Posts Tagged ‘beauty’

She became queen of England at 16, and ruled for 9 days. Then she had to convert to Catholicism, or die. The choice was hers.


The execution of Lady Jane Grey

This picture was painted in 1834, by the French artist Paul Delaroche. (Click on the image to enlarge)

It was one of the most loved pictures in the Tate, until a flood in 1928 (coincidentally the time when Degas, Monet, Waterhouse, Gerome, and other great artists died in oblivion, many of them having stopped painting in despair).

The ‘damaged’ painting was rolled up and put into the cellars not to be seen until 1973, when it was found – surprise! – in perfect condition.

It has since been moved to the National Gallery, where it is regarded as the most popular picture, often surrounded by crowds of admirers, and on 24 February, it became the centerpiece of a major exhibition of his life’s work, including sketches and studies for this picture.

It is interesting that Modernist critics, even today, refuse to enjoy the picture. Here are a few quotes:

‘Cecil Gould, the Keeper of the Gallery who first put the painting back on show, wrote in 1975 that Delaroche “is regarded, when the 20th century thinks of him at all, as something of a charlatan who merits his present obscurity”.’

And: ‘Delaroche… has falsified the historical account the better to appeal to his contemporaries. Lady Jane Grey… was in fact executed out of doors… She could not have worn a white satin dress of nineteenth-century cut with a whalebone corset, and her hair would have been tucked up, not streaming down over her shoulders.’

All debatable, but this is a picture, a work of art, which needs to be judged in artistic terms, not documentary. Imagine discussing Guernica along these lines.

Paul Delaroche has been restored to his rightful place; but like Lady Jane Grey, Modern academics still demand that artists convert to the Modern Manner or perish. The choice is ours.


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A damned decent wage.

Giambattista Tiepolo had everything. Tiepolo. the Virgin of Carmel.
So much so that his sister left him out of her will. “He has everything,” she is reputed to have said.

Talent, skills, imagination, charm; there was no end to it, and he met with early and great success. But his greatest moment came with a commission from the Carmelite Brotherhood in Venice.

In my house I have only one poster, and it is of this painting. I saw it on my first visit to Venice, at the Scuola dei Carmini. At that time I spoke not a word of Italian, but I managed to persuade the woman at the door to find me a poster of it. There are about 12 great paintings of Tiepolo in the Scuola, but this one stood. And today in the language school I found a book on 18th Century Venetian painting. I looked up Tiepolo, and this is what I found.

The Carmelite monks were onto a good thing. The Virgin Mary had appeared to one of their order in Cambridge (yes, Cambridge) and handed him two small pieces of cloth, attached to a long narrow strip, probably meant to be worn like a necklace. This, they thought, would be a good subject for a painting, and Tiepolo agreed with them.

He produced a painting of otherwordly majesty; of beauty overwhelming. The poor holy man is treated with dignity but in clearly worldly, even earthy, tones. And before him, a scene of such beauty, such luminosity of colour and light, that is unimaginable. Except to Gianbattista Tiepolo. He saw this vision. In fact he is the one ever truly to see this vision. It has only ever lived in one place; in his mind. And now, thank be to God, in this masterpiece of light and joy.

Tiepolo did not put the cloth in the hands of the Virgin. Instead he delegated its passing down to one of the angels who support her in the clouds. In spite of this, the painting, on unveiling, was greeted with applause. And more.

The gift of this piece of cloth was a shortened time in purgatory and a place in heaven on the first Saturday after death, “or as soon as possible.” (…read the small print!) So awed were the monks on seeing this painting, which, even at this time, was regarded as his greatest work, that they made him the gift of membership of their brotherhood, and incidentally a smooth road to heaven. Now that, is a decent wage for a decent piece of work.

The thing is, that Tiepolo, although no angel (look at those figures in the clouds!) had no need of a special dispensation. He had already seen the glory, known the glory of heaven, he was the one to be sainted. San Tiepolo… It has a ring, doesn’t it?

One bit of success escaped him. He was never highly regarded in France or in England, and we’ll say nothing about America. But there was one young American who saw his work every day, an artist whose work reflects the glorious viscosities and luminosities of the master, one man who can be described at the disciple of Giambattista Tiepolo. His name was John Singer Sargent.

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