Building the Picture at the National Gallery
Building the Picture is the latest in a series of concurrent exhibitions at the National Gallery that explore the art of the Renaissance. Free of charge and relatively small, the latest instalment focuses on a series of paintings – mostly altarpieces and predella segments – that come from the gallery’s own collection, plus two borrowed from others: Andrea del Verocchio’s exquisite Ruskin Madonna, on loan from the National Gallery of Scotland, and Sebastiano del Piombo’s classically symmetrical, unfinished work Giudizio di Salomone from 1509, lent by the National Trust.
The theme of the exhibition is the role of architecture – the scenery surrounding the figures – in Italian art from the 14th century on. The oldest opera on display is a panel painting of the Annunciazione, originally part of Duccio’s Maestà from 1311. Here the columns of the loggia echo the two standing protagonists of the scene: a startled Mary who, hand on breast, listens to the good news of the archangel Gabriel. Carlo Crivelli’s version (1486) of the same scene is much more elaborate: the Virgin is separated from the angel, sitting alone in the privacy of her room while the angel communicates to her from outside the window. The artist makes full use of perspective in order to create the rich setting of elegant, frieze-decorated buildings, ornamented with lively details, such as the peacock standing on the ledge above the open door of Mary’s room, or the child who peers out from behind the door.
Antonello da Messina’s beautiful San Gerolamo nello Studio betrays the artist’s exposure to Flemish influence in its crisp rendering of the various items and furniture of the Saint’s studio. Botticelli features twice: his depiction of the Tre Miracoli di San Zenobi relates the three miracles of a fourth century Florentine bishop, set in a piazza that would have been recognisable to contemporaries of the painter. L’Adorazione dei Re Magi narrates the visit of the three kings to see the newborn Jesus. Set within a classical ruin, the Virgin and the Child are surrounded by the trio of royals and their vast array of animated attendants, with the ruins representing the end of the Old Order before the coming of Christ.
Many more treasures await the visitor to the exhibition, which thanks to its brevity manages to efficiently spotlight an often overlooked but essential element of Italian Renaissance art.
Building the Picture is at the National Gallery until 21st September 2014. For further information or to book visit the gallery’s website here.