The whoops and excited cheers from a nearby table made me look around. The restaurant has turned quite busy and noisy. I cannot see the table in question but instead see a young couple having an excited and lively conversation using sign language. They seem to have a lot to say. I wonder what it would feel like to lose one of your senses. The inability to hear doesn’t seem to mar the young couple’s enjoyment.
My afternoon was spent at the National Gallery. The ‘Mantegna and Bellini’ exhibition is coming to an end soon and I didn’t want to miss it. Two renaissance masters from the fifteenth century. Andrea Mantegna, a carpenter’s son and a self made artist from Padua and Giovanni Bellini who was born into a famous artistic family in Venice. Recognising the young Mantegna’s talent Jacopo Bellini, Giovanni’s father and a pioneer of renaissance paintings, married him off to his daughter, Nicolosia. The exhibition brought together and showcased the two brothers-in-law’s works from museums around the world.
It seems that they learnt from each other, tried to better their talents and produced similar works of art. The rivalry pushed them to reach the best of their abilities. Bellini was better at producing landscapes and Mantegna in antiquity. The differences in their styles are vividly visible in the ‘Agony in the Garden’. Both versions of which have been hanging side by side at the National Gallery since the 18th century. Other comparisons such as ‘The Presentation of Christ in the Temple’ and ‘St Jerome’ show Mantegna as the superior artist. However I was quite captivated by Bellini’s portrait, ‘Doge Leonardo Loredan’, of the chief magistrate of Venice. A portrait he painted during his latter years which had a lifelike quality and could easily be mistaken for a photograph.
I learnt new art words such as foreshortening, a technique which became popular during the renaissance to give pictures depth and space. One of the prime examples of this technique is used in Mantegna’s ‘The Lamentation over the Dead Christ’. It is used to create drama and to draw the attention of the viewer to where the artist wants them to focus on the painting.
There was another exhibition of paintings which was also coming to a close. The ‘Courtauld impressionists’, a collaboration between the Courtauld and the National Galleries. It gave me a chance to see some renowned masterpieces. ‘A bar at the Folies-Bergère’ by Manet, ‘Two dancers on the Stage’ by Degas, ‘Bathers at Asnières’ by Seurat, to name a few.
Gaugin’s ‘Nevermore’ a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, ‘A Raven’, was another highlight. It was voted the most romantic British painting in 2010. My evening culminated in me downloading the poem and trying to understand it. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable and educational afternoon. A day when my senses were treated to a feast as I watched and listened to the descriptions and stories behind the paintings. A day when I was reminded how much we take everything especially our senses for granted.