More than a week ago now, Zero and I visited two exhibitions in London. Though separated by the River Thames and a stretch of inner London suburb, the exhibitions shared some common themes. Both of the painters involved painted religious pieces, and, in particular, altar pieces. And both artists are quite striking in their use of colour and of light and shadow.
The first visit was to the exhibition Barocci: Brilliance and Grace at the National Gallery, an exhibition that runs until 19th May. The two striking paintings on display here were Barocci's depiction of the Nativity and of the Visitation. The scene in the Nativity, is illuminated by the light emanating from the figure of Christ and reflected from that of the Virgin Mary.
The depiction of the Visitation is hung so that you can view it framed by the door as you enter the room, and it faces you across the room. Among the preparatory sketches displayed is one that, instead of placing the viewer in the street looking on as Mary and Joseph arrives (the viewpoint of the main painting), places them inside the house looking out towards the street. The contrast of the two possible viewpoints is quite thought provoking in terms of how we might understand the event of the Visitation. An added aspect of my experience of this painting was that it was painted for the church of the Chiesa Nuova in Rome, a church I had passed only days before.
Memories of a visit to the sanctuary at La Verna also contributed to my experience of a painting depicting the stigmatisation of St Francis - the jagged rock shown in the painting is reflective of that at the sanctuary.
A disappointing aspect of this exhibition is the lighting. Several times during my visit I found myself having to move, and view a picture from a different position, to avoid reflected glare from the paintings. When the play of light and of colour is so significant for the artist, it is unfortunate that this aspect of the display of his work is a little unsatisfactory. This particularly affected the painting of the stigmatisation of St Francis.
After lunch, it was then on to the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see an exhibition of paintings by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, paintings arising largely from his collaboration with Justino de Neve, a canon of Seville Cathedral. This exhibition, too, runs until 19th May. One of the striking aspects of this exhibition is the way in which paintings originally intended for the decoration of a church in Seville have been displayed in a way as close as possible to that of their original location. So the centre piece of the exhibition, Murillo's painting of the Immaculate Conception, faces you along the length of the hall as you enter, rather as if it is above the high altar at the far end of the church. Other paintings are displayed at a height, so that you look up to them as you would have done seeing them in the context of the Church.
The page on the Gallery website devoted to this exhibition includes a very good video account of the exhibition, in which you can see the effectiveness of the display of paintings such as the Immaculate Conception. It is worth looking at this page - but don't let it replace a visit to the exhibition itself, which is able to hold the attention in real space in a way that cannot be achieved in virtual space.
After visiting the gallery, Zero and I walked through Dulwich Village to catch the train back to central London. De rigeur on these kind of visits, we viewed the windows of the estate agents; but, in addition, we did a rough survey of the cars owned by the local inhabitants of this rather prosperous corner of south London. Only one "12" or "62" registration (ie new cars registered since March 2012) ... which led us to conclude that, though the residents of Dulwich might not suffer from housing poverty, they do suffer from a relative poverty as far as car ownership is concerned.