Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Day in London

I spent yesterday in London, a flying visit in both senses of the phrase, arrived at 8am, flew back at 8pm. For the past ten years I attended a trade fair in the city every January as part of my work so I decided to continue the tradition of a London January visit this year.

I had a list of exhibitions I wanted to see and shops I wanted to visit and managed to fit most in. My main aim was to visit The Sacred Made Real, Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600-1700 exhibition at the National Gallery which closes later this month and which has received much favourable coverage. Reviews: Telegraph; The Independent; Guardian.

Paintings, including masterpieces by Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Zurbarán, are displayed for the very first time alongside Spain’s remarkable polychrome wooden sculptures. The religious artists of 17th-century Spain pursued a quest for realism with uncompromising zeal and genius, creating works to inspire devotion among believers. By displaying works side by side, this exhibition explores the intense dialogue between the arts of sculpture and painting, revealing that they were intricately linked and interdependent.

This is a wonderful exhibition. The quality of the sculpture, both the carving of the wood and its painting, is impressive. The images are for the most part extremely realistic with a lot of blood and suffering on display. The image above is from Dead Christ by sculptor Gregorio Fernández and unknown polychromer, about 1625–30. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

The exhibition guide and the audio guide goes to great lengths to explain the reasons behind the realistic depiction of suffering and death. The audio guide has comments from a Jesuit explaining the reasons for the hyper realistic depiction of the suffering.

To one brought up in the Catholic tradition all this explanation seems a bit unnecessary until you realise that most of the audience will not have been used to stations of the cross hanging on their places of worship or indeed crucifixes with a realistically twisted body.

Highlight of the exhibition was the work of the sculptor Pedro de Mena especially a sculpture of Mary Magdalen contemplating a crucifix which is also on loan from the Prado, Madrid. The name of the artist who painted this sculpture is unknown as is the case for most of the artefacts. Many of the sculptures are still objects of veneration in churches in Spain rather than gallery pieces.

Lucky I went yesterday and not today!

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