Renaissance Faces at The National Gallery
The Tailor, Giovanni Battista Moroni, 1565.
When it comes to art, being a student is generally quite worth it in London: most exhibitions have interesting concession fees and some are even free – most permanent collections being free for everyone anyway – London is great.
Take tonight: I received a very nice email from the National Gallery inviting me to a special limited tickets (=not crowded!) late night for students including entrance to their latest major exhibition, a tour from an artist and drinks: all for free.
Portraits from the Renaissance are not my favourite art movement, but I could nonetheless spend hours admiring the detailing of a lace collar or the lighting of a velvet drape. That is undoubtedly what strikes me the most with masters of Italian and Dutch Renaissance: if the faces sometimes look far from our modern airbrushed perfection – perfection criteria for women back then included being pale, have venetian blond hair and some curves – the clothes look unbelievably real and sophisticated.
It is all about textures, thanks to the progress in the use of oil paints at that time, which makes a fur coat or an ermine lining looks just so real one wants to touch it. Not to mention the silk drapes, satin buttons and ribbons, embroidery and omnipresent pearls and beads.
Portraits are always interesting because it is about point of view, about the purpose of the painting and about memory, posterity, status and identity.
And as our fantastic guide Marc Woodhead explained: ‘There was also a religious purpose: the subjects of the portraits were hoping to go to heaven and that a picture, statue or relic of them would remind and urge their relatives to pray for them while they were in purgatory.’
I particularly liked this picture of a tailor. It is simply very rare to find portraits of tailors since designers and couturiers were not starified before the Couture era, and just could not afford to commission an artist for a portrait as a prince would. This gentleman was thus probably very wealthy, or had very generous acquaintances!
Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian, National Gallery, until 18 January 2009. More information here.