Colin Wiggins, Head of Education, The National Gallery.
This was a really interesting, educational & entertaining day. As an armchair art enthusiast I’ve long enjoyed reading and watching art historians like Waldemar Januszczak and Andrew Graham-Dixon so it was a real pleasure to listen to Colin Wiggins talk & to see the pieces described in situ. Hm, in place is not strictly accurate as many works in the National Gallery are religious art & intended to be seen in churches. We heard about how particular pieces were intended for different aspects of the Church. These pieces were therefore painted to achieve maximum effect, particularly in terms of perspective & light, when from viewed from particular vantage points e.g. looking over a relatively long distance from the entrance of the church to the alter or looking from a narrow angle into a darkened side chapel from behind the alter rail. (As I describe all this I have to take Colin’s word for it, because as a devote atheist I try to avoid going into churches). We also heard about how the Gallery, for some pieces, manipulates the gallery space to best recreate the original viewing environment.
Colin also described how different master painters approached their work & how their practice had changed over time. Raphael the supreme High Renaissance painter carefully planed his pictures whilst Rubens, the twice knighted career diplomat, needed to stitch on extra canvas as his painting progressed & he cut corners with improvisations. We also heard about the use allegory to create ‘message pictures’ & in Rubens “Minerva protects Pax from Mars” we saw perhaps the greatest painter of allegory in the history at work deploying the Pagan Gods (Roman – not Greek were most popular during the Renaissance) to persuade King Charles I to follow the path of peace.
As my studio practice is still evolving I derive a degree of satisfaction from knowing that Rubens entry point to this elaborate picture, the little girl who stares trustingly out of the picture is on a separate canvass to where he originally began the work.
I could go on, but If you ever get an opportunity like this I advise you to grasp it firmly with both hands.
Minerva protects Pax from Mars