Back at the National Gallery

Our trip to London is my first trip outside Scotland since pre-pandemic times. In many ways it’s as if it never happened – there seem no restrictions and we’re all back crowded into trains and indoor spaces with not a mask in sight. I must say I don’t feel anxious about it (well no more than I ever did – I’ve never really liked crowds) and the general air of dissatisfaction among those around me is on a par with my recollections of London from previous visits, or most other large cities I guess.

Keeping crowds circulating will surely be key in getting us accustomed to living with covid. TFL are on a hiding to nothing; sardines is still the only game in town on the underground it seems. At least there were no strikes to worry about…

Our trip was to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery to see the exhibition on Raphael. Possessing tickets to the exhibition allowed us to bypass what was a sizeable if rapidly moving queue for admission and the necessary security checks were quickly and courteously attended to. Not sure why we had to go through them again though after popping in to the cafe. Still, better safe eh?..

Art exhibitions are a favourite excursion of mine. The opportunity to see works by a particular artist or school collected together allows an overview of their work not normally afforded within one gallery’s holding of their paintings. Raphael died tragically young at 37 but packed much into his short life and eight rooms of works promised much.

And, to a large part, delivered. The rooms were generous in size, allowing for circulation of visitors so that, in the main, one could get a good view of the works. The information was clearly presented, both the larger graphics introducing each room and the handy booklet summarising each work, which prevents the otherwise overwhelming need to stare from a few inches at the small plaque adjacent to the work itself. The lighting and air conditioning were spot on.

So, to the works themselves. The main body, as expected, combines panel paintings, mainly devotional works in oil painted as commissions, and preparatory sketches, ranging from mere scribbles to beautiful fully worked realisations. These latter works reveal the true hand of the master and I was surprised how many people completely overlooked them. In addition, there was a video presentation of Raphael’s work as an architect, and a full size representation of the ‘School of Athens’ fresco from the Vatican museum, which I would have completely missed if Moira hadn’t detected that my obsession with linear motion meant I had walked past the side room in which it was displayed in all its glory!😂

Here’s my personal checklist of how the exhibition measured up. Did I learn more about Raphael? Yes, although I did know a reasonable amount as he was one of the artists we studied at my history of art course in Florence in 2018. Did I see new works by him I hadn’t had the opportunity to see before? Yes, quite a few. Did I see anything new about the artist? Yes – the room showing a series of Madonnas allowed me to see how his style underwent significant (if not radical) developments. Will I buy the catalogue and read further? Of course, don’t I always?😉

The Mond Crucifixion (1502-3)
Vision of a Knight (1504)
Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1507)
Madonna of the Pinks (1507-7)
Self portrait (1506)
The Alba Madonna (1509-11)
The Bridgewater Madonna (1507-8)

These two bronze panels, ‘The Incredulity of St Thomas’ and ‘The Descent Into Limbo’ were executed by Cesarino Rossetti to designs by Raphael

The Madonna of the Palm (1506-7)
The Madonna of Divine Love (1516)
Pope Julius II (1511)
Study for the Head of An Apostle (1519-20)
Baldassare Castiglione (1519)
La Fornarina (1519-20)

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