Whilst the Royal Academy prepares for its Summer Exhibition, the upper galleries feature works by Giorgione and an array of Italian High Renaissance artists.
The subdued lighting of the first gallery highlights the rich portraiture of Bellini, Durer, Cariani and Giorgione. Images looking across your shoulder or peering askance at you the gazer, the subjects immortalised for us to still stare at. What are their backgrounds, their stories? What are the provenances of the works? Who over the centuries has stood there in front of them like us, and wondered ‘who were these people?’
Move on through the token display of landscapes to where we are presented with a collection of devotional images created both for intimate and public worship. The iconic Italian Renaissance Madonna and Child – all the same but different.
With collections like this, why not take some time to identify your favourite? Mine was Sebastiano del Piombo’s ‘Virgin and Child with St Catherine and St John The Baptist’ (the Lochis Madonna), painted in 1511. Sebastiano achieved such remarkable figurative realism particularly with his Christ child, so aspired to by artists at this time. This picture so emanates divine yet simple humanity, it is a richly rewarding almost numinous experience to allow yourself to be drawn into the scene.
To compare and contrast, enjoy looking at the other babies. Youngsters are especially difficult to depict, they are naturally too young for any ‘lived in’ physiognomies – no lines, wrinkles, characteristics and even accepting the iconography of ‘the son of God’ in the figures, they nevertheless present as awkward, artificial and purely symbolic. This it could be said, in complete contrast to the realism the artists were trying to convey with their other figures.