Today I went to the National Gallery and did a world’s greatest hits tour of the early and High Renaissance. Please don't tell anyone that I still haven’t cracked the jet lag code and woke up at 2:00pm, left the house at 3:30pm (yes it takes me that long) and got the the gallery at 4:00p.m. To be fair, I was there until 6:00pm. But still, when will this madness end? Not sure.
Anyway, the first thing I did was head for what is hands down, no doubt about it, don’t even try and sway me, my favorite painting: Venus and Mars by Botticelli.
A moment of silence please.
This is truly a work of spectacular art. I could stare at it for ages, and I did in fact, I think I made the guard a little nervous how long I stood there.
I tried to analyze why I love it so much. First, I think a lot has to do with the composition. It was made for the top of a dowry chest, or spalliera, so it is a narrow horizontal composition. This presented a challenge for Botticelli, and this is what makes it so amazing, you feel none of that challenge. It is perfectly composed. You don't think about its narrow horizontality. All you see is the beauty of the lounging figure of Venus, with her golden brown hair, her diaphanous folds of sheer drapery, her delicate fingers and toes. The dancing satyrs around the exhausted sleeping and indeed defeated Mars. His head hanging back, the beautiful head of long brown godly hair. Yes, love has triumphed over war, and it has never looked so good!
After you step back from marveling at the intense and amazing amount of skill and talent Botticelli had with a paint brush, the sheer beauty of the figures, you start to see what is one of my favorite aspects, the gorgeousness of Renaissance colors. The green, pink, red, light blue accented with golds, coppers and blacks. If that is not an ingenious interior color scheme, I don’t know what is. I am definitely coming back to that.
I went on to hit up The Arnolfini wedding by Van Eyck, Ucello’s Saint George and the Dragon, Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks, Leonardo’s drawing of The Virgin and Saint Anne, Massacio’s Virgin and Child (with Christ eating grapes in the most childlike way), Bronzino’s Venus and Cupid, Holbein’s the Ambassadors and a whole bunch more. (Btw, my Mom would kill me over that list, it is completely out of chronological order.)
I stared at Leonardo’s charcoal drawing of the Virgin and the Rocks. The way he sculpts a face, is absolutely unbelievable. Its the light on the top of the cheeks, the sculpting of soft beauty that is truly breathtaking. Mesmerizing.
I had to go see Bronzino’s Venus and Cupid because it is an absolute doll of a painting. Theres Venus in all her glory with her son cupid tweaking her nipple and an angry father time pulling back the curtain. And oh, what a curtain. The most glorious blue against her translucent white flesh. Over and over again its these pure stinging colors that get me. They make me so happy. They make me want to decorate a room those colors in an attempt to recall in some small manner the glory of a Renaissance painting.
I’ve been going to museums all over Europe since as long as I can remember. Almost always accompanied by my Mother, who has a PhD in Art History, and is an expert on the Italian Renaissance. So going to the museum today, by myself, was like going to see old friends. I knew each of them and their stories because I had seen them before but with an expert. Thanks Mom, can’t wait to go see them with you again.
I wanted to make a little shout out to the fact that all the museums in London are free. In a city where everything costs somethings, and everything is expensive, this is truly a gift. It attests to a government that believes that culture, which feeds our soul, should be available to everyone. I think it would be fantastic of more cities did this. Museums and the work therein should be a right not a privilege. Just saying.
P.S. Since I get out of the house so late, by the time I get out of a museum it is often dark. Here is a view of the National Gallery all lit up. Romantic, no?