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More on Rome and its Art Exhibitions

January 3, 2012

Filippino Lippi's 'Apparition of the Virgin to St Bernard' (1486)

In the Quirinale, a big didactic show on Filippino Lippi (1461 – 1504) which takes us deep into the Florentine Renaissance and explains the artist in the context of his times. There is his studio training with Botticelli and the influence of North European painting in the form of Flemish landscapes and also the influence of Leonardo. There is his contribution to that crucible of Florentine taste in painting, the Carmine church and its frescoes by Masaccio from the early 1400s and the benchmark for all its artists including Michelangelo. There is his introduction to Rome and other Italian centers. Throughout there is the notion that seems to unite the early Renaissance, that the rebirth of painting and sculpture is a matter of getting closer to God. That painting contains a divine force and, as Vasari argued in his Lives of the Artists, the break with the art of the Byzantine is a return to the Heavenly vision that inspired artists of the ancient world.

By the way, when it comes to Venetian painting, I needed a book to explain the atmosphere that the greats had come out of. Somewhat useful but far from brilliant is Mark Hudson’s Titian: The Last Days, incidentally the first book I am reading beginning to end on e-reader. It explores the career of Titian and the relationship with his mysterious elder son in the context of his death in 1576 in one of Venice’s regular plagues. His son, a priest of dubious repute, is said to have raided the home and cleared off with its paintings.

But we returned to the huge show on Socialist Realism, Soviet Art 1920 to 1970. Really good and I hope it goes elsewhere. The limited English commentary makes comparisons with the art of the Quattrocento. In a 1964-5 painting Gymnasts of the USSR, for example, the faces of the athletes have the ascetic quality of saints. Within the straightjacket of government control over boundaries some of the works are very moving and not just the war-themed paintings; for example, The Boys Are Taken Away By Train, a 60s piece with contemporary technique showing males leaving the woman at a railway station in the country, youth being drained from the country for city industry.

Dimitri Zhilinsky's 'Gymnasts of the USSR' (1964 - 1965)

This realist art was sponsored by the state. It was the biggest movement of its times, in terms of government directing artistic development.

Even the awful dishonest stuff is morbidly interesting. There is a massive canvas with Saturday Evening Post detailed realism dated 1950, showing a reception for leading party people in Moscow. The crowd, comprising individual portraits of nomenclatura, are gazing radiantly at the stage where Molotov is present at some ceremony involving the party flag. Behind him in three quarter profile is a massive bust of Stalin. The rapt expressions of everyone shows unity of state and party. Behind this lie of course is the truth of labor camps and the KGB state and Stalin’s murderous Marxism. But the lie of the painting is huge, ingenious and technically brilliant. It is the lie of the party elite, the members with special rations, cars and access to luxury goods shops and their own apartments.

Also obscene and hilarious is a 1947 painting showing nine celebrating peasants on a big sled, dashing through the snow, a red flag above them. The title? Off to Vote!

An extraordinary exhibition.

And London- for the theatre, of course. Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock yesterday (Jan 1) and the Donmar’s Richard 11 tonight. Will keep you informed.

One Comment
  1. Robert permalink
    January 3, 2012 6:57 am

    How wonderful art ! Have only caught up with these posts Bob and thank you… appreciated. I’m sure you are aware, one way viewers have overcome the ‘overload’ effect is to visit a gallery with one or two paintings in mind – to research them and then explore them in the flesh. This way we receive the gallery visit experience fully, are satisfied deeply, and can then wander around, ‘tuned up’ as it were, enabling us to receive other works from that place of satisfaction, and enjoy them more easily (capably).

    One day Australia will understand the value of significant art: art which communicates (and is not self-indulgence, and is artistic of itself not merely in its context). Strangely, a groundswell of art appreciation lives within our culture, right through into the suburban heart, yet this is not of itself acknowledged let alone appreciated and celebrated. It is a case of “allowing” artistic appreciation: for the citizen to say “I am allowed to enjoy what I see and feel” without an accompanying intimidation for that. Once that bubble breaks, things can flourish, though not to hold one’s breath. But it is there, here, and ever ready.

    May I also add.. like a rain in the desert of wanting.. Keating was the first Prime Minister (true?) to utter the word “creativity” in the national context. What since? Well, we know the answers there. Yet this indicates how unheralded Australia is, creatively and artistically.

    We deserve better, and it happens at grass roots, and that is emerging. Gee, though, it takes a long time for a nation to find wings. We should never underestimate our grass roots.

    Travel well, and thanks again.

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