Thursday, 25 April 2013
Brilliance and Grace
Just back from a couple of days in God's Own County, viz Derbyshire - but before I went, I visited the Barocci exhibition at the National Gallery. It's an absolute stunner, and if you haven't seen it I'd suggest you catch it before it's gone (on May 19th) - there's unlikely to be another like it in our lifetimes: a major exhibition of works by an Italian Renaissance master with no obvious box-office appeal, of whom most people are barely aware.
I only knew Federico Barocci for his Madonna with a Cat in the National Gallery - oversweet for my taste - and the rather lovely Nativity in the Prado (it's in the exhibition, and I was pleased to note that the Christ Child, most beautifully and naturalistically drawn, looks remarkably like my grandson, Frankly Adorable Sam). For me, then, this exhibition was a revelation. It's built around a dozen or so masterpieces from all points of his career - the greatest of them, perhaps, the stunning Last Supper from Urbino Cathedral - but a large part of the pleasure of this exhibition is in the beautifully executed preparatory drawings, chalk studies and cartoons, through which you can follow Barocci's creative processes, and marvel at his quite breath-taking skills as draughtsman and colorist. Wandering among these pictures, it seems incomprehensible that such a master as Barocci should somehow have become an all put forgotten painter over here. That will surely change after this magnificent eye-opener.
The Barocci exhibition - aptly titled Brilliance and Grace - is, sadly, housed in the basement of the Sainsbury Wing, with no natural light; this is not good, particularly for the larger altarpieces. But on the other hand, it's Not a Blockbuster - it's an exhibition on a manageable scale, from which you'll emerge (well, I emerged) elated and illuminated, rather than exhausted. Also, it doesn't seem to be attracting large numbers of visitors, so it's possible to enjoy the pictures in peace.
And now I''m off again, on my way to a walk in Essex tomorrow...