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Newsletter - February 2014

 

The Vikings at the British Museum

This trip, the last of our current programme year, takes place on 24th April and there are still some places available. Closing date is 4th April. Details have been emailed and are on the website.

RBA Annual Exhibition

One of our members, Julia Sorrell, has given us details of the Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition, which runs from 5th to 15th March. It will take place at the Mall Galleries and if you would like to go, please contact me at madeline-weston@virginmedia.com and I will email you an invitation that admits two free of charge. Julia has a work of hers in the show.

Travel Broadens the Mind – Clare Ford-Wille

According to G K Chesterton that may be true – but, he added, ‘you must have a mind’. Our minds were going to be stretched in the course of Clare’s talk.

Église Saint-Pierre-de-la-Tour d'Aulnay
Église Saint-Pierre-de-la-Tour d'Aulnay

We started by looking at the earliest travels by pilgrims, such as the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Clare pointed out that the Romanesque naves encountered on the way may have been influenced by mosque interiors. Did the masons themselves travel and take their ideas with them? In Aulnay, France, the 12th century arches above the triple doorways are sculpted with friezes of animals; a similar design is found in an early English church.

There was a pattern of travel between European artists of the north and south of Europe. By the end of the 14th century a triptych made for the 1st Duke of Burgundy (Philip the Bold) shows very strong Italian influences blended with the Flemish.

The artists of course travelled within their own country. Duccio’s altarpiece commissioned by the city of Siena in 1308 shows the figures set into the architecture; Duccio, it is inferred might have seen Giotto’s work in Rome and Florence and been influenced by that.

Ghent altarpiece Jan van Eyck
Ghent altarpiece Jan van Eyck

In the 15th century, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, appointed Jan van Eyck to be his court painter. Although Flemish, van Eyck was celebrated in Italy for his use of oil paint. He was also valet de chambre to the Duke and in 1428 he was sent on a mission to fetch the Duke’s bride the Infanta Isabella of Portugal. The Ghent altarpiece was painted by van Eyck during this period and the lower centre panel shows palm trees, and oranges and lemons growing, which certainly were not native species in the north.

Portrait of a Venetian Woman Dürer
Portrait of a Venetian Woman Dürer

Objects themselves also travelled, a smaller triptych taken by a rich merchant might demonstrate new techniques of oil painting. Major Flemish paintings were seen by Italian artists, and the use landscape in these works influenced the Florentine artists.

Dürer, from Nuremberg, went to Italy twice and produced northern landscapes with figures in the Italian, classical renaissance style. He was indebted to Giovanni Bellini, who he met in Bellini’s old age and considered a master. Bellini used glowing colours and Dürer would have seen his portraits; Dürer’s Portrait of a Venetian Woman shows a background of sky and water similar to Venetian paintings.

His altarpieces were also inspired by Bellini and show Venetian colour and structure. The Virgin of the Meadow (now in the National Gallery) by Bellini may, in contrast, be influenced by Dürer.

The Italian influences of northern art continues into the 16th century. Jan Gossaert travelled to Rome and drew the ruins, taking his drawings back to the Netherlands. He also brought back ideas of the nude, which was permissible only as a depiction of Adam and Eve, or mythological subjects. By 1530 it was usual to make a trip to Italy, especially Rome, and drawings, interestingly, depict St Peters in Rome in the course of construction.

The Calling of St Matthew Caravaggio
The Calling of St Matthew Caravaggio

Pieter Bruegel, the Flemish painter, was impressed by Italian landscape and travelled as far south as Sicily. The Alps also impressed him and drawings and engravings spread his fame, and also the idea of landscape as a subject in its own right.

The 17th century saw the division of the Netherlands, and in the turmoil of war many artists went to Italy where there was work to be had. While Caravaggio was still alive (he died in 1610) these artists interpreted Caravaggio’s ideas in their own way. Caravaggio’s The Calling of St Matthew, for instance, inspired the Dutch Caravaggisti, or stylistic followers of Caravaggio, immensely.

The Jewish Bride Rembrandt
The Jewish Bride Rembrandt
Sampson and Delilah Reubens
Sampson and Delilah Reubens

Rembrandt knew of the Dutch Caravaggisti, and his painting The Jewish Bride shows their influence in the treatment of light and darkness.

Reubens, court painter of the Spanish Netherlands, also showed the influence of what he had seen in Italy. He had sketched the Michelangelo sculpture of Night in Florence, and the pose of the body inspired his figure of Delilah in his work Sampson and Delilah (National Gallery).

Reubens was commissioned to present his Allegory of Peace and War (National Gallery) to Charles I to try and persuade the king to make peace with Spain.

Reubens’ assistant Anthony van Dyck, born in Antwerp, became the leading court painter in England, and who painted Charles I and his family, thus following in his master’s footsteps.

Diego Velázquez, painter of the Spanish golden age, travelled to Rome to paint the portrait of Pope Innocent X in 1650; this set the style for future portraits, a three-quarters view of a sitting subject, whose eyes seem to lock with the viewer. Clare contrasted this with Raphael’s portrait of Pope Julius II (1511) whose gaze is lowered in contemplation.

We moved on to the period of the Grand Tour. Inigo Jones had travelled and seen the architecture of Palladio, and had his own copy of Palladio’s book. He left his mark on London with his Italian inspired buildings.

In the 19th century Turner travelled to the Alps, immensely impressed by the snowy landscape and the storms, and then he went to Italy where the golden light had a tremendous effect on his painting. We touched on Delacroix in Algeria and the impressionists who painted in the open air with their new paints in tubes, and on Gauguin in Brittany and Tahiti, and lastly on Nash and Otto Dix and their depictions of landscape in war. We had ‘travelled’ through several centuries of art and artists and had our minds definitely ‘broadened’ – in the best possible way – along the journey.