It probably ties in nicely with the Christmas period to have a Renaissance themed show , which is what the National Gallery have done with Mantegna and Bellini. It is always tricky to review art when the subject matter does nothing for you. I find a great deal of Renaissance painting with the bland depictions from the life of Christ both intellectually and artistically dull. I can appreciated the skill involved and even the ground breaking nature of it all but most of the time it leaves me cold. Thus did much of this show. If this is your thing then you will like it.
What the curators have done for obvious reasons is place the two painters attempts at the same subject matter next to each other. There is often little to choose between them and, well its boring. There were some things I like. I like Bellini's In the Garden (above), mainly because of the weird cup bearing apparition in the sky.
What I don't like about these is the Mary figures, in fact most of the Biblical figures are really bland. They lack personality, they are just a seraphic blankness. No doubt it is supposed to be an air of holy contemplation but I just read it as absence.
My two favourite pieces in the whole show where the two above right, found in the third room bookending a long slim piece of similar style they are painting in this redish brown and white. Of the two I prefer the one on the right, particularly the way the tree raises past the women against that marble sky. There is a personality about these figures. They are unusual and interesting pieces and I forget who they are by.
So much for the paying show. If in fact you are minded to go to the National Gallery then there are two free exhibitions that I suggest you go and see. One is the portraits of Lorenzo Lotto. Who? Italian man, Renaissance era, turns out quite a good painter. Very good at beards (see above).
Also very good at garments, fur and the textures of finery. If you want your dress to really pop in a portrait then Lotto was your man. The tendency towards blankness that is no doubt a feature of much of Renaissance portraiture is there but in his it is infected with degree of personality. Look who smug the geezer in the picture above is, and rightly so it turns out as he has married up into the nobility. Lotto is also good at hands. Tricky things hands. The above picture was one of my favourites in the show but if Renaissance pictures are your thing but you've had enough of biblical scenes then go see this.
The thing you really must go and see though is Landseer's Monarch of the Glen (above). The image is a famous and familiar one and it is currently here on loan from the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, and it is fantastic. I mean really good. Landseer was a bit of a master at the old animals and this one packs quite a punch.
For a start it is big, probably about 3 foot square, and the fact that it is square, makes it unusual. Then you have these misty mountains, and wind swept grass and brush and standing atop it all, slightly left of centre, the Monarch is good. The fur texture is superb. It feels alive. I really liked it, can you tell.
They have put it up with a number of other of Landseer's painting, including this one above, which is smaller and thinner but I found really moving. Queen Victoria brought it for Prince Albert as a present which shows good taste and the Queen had lent it for the show. Again you have a magnificent stag in this very misty , early morning setting. What you cannot see very well from this photo is that brilliant rendered are water droplets coalescing and dripping off the body of the stag. It looks wet. Its a very nice painting and I'm glad I've seen it.
Did you know that Landseer designed the Lion's Trafalgar Square? It is one of those facts that drop out of my head frequently and this show reminded me of that. One of the pieces on display was a study of a Lion (above left), with the characteristic Landseer textured fur with this accurate musculature underneath.
Landseer couldn't sculpt though so he commissioned one of his mates and there is a fine picture of him at work in this cavernous studio. What you can't see from the photo there is a collie curled up at his feet. It is a good little show this and I am glad I've see in.
Speaking of good little shows I have a painting (below) in the Indo Christmas show which is on until January 2019. Until then have a good Christmas.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.