I think we have bad habits now, in museums and galleries, or those vast visiting collections that are puffed off at the Royal Academy or the British Museum. It’s partly the crowds of course, and the pressure to keep moving, but it’s also the sheer numbers of paintings or objects. A literary critic once suggested that you shouldn’t try to read more than four poems a week. I suspect you could apply the same rule to paintings. No more than four in a visit – or is that still too many.
Which all goes to say that I found the the Uffizi marvellously tiring, or tiringly marvellous. I grew especially weary of the endless repetition of religious paintings – all those Madonnas, clutching their – often slightly disturbing – babies.
Which made it all the more exciting when we came across this painting by Antonella da Messina – a Madonna for sure, but somehow less removed or antique, more real; more, I thought, like one of us. Her son too, clambered about in a cheerfully unsymbolic way as babies do, and hugged his mum.
I discovered that da Messina was painting in the 1470s – when all around him were bursting into the gorgeous excesses of the heroic renaissance – and wondered why he wasn’t better known. If you google him, his paintings all have that unfussy but very human directness. They are real people with back stories, bad thoughts and an appraising eye.
Look at these three:
And this thoughtful Virgin Mary:
I even like his crucifixion. Well, Jesus is a little staid, but his thieves are wonderfully acrobatic.
Op-art as a movement became questionable – said a note on the wall – because it was too readily accessible.
Well, whoever those sour faced guardians of the difficult and obscure were, they were quite right. The gallery at Compton Verney yesterday was full of people exploring the optical effects of the prints and structures and simply enjoying themselves.
It was playful; it surprised and entertained; it involved you in a real exploration the way eyes, brain and body were caught up in the artist’s constructions. There was – to me – an unexpected delight in the absolute precision of it all – a wondrous meeting point between art, science and engineering.
The only downside was that, after an hour or more, you felt you needed something solid and ordinary to rest your eyes and get your balance back.
No photographs were allowed except of this magical installation by Liz West that gave us rainbows for shadows and, as you moved around, seemed to conjure new colours out of nothing at all. You had to be there – but in lieu, here are photos and an explanation of how the effect was achieved:
Over on the Berliner Philhamoniker site they are letting us watch and listen to their performance of St Matthew Passion for free – but only until the 17th April.
Which is fair enough. Actually it’s more than fair – the music is wonderful of course, but for this performance they involved a chap called Peter Sellars to ‘ritualise’ it. Singers and choir move about, partly acting out the Passion. It isn’t opera, the effect is much slower and more stylised, but it is immensely moving and powerful.
Some nostalgia here. This was on the back pages of so many of the comics I’d read as a boy. Was Charles Atlas real? These days, would the skinny youth stay at home crouched over his twitter feed and find other routes to revenge?