Renaissance Faces - National Gallery

I was really looking forward to this exhibition as it is one of the subjects I talk about on my National Gallery tours for Elderhostel, but I was very disappointed.

The exhibition has virtually no narrative, very little explanation and mostly it seems to bring in paintings you can see upstairs for free downstairs so you can pay £10 to see them.

There is very little in the exhibition about how the paintings were done, very little on technique, not much on why they were done and not much social history either. A few clues can be gathered from the film show after the visitors exits the exhibition but otherwise, apart from the great collection of portraits themselves very little is learnt.

The paintings are displayed thematically, this room for rulers, that for family, the other for friends but otherwise the labels give little away. There is no narrative for each room except in a free gallery guide, and the painting labels quite often are little more than verbal descriptions of the paintings.

I was left with the thought that perhaps the narrative is only given in the audio guides. The labels seem to have been very strictly rationed word wise - something like 10 6 word lines - to sum up for example Holbein's Ambassadors.

Another thing that was really annoying was the fact that all of the National Gallery's Holbeins were on display except the Erasmus. As I often visit the Holbeins at the NG this would be very annoying to be deprived of one of the great wonders of the NG. The one Holbein left for the general public is the Erasmus which was a very odd choice because in the Exhibition there is a painting of Gillis a friend of More which is a pair with the Erasmus as both men were friends of Thomas More and had the paintings done to send to More. Yet they had chosen not to include this one while including Ambassadors, Christina of Denmark, and Lady with a Squirrel all of which were not paired with another painting in the gallery.

Neither had they put the Titian portrait of the Unknown man in the exhibition when, for me, this is one of the most important of renaissance portraits.

So deeply disappointed, the opposite of an intellectual tour de force.

NG London/Exhibitions: Renaissance Faces


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