Renaissance art

 The National Museum hosts some great exhibitions, and it’s only a short bus trip away from our apartment. To see similar exhibitions in Australia I have to travel to Sydney (370 km) or Canberra (230 km). The current offering is paintings from Renaissance Brescia, a city between Venice and Milan in Northern Italy.

I peruse the fifty paintings: when I notice the lack of smiling faces, I wonder how much my modern sensibility influences my viewing. I can understand no smiles at the Annunciation: that news must have been hard to accommodate. But even the Nativity doesn’t seem to provoke any sense of joy. In fact I pass through a number of galleries before I see a single smile. Is this a period or cultural difference? (Poles think you’re weird if you smile. Someone once asked my smiling daughter whether she was drying her teeth.) I interpret other facial expressions and body language with the same hesitation: jealousy between Jesus and John? Joseph talking to his mates rather than adoring? a cranky Cupid? a student not at all interested in meeting the virgin? 

One of my pleasures in paintings of this period is glimpses of landscape: walls and pillars; rolling green hills with a distinctive bluff in the background; rugged ranges; a waterwheel; mountains topped by a fort; a winding river.


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At the same time as I encounter a genuine smile, I meet a woman artist, the only one in this exhibition. Sofonisba Anguissola was a trail blazer for women artists and admired by Van Dyck amongst others. Her painting of chess players is one of my favourites.

As always, I am charmed by details: a cat under the table; a boy patting a dog; elaborate hair decoration; a tumble of pots; a woman looking into a mirror; a hand holding flowers; bare feet; fingers lifting a cloth; a drowsy-eyed baby.

 Alessandro Bonvicino “Supper at Emmaus” (1427) – detail

Francesco Bassano ll  “Vulcan’s forge” (2nd half of 16th century) – detail

Paris Bordone “Venus and Cupid” (1530s) – painting and detail

Lorenzo Lotto “The holy family with St Catherine” (1523) – painting and detail

About morselsandscraps

A retired Australian who spends a lot of time in Warsaw, and blogs as a way of life.
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14 Responses to Renaissance art

  1. Sue says:

    Good point, Meg! I’ve never thought about the lack of smiles myself, should have paid more attention to Waldemar Januszak when he covered the Renaissance in TV programmes! But I’m sure it’s a period thing. It just wasn’t done!


  2. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Other than marvelling at how well the colours have survived, I’m not keen on Renaissance art, but your favourite is mine too. Do Poles really think you’re weird if you smile? if so they’d straight jacket me!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paula says:

    I didn’t know that about Poles and smiling, but then again I can’t say that I know a Pole. Your photos of paintings are amazing, impeccable. I’m surprised that they let you take photographs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My authority on Polish smiles is my daughter. They smile plenty in private, but in public? Apparently not. Hope I’m not perpetrating a racial stereotype.

      I’ve been startled here at the freedom to photograph, and I was expecting a ban at this exhibition because it draws from international galleries. The only time I’ve encoutered a ban is at the exhibition featuring a number of Rodins. Every room guard knows how to nod and say “no flash” in English. One got a bit edgy when I leaned over glass flooring for a closer look.


  4. Rosemary Barnard says:

    I was very interested by what you said about smiling. Having spent three weeks in Italy looking at paintings in churches there, where all the subjects were very serious, in Prague’s St Agnes Convent (now a national museum) it was refreshing to see the carved statues of a joyous, smiling Virgin Mary cradling her equally happy Christ Child with a ball in one of his hands. I commented on the contrast to the museum staff.


  5. findingnyc says:

    I love all of the details you’ve noticed and captured in your photos. The little things delight me as well. It reminds me of the walks in the Horowitz book. (I just read the first chapter on my subway ride to and from work today – I’m really enjoying it so far!)


  6. viveka says:

    Meg, lovely post … and such beautiful art. And I love how you present your images!!!! I love that you have also concentrated on details in the magnificent painting instead of just taking using the full painting. A bit of Wivi-style. *smile Now I know where I’m going to go next time I’m in town.


    • One day I’ll do a post acknowledging all my debts to blogging photographers: and you’ll be top of the list – miscellanea and closeups for a start, although I’ve always been a fan of capturing bits of paintings, often just the textures. This exhibition finishes tomorrow, so you’ll miss it if you don’t hurry!


      • viveka says:

        Meg, then we belong to the same club … the close up club!!!! I think details of painting is so much more interesting and the frame details. Now you made me upset … need to do my ironing tomorrow. *laughing


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