Popping into the National (homage to 2000 dead squirrels)

24 February 2016

Last week the 'Day Job' took me to big, old London Town.

To Westminster to be exact, though don't get excited. I was opposite the Houses of Parliament - not in them.

But, I digress.

So, my work done for the day I had a bit of time to kill before the train back to the shires and I decided, on a whim and because Waldemar Januszczak had been so inspiring, to pop along to the National Gallery.

It was half term and I am pleased to say the place was absolutely heaving. And lots of school children and also, it seemed to me, an awful lot of French school children (which was funny as I could imagine hoards of English school children all pouring into the Louvre).

But I was on a mission. I could have dallied in front of a few Gainsboroughs or dillied in front of a Constable or two.  But no - I headed straight to the new wing (on the left hand side as you face the gallery from Trafalgar Square) and for the Renaissance art. And there I sought out The Arnolfini Marriage.

Now I mentioned just how amazing this painting is in a previous post. What ever you think of the Old Masters you really have to be in awe of the incredible achievement of this work of art. You might not like it, you might think the couple a bit stilted. It does not matter. As a piece of social history it is just stunning.

Up close and personal I looked at the clothes the couple were wearing again. The fur lined wool dress she is wearing is obviously very luxurious - not is a party frock kind of way, but in a practical elegance kind of way. But I would not have guessed at the squirrel fur in a thousand years.  ( Pop back to my previous post to get the full gist of the squirrel reference).

Here is the genius in the Arnolfini painting - that is the detail in the mirror in the back of the picture. You see the backs of Mr and Mrs A and the painter himself!

Anyway, the latest programme on the Renaissance from the national treasure that is our Waldemar did go down to Italy and looked at a lot of the religious art. A few familiar names cropped up, including good old Michelangelo.

Now we are all familiar with David.

Last year I was even lucky enough to go to Carrera in northern Italy to the Marble Quarries where they still quarry the white marble used by Michelangelo to create this masterpiece.

They are gradually taking the mountain away, block by block.

That is not snow - it is finely ground marble, which, by the way, is also used in toothpaste!

I guess Michelangelo would have had to use a donkey!

Here's the thing.

That marble is all white. It is dazzlingly white. And so is David.

And good old Waldemar - bold as you like he said "Michelangelo got it so very wrong!"

Of course not David per se in all his unrealistic beauty (Really? Can anyone be that perfect a specimen?) but just the approach Michelangelo took in creating David from glowing white marble in the fist place.

Because what Michelangelo was aspiring to (and didn't we all learn this in school?) was to recreate the statues of the classical ancient world of Rome and Greece. And, hey, but weren't all those statues also perfect white marble?  (Carrera dates back to the Roman period!)

Well no!

They were, as Waldemar put it, rather gaudy!

But Michelangelo and his chums did not realise this. They did not quite appreciate that all that paint had rubbed off over time.

Hence they got it wrong!

Oh - I love this programme and its jovial host Waldemar Januszczak.  He is bouncing round Europe making bold claims about the greats - and I cannot wait for the next episode.

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