11 March 2012

Quattrocento > Cinquecento

Carlo Crivelli. Madonna and child c.1482-1483. Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, legacy of Guglielmo Lochis 1866

I love the art of the quattrocento/cinquecento from Italy. I saw tons of it when I lived in Italy for a few years so I was happy to attend the National Gallery’s blockbuster exhibition, Renaissance, but I didn’t expect to be thrilled. But I was. It was a nice small exhibition with just a few works that I recognised, but it I thoroughly enjoyed watching the changes from Mediaeval to Rennaissance and was stunned by how 100 years-or-so was all it took to move from odd perspective and flat surfaces and glowing-eggshell skin tones to the realism and humanism of Northern Italy around 1550. I learnt lots because the change was so concentrated and so obvious. Megan and I walked around with a “shared adult” audio tour and it was a great choice. The descriptions were informative (despite some questionnable Italian pronunciation) and the shared audio made for a strangely intimate but social visit.

Giovanni Bellini. Madonna and Child (Alzano Madonna) c.1488. Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, bequest of Giovanni Morelli 1891

Sandro Botticelli. Christ the Redeemer c.1495-1505. Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, bequest of Giovanni Morelli 1891

Titian. Madonna and Child in a landscape c.1507. Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, legacy of Guglielmo Lochis 1866

Giovan Battista Moroni. Portrait of a child of the house of Redetti c.1570. Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, legacy of Guglielmo Lochis 1866

After the first few rooms, I chose the Carlo Crivelli Madonna and child as my favourite with its glowing tempera skin and its luscious and suggestive peaches (I later discovered these were apples, to my disappointment) and the two landscapes (one rich and on the side of Heaven, one dry) and the symbolic cucumber (!) (=Jonah in the whale, ie, Resurrection) and cherry (=sweetness, ie, joy of Heaven) and carnation (= ardent love, ie, Mary). But then we were stunned by several wonderfully authentic portraits (Lazzaro Bastiani's Portrait of the philosopher Lucio Crasso; Andrea Solario's Ecce homo; Lorenzo Lotto's Portrait of a young man). We loved Raphael’s well-balanced Saint Sebastian, I enjoyed Titian’s soft Madonna and child in a landscape and was intrigued by the cartoon-like Botticelli Christ the redeemer. Then a few more portraits from the late-Renaissance (Altobello Melone’s Portrait of a gentleman [Cesare Borgia?]; Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of Lucina Brembati). Then the stunning change to the Northern Italian realism of the Renaissance (Giovan Moroni’s Portrait of a child of the house of Redetti; and Moroni’s Portrait of an old man seated and his paired portrait, Portrait of the nobleman Bernardo Spini and Portrait of the noblewoman Pace Rivola Spini). It was fascinating and quite a stunning little exhibit. We loved it. But that was not all.

This is the Canberra Day weekend and a time of many festivals. I have just discovered there’s a new and youthfully energetic and iconoclastic one in Civic called YouAreHere. The Multicultural Festival was on recently and Enlighten is on now. The National Folk Festival comes up at Easter. All the big events at the national instituions get listed in these programs, like Handwritten at the National Library and Renassance. I was remiss in not writing up Handwritten when we saw it a few weeks ago. It was a display of several manuscripts (Virgil, Dante, Bibles, books of hours), letters with signatures from immensely famous people (Macchiavelli, Erasmus, Michelangelo…), several famed music manuscripts (Handel, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart…). We missed a concert of Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto for four hands (the manuscript was on display in Handwritten) because we had a conflict with Renaissance but unexpectedly there was also music at the National Gallery. I just caught one short set: Tegan Peemoeller on harp with Katie Cole doubling on soprano and violin. Tegan was admirably calm and professional in accompaniment. Katie was dramatic in performance and daring on both voice and violin. This was music of the era (or close enough) and expressed with that mostly unwavering pre-classical voice. We recognised Bach’s Song of love and a modern popular interloper, Balfe’s I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls. There was also a recorder ensemble and Tobias Cole singing with Tegan, but we missed them.

Renaissance was an exhibition of Italian art of the Mediaeval and Renaissance periods on loan from the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo at the National Gallery of Australia. Handwritten was an exhibition of letters and manuscripts on loan from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin at the National Library of Australia. Tegan Peemoeller (harp) performed with Katie Cole (soprano, violin). What a wonderfully rich life we can live these days in the West (if we choose to do so, of course). And this is not even NYC!

PS, These pics are borrowed from the National Gallery's exhibition website with permission - thanks to NGA

  • NGA's excellent Renaissance website
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