Posts Tagged ‘National Gallery’

London — By Andrea Kirkby on February 19, 2010 at 8:30 am
Filed under: featuredarticle, london galleries, medieval art, National Gallery

A few of my favourite things – The Wilton Diptych

The ideal way to see an art gallery is with an expert – but an off-duty expert. When they’re on duty, you get told all kinds of interesting stuff- but when they’re off duty, you can ask, ‘Which is your favourite painting?’ And sometimes the answers you get are surprising.

I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I’ve been going to London museums and art galleries since I was only just able to walk – for most of my childhood I was convinced that I wanted to be an Egyptologist when I grew up.  So I thought I’d put together a mini-series on Planeteye, just looking at the treasures I’ve grown to love – the special paintings and artefacts that I always like to revisit, and if I have a friend in tow, the ones I like to show off.

So, here are a few of my favourite things – starting with the Wilton Diptych, in the National Gallery [map] offf Trafalgar Square.

This is a marvellously high-rent piece of work; it’s elegant, it uses expensive pigments – look at that saturated deep blue, the gilt of the background. It’s small, too – a little folding panel, not much bigger than a coffee table book, when all around on the walls you can see huge altarpieces and massive crucifixes.

It was made for Richard II, a much maligned king but one who promoted the arts – the Ricardian age was as much an age of great poetry as the age of Elizabeth I. Richard also brought foreign craftsmen with their techniques to England. He has stamped his ownership all over the work – he is shown kneeling to the Virgin and Child, with two English kings (the martyred Edmund, and Edward the Confessor) among the saints protecting him. On the outside panels his coat of arms is displayed, with the white hart that was his badge;  he wears a collar of broom (planta genista, alluding to his Plantagenet heritage), and he has a tiny white hart pendant. Even the angels wear white hart badges on their robes. This is a kingly work, in every sense of the word.

It balances so neatly; the wonderful deep blues of panel with the angels against the pure whites and muted browns of the panel with the saints; the femininity of one side against the masculine air of the other; the placidity of the left hand panel against the motion of the right.

But it’s the details I really love. Look at the way Edward the Confessor’s fingers close around the ring he’s holding, and the delicate flowers under the angels’ feet. The angels’ crowns of roses, and the seed pearls of Richard’s collar. The marvellous feathery wings of the angels.

It’s a vision of elegance. Everyone is just a little bit thinner than in reality, fingers a little longer, gold that little bit shinier; every pose is nicely calculated. And yet at the centre of it, self-conscious though it all is, there’s an amazing freshness and innocence; and it’s that, I think, that makes it one of my favourite things. Out of all the fine things in the National Gallery, this is the one I always head for first.

Where: The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square: Room 53 (in the Sainsbury Wing, the newer building to the left of the classical facade)

How much: free

Nearby: A new ‘favourite thing’ I’ve recently discovered is the super Durer Saint Jerome in room 65. Just ignore St Jerome and look at the reverse of the painting – a superb abstract showing some kind of comet in the dark night. It’s splendidly modern – it could be by Turner, it reminds me of Rothko – what a really amazing piece of work it is, and how sublimely unexpected in this late medieval gallery.

Public domain photo from Wikipedia

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