London Art Reviews

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German Renaissance artists vs. Veronese exhibition at the National Gallery, London (part one).

German Renaissance artists vs. Veronese exhibition at the National Gallery, London (part one).

David Franchi – Thursday, 17th April 2014.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472  - 1553) Cupid complaining to Venus, about 1525 © The National Gallery, London

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553)
Cupid complaining to Venus, about 1525 © The National Gallery, London

The exhibition “Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance” is intriguing, at the National Gallery, London.

Basic concept of this exhibition is the definition of beauty. Starting from the German Renaissance, the National Gallery tries to explore the meaning of beauty, which actually comes from chooses. When humanity started to select then beauty was defined. In our society we identify some characteristics and declare those as description of beauty. Amazing is when those characteristics are not respected and anyone or anything becomes famous and well appreciated. Examples are numerous, such as Marilyn Monroe or Madonna.

It is a question of taste then. German Renaissance paintings remained marginal and they were only considered acceptable when they imitated Dutch art. Masters were considered Raphael and Jan Van Eyck. German Renaissance paintings did not easily suit these new tastes either. The emotional drama and non-realistic style found in many German images were not fully appreciated until 20th Century modernism changed perceptions.

The National Gallery collection of German Renaissance artists started to be built up in the mid- 19th Century but had many controversial turning out. Important collections for the National Gallery were the ones of Krueger – quickly put on sale after purchase – and the George Salting – arrived in 1910.

German Renaissance art celebrates expression and invention. German images often take atypical perspectives or raise the emotional pitch dramatically. The graphic works of German artists discover the expressive potential of calligraphic line and they experiment with new techniques, varied drawings material and creative use of colour.

Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Hans Holbein the Younger were the most important artistic modernisers of that period. Dürer gave to religious subject new passion. Cranach created a fascinating figural style, while Holbein joined the Tudor court bringing new ideas.

The German Renaissance was part of the cultural and artistic awakening that spread across Northern Europe in the 15th and 16th

Martin Schongauer (active 1469; died 1491) The Virgin and Child in a Garden, 1469 -91© The National Gallery, London

Martin Schongauer (active 1469; died 1491) The Virgin and Child in a Garden, 1469 -91© The National Gallery, London

centuries. German artists such as Dürer developed an international reputation, their fame reaching all parts of Europe, while renowned humanist scholars played a leading role in reviving the study of classical texts in the service of Christianity, such as Erasmus of Rotterdam (the patron of Hans Holbein the Younger) of which the most famous portrait is on display at the National Gallery exhibition.

Another famous portrait is the Ferdinand Piloty, after Albrecht Dürer, 1786 – 1844 “Portrait of Dürer in frontal view” (about 1811-16) a lithograph printed with tinstone and white highlights.

A highlight of the exhibition is, for the first time ever, a reconstruction of the Liesborn altarpiece. This work was created after 1465 and originally formed the high altarpiece in the Benedictine Abbey of Liesborn in Germany. In 1803, on the suppression of the monastery, it was dismembered, sold and scattered across the globe – eight pieces remain at the Gallery as part of the Krüger Collection. Now for the first time, visitors will be able to visualise the completed altarpiece as it might have looked during the 15th century.

German Renaissance developed a more subtle relationship between beauty, nature and artistry, particularly by depicting landscapes. For example, Albert Altdorfer invented the new genre of independent landscape, omitting al human subjects.

The National Gallery exhibition focuses on fundamental questions: Should art be beautiful? How is beauty defined now? Is beauty less important than originality or mastery? Can art be both beautiful and emotionally powerful? And it is valid to judge historical art by today’s value?

The National Gallery exhibition puts on sharp reasoning for a fresh approach to the concept of beauty. German Renaissance images are undoubtedly of a great value.

However, there are few chances for German artist when compared to the other exhibition Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance

Ferdinand Piloty, after Albrecht Dürer, 1786 – 1844, Portrait of Dürer in frontal view, about 1811-16, Lithograph printed with a tinstone and with white highlights © The Trustees of The British Museum

Ferdinand Piloty, after Albrecht Dürer, 1786 – 1844, Portrait of Dürer in frontal view, about 1811-16, Lithograph printed with a tinstone and with white highlights © The Trustees of The British Museum

Venice”, ongoing at the National Gallery, London. Compared to the whole group of German artists, the Italian painter is able to overwhelm them with no effort. And it is one only Italian painter, not all of the Renaissance ones.

Since a while, the National Gallery – and not only – supports the good point of views that the Renaissance is not only Italian, but it was a European movement. This idea gave the chance to consider many significant artists and movements, with an immense importance.

However, Italy was the cradle of Renaissance and it is also towering the rest of Europe for the refined quality and importance of quantity of its artists during that period. And both these National Gallery exhibitions are confirming that Italian Renaissance is still the most influential.

Once said that, “Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance” is a valuable exhibition, interesting and mind-opening.

“Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance” is curated by Dr. Susan Foister (National Gallery, London) and Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein (University of York).

“Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance” is ongoing at the National Gallery, London, until the 11th May 2014.

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