- The Daily Telegraph - Unforgettable Faces
- The Daily Telegraph - Renaissance art: face values
For those of us who live in London, what we're really coming to the exhibition to see are all the major loans of paintings belonging to other galleries and collections in the UK, Europe and North America. Highlights include masterpieces of Habsburg court portraiture on loan from the Museo Nacional del Prado, including Titian’s majestic warrior portrait of the young Philip II (1527 - 1598) and Anthonis Mor’s 'The Court Jester Pejeron'.
11" x 8", pencil in sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
- Jan Van Eyck's 'Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?)', 1433 - see above
- Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait Full title: Portrait of Giovanni (?) Arnolfini and his Wife ('The Arnolfini Portrait') - see right for sketch
- Jan van Eyck's Portrait of a Man ('Léal Souvenir') 1432 - Léal Souvenir means 'accurate likeness'
- Hans Holbein the Younger, 'The Ambassadors' 1533 (this is a link to an explanation of the Ambassadors - including the meaning of all the items in the picture)
- Hans Holbein the Younger, 'A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling' - I love this painting.
- Hans Holbein the Younger, Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan 1538 - a really splendid full length portrait when this was not the norm. She only sat for Holbein for 3 hours - and was wearing mourning clothes because she was already a widow aged 16.
- Quinten Massys, 'An Old Woman (‘The Ugly Duchess’)', about 1513 (but it was really good to see it paired up with its counterpart!)
- all the portraits by Jan Van Eyck - I'm not fussy, when this artist paints portraits he can do no wrong in my eyes! This is, after all, the man who is frequently credited with inventing oil painting! I used to have a postcard of the painting which is thought to be his self portrait on the wall of my room all the way through college. I couldn't believe how small it was the very first time I saw it 'face to face'. I've created a new information site about this artist Jan van Eyck - Resources for Art Lovers - it's got the basics and I'll be adding to it and refining it over time. I enjoyed seeing the portrait of van Eyck's wife for the first time. (Jan van Eyck, 'Margaret, the Artist’s Wife', 1439 Groeningemuseum, Bruges. )
- all the Durer paintings, drawings and engavings (again, I'm a longtime fan of Durer) - this one is stunning (it seems to me this would normally be thought of as a totally modern notion of how to crop a face - and yet it was done in 1508) and this one - A Portrait Machine (1525) - is fascinating.
- A Man Holding a Coin of Nero (possibly Bernardo Bembo, 1433-1519), about 1474, by Hans Memling. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp
- Laughing child, possibly Henry VIII, c.1498, Painted and gilded terracotta, attributed to Guido Mazzoni - the link is to its entry in the Royal Collection. This is an amazing bust. I've never seen a laughing child before done as a bust like this and the head is just remarkable. I had to draw it!
|A Laughing Boy (Henry VIII)|
attributed to Georgio Mazzoni
11" x 8", pencil in sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
There is a simple rule which needs to be applied to all art appreciation. If an artwork deserves to be looked at for more than ten seconds, it stands a chance of being a serious piece of work.........This is a brilliant survey of European portraiture from the 15th and 16th centuries, at that moment in the western tradition when painting the human form reached a degree of brilliance and profundity which has never been surpassed. When you look at these great portraits by the likes of Memling, Holbein, Titian, Pontormo, Botticelli, Bellini, Lotto and so many others – there is an almost absurd embarrassment of riches here;
Campaign for the TitiansI also went to see the two Titians which are the current subject of a major campaign to save them for the nation and are in London for a month. I watched a video on the news recently of Lucian Freud (who NEVER does interviews) talking about how inspiring he finds the Titians - particularly Diana and Acteon. The interviewer had obviously mugged up and asked all sorts of seemingly intelligent questions which fell on stony ground. Freud wasn't in the least bit interested in the history or the colours or the brushwork - what he liked was the way the painting made him feel when he looked at it!
Actaeon Surprising Diana (Artemis) in the bath,
(National Gallery of Scotland - on loan from the Bridgewater Collection).
Titian’s ‘Diana and Actaeon’ is one of six large-scale mythological works inspired by the Roman poet Ovid. These works were painted for Philip II of Spain. Titian called his lyrical compositions ‘poesie’, the visual equivalents of poetry. Nothing he ever painted was more inventive in beauty and power.
Reviews of the exhibition
You can read reviews of the Renaissance faces exhibition by following these links:
- The Guardian - Enchanted to meet you (Laura Cuming)
- The Independent - Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck To Titian, National Gallery, London (Michael Glover rates is as a 5 star exhibition)
- Daily Telegraph - National Gallery's Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian review
- The Times - Renaissance Faces at the National Gallery
- RENAISSANCE FACES: VAN EYCK TO TITIAN AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY By Tara Booth