Raphael: Credit Suisse @ The National Gallery, London
I’m still not sure about Renaissance art. On some level I still don’t get it. I find some of Raphael’s works funny, and I’m not sure that they’re meant to be…
Prodigiously talented, orphaned Raphael generated amazing amounts of works — drew, sketched, printed, painted and worked for the fabulously rich and wealthy — Medicis and the Pope. Tragically he died at just age 37. Over time he moved from beautiful pinks and blues and colour pops in a Classical style to a more mannered, almost matt style. For me its the tassels and hairs (on fur trims or in beards) — you can count every hair, every fibre. Astonishing! Towards the end he’d almost gone Rembrandt — painting black on black with style.
This is the kind of thing I’m not sure about — the colour pops of the tights are great, but the pot bellied listener, the donor listeners, the fighting babies. Neatly though John the Baptist (large in another picture) would gesture, pointing to the smaller version of himself here.
Also Raphael’s horses are hilarious — like prancing fairground horses gone wild. I find the details distract from the subject.
And yet, clearly they move — as I was distracted by whirling angelic draperies in another work, a man viewing itself crossed himself, whispered gasps of awe and dropped to his knees in the gallery. These are religious works and still inspiring marvel and awe today.
The tassels are the thing inspiring awe in me — count every thread! (and every hair in the ‘I lost the war’ beard).
Raphael’s self-portrait is a marvel too — literally the eyes follow you round the room, and it is so sensuously rendered. Similarly many of the hands in his paintings are very real looking, and he majors on delightful baby feet.
Not only was he an artist, but an archeologist and architect too. He’d designed a palazzo complete with fun spouts for water in the bathroom, and started a campaign to catalogue, protect and appreciate Italian antiquity.
Inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, he copied and produced his own works — complex hair styles and floating veils pop into his portraits. There is a fun copy of Da Vinci’s Leda and the Swan — here the swan is creepily proprietorial, and Leda is the star, almost slapping the swan back as she steps forward (and well, having just hatched babies from eggs who wouldn’t want their 15 minutes of fame?)
Amazingly his drawings have survived — I enjoyed trying to work out what was what (these are layered as paper was precious and expensive then).
For the most part, I find I lack connection with these works. The tapestries are HUGE and grandly impressive, if a wild interpretation of Ezekiel’s wheels within wheels chariot for God the Father (seem to be missing the eyes) — instead God the Father is piled DiscWorld like on a pile of evangelist symbolic creatures.
It was Lorenzo De Medici who caught my eye. Supremely tactile, you can almost touch the plush of the velvet and see every part of the fur trim. How it shimmers as he’s dressed in his wedding finery.
It’s the Marian pictures I really don’t get. There are a lot of Virgin with Child, sometimes with John the Baptist too. They are often like squabbling toddlers, though I may be misreading this. Sometimes, with foreknowledge, the baby Jesus reaches towards toddler John the Baptist’s cross. Sometimes too Joseph skulks in the background. The Virgin Mary perilously launching baby Jesus towards Joseph with the use of a band was unexpected!
I suppose though this is part of the emotions of the time, where images invited you not only to know your faith, but to feel and emote it. I just find these images bamboozling — it’s like they tell a story I don’t get, especially when saints appear. Perhaps Andrew Graham Dixon will enlighten me soon!
For me it’s the drapery and textile mastery!
Attendees of this exhibition were remarkably grumpy the day I went — poor gallery staff seem to be being repeatedly berated for not allowing photography of one or two images. Do we really need to stick a camera on everything and add it to the ‘Gram? Please be kind to gallery staff. Would love a new event — photo free times — put the phone away, lose the info cards, just stand and look!
@Images are definitely not the author’s own! Raphael’s work and taken from the National Gallery exhibition purely to illustrate this article and not for any gain or profit, July 2022