Giovanni da Rimini: A 14th Century Masterpiece Unveiled at the National Gallery
Small but perfectly formed: this phrase might well be used to described both the new exhibition at the National Gallery and the few artworks on display in it. Giovanni da Rimini: A 14th Century Masterpiece Unveiled offers a choice selection of works to complement the unveiling of a new acquisition, Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and Other Saints by Giovanni da Rimini.
Giovanni da Rimini is one of the most talented painters to have worked in 14th-century Rimini, a city on Italy’s east coast with a rich artistic history. This exhibition focuses on the artist and his circle, demonstrating the innovations in naturalistic style that developed in the city in the early 1300s, paving the way for some of the great traditions of western art.
In this ten-object show, Scenes from the Lives has been paired with the two other panel paintings unanimously attributed to the artist. They’re works that one might skip over if set within the normal context of the museum, if one wasn’t aware of their art historical significance. Small and faded in places, the pieces don’t immediately catch the eye. However, with the extended looking encouraged by this exhibition, their beauty and importance is revealed.
The vignettes depicted in Scenes from the Lives are vivid and elegantly composed, and some of the faces in particular show a real sense of humanity. The painter effectively combines the tropes of Byzantine art (entering Rimini through the city’s trade connections with the near East) with the more naturalistic style being pursued by Giotto and his followers.
Even the panel on which the scenes are painted is a beautiful object. Panel and frame are carved from a single piece of wood, creating a unified effect and attesting to the craftsmanship as well as artistry behind the work. As the exhibition makes clear, paintings such as these were often used as devotional objects as much as two-dimensional works, challenging the conventional rules about painting as a medium established in the intervening centuries.
In a busy world, and with all the treasures of London’s many galleries and museums at our disposal, it’s often hard to find time to stop and look closely. This exhibition offers a moment of respite, where prolonged contact with a single work of art might add something meaningful to your understanding of art in general.
Giovanni da Rimini: A 14th Century Masterpiece Unveiled is at the National Gallery from 14th June until 8th October 2017, for further information visit here