Week 2, October 16 2009, National Gallery, London.

The National Gallery, London, 16 October 2009, (c) A Holme 2009

We visited the National Gallery for talks by art historians from the gallery, Colin Wiggins and Karly Allen.

Colin's talk covered three paintings. He included discussion of aspects of space depicted in the works.

Jacopo di Cione 1370-1, Paint on panel, National Gallery London (image out of copyright)

This monochrome reproduction (out of copyright) does not do justice to the painting - which can be viewed in detail online here http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/attributed-to-jacopo-di-cione-and-workshop-the-coronation-of-the-virgin-central-main-tier-panel

Jacopo's painting with its Byzantine / Mediaeval representation of space, presents a realm to be looked at that is not continuous spatially with our own world.

Raphael, Ansidei Madonna
Raphael, Ansidei Madonna

Raphael, (1505) Ansidei Madonna, National Gallery, London

Raphael's painting incorporates linear perspective. Colin Wiggins pointed out that the work is sited in the gallery in relation to the architecture (as it was in its original setting in the Church of San Fiorenzo, Perugia) in such a way as to create the illusion of a continuity of space between the gallery and the painting - it is a window into which we look, with the illusion that we somehow share this space with the Virgin, Jesus, John the Baptist and Saint Nicholas.

Colin pointed out that there is a symbolism in which perspective itself is employed. All the parallel lines that retreat into the picture plane converge at the vanishing point at the womb of the Virgin - the origin of God. Hence, God has created a rational cosmos, a rational space, with its divine geometry.

See the National Gallery site for further information

(Note also the prevalence of the book - they appear to be printed books? Christ himself holds a small volume. The Virgin and Saint Nicholas also. The relationship between perspective and the book is explored at length in Marshall McLuhan's Gutenberg Gallaxy. McLuhan believes that the typeset book, like the perspectival image was something to be seen through rather than looked at, and encouraged a culture of distance, a 'sense of perspective' and a 'point of view.')

external image raphael_catherine.jpg
Raphael (c1507), Saint Catherine of Alexandria, National Gallery, London

Saint Catherine - martyred on a wheel that she holds - stares up towards the heavens. Colin pointed out the connection between the composition of her body and the prevailing cosmology of rotating circles and spheres - Saint Catherine's head forms a circle, her body is rotated with circular movements in opposing directions - all connected to the symbolism of the wheel itself.

See also the National Gallery site

Karly Allen's talk included the Battle of San Romano by Ucello - in which the perspectival grid is reflected clearly in the composition of the painting The painting was cut down to size by the Medici's and the three paintings of the original tryptych are now to be found in three separate museums.

We assembled following the talks in a room in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. Discussion centred both on the content of the material delivered and also the methods by which paintings were discussed critically and interpretively - in terms of description, analysis, interpretation and evaluation.

Further information on Renaissance space

McLuhan M (1967). The Gutenberg Galaxy. London: Routledge
The National Gallery. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/index.php (Accessed October 21, 2009)