Australian Fine Artist

Italian Masterpieces

Exhibition from Spain’s Royal Court
Museo Del Prado

National Gallery of Victoria

Artworks from the 16th to 18th Century highlighting the work of some of the most famous and many possibly unknown artists to many Australians, of the period.

This collection reflects the taste of those who chose each piece over nearly two hundred years. Rather than reflecting the work of only one or two painters, or a particular style, this exhibition reflects the personalities and likes of the Spanish Royal court and their desire to own the best of Italian art through the Renaissance to the early Rococo period.

The NGV has put together and displayed a large array of drawings, etchings and paintings over seven rooms, which take the viewer on a journey of education and interest. I spent over two hours in the exhibition and could have stayed longer to explore the techniques and subjects covered in the over 105 artworks. Each room was a new amazing discovery for me, with at least one work that I had to investigate further because of the clear understanding of the human form, light and shade, colour and various applications of paint for texture shown by the artist.

From Room 1 which housed mostly drawings in chalk, pencil, pen & ink and ink washes I was hooked. If anyone has had doubts as to whether drawing is an important part of an artist’s arsenal, this room alone should help you make up your mind. I feel that none of the finished paintings could have been achieved if the artist had not a great understanding of the subject through years of training, practice and skills in drawing.

Room 2 onwards offered mostly paintings, the subjects seeming to follow themes in each with a majority of, for example, portraits in one, or historic or mythological themes in another. From one room to the next I followed stories of faith, bravery, grand theatre and nobility. As I went from one century to the next I watched as artists showed off their skills in foreshortening, perspective and rendering the human form. In some I felt the artist was nearly bragging about how well they could paint certain objects by the sheer quantity of them in the painting.

Artists can be seen to be influenced by other well known artists of the time. I saw Michaelangelo or da Vinci in some, and Raphael or Titian in others. The influence of the times also can be seen in the works, as the Renaissance gave way to the early Rococo and embellishment, colour, ornate details and the flamboyant came into the paintings. From myth to history, power to faith, the theme went on to room 6 where I found myself amongst still lifes and yet another change from the big and historic to the small and everyday. Flowers in vases, fruit and game hanging ready for the cook. Then in room 7, the influence of the Grand Tour, with ruins from the time of the Roman Empire and before as themes for those who travelled through Europe, the Mediterranean and the far East to discover what the new science of archeology was revealing to the world.

The final cherry on top for me was the cello performance by a student from University of Melbourne, which I sat to enjoy, closing my eyes and yes, eyes tearing up again, as I enjoyed the mellow notes echoing around the room. At times I looked around at the paintings, it was strange to think that the people in those paintings were seemingly looking straight back to the cellist, as if enjoying his performance along with those of us sitting around him.

Relevance to an Artist Working Now

At first glance some may think that these huge more “realist” paintings from the past may not have much to do with an artist working in Melbourne in 2014. I invite you to take a closer look at every work. Take out bits and pieces, or a single human from a group and really look at them. By not only looking at the “big picture” but getting in close (as it was easy to do at the exhibit) and really studying technique and the application of the paint, the method of drawing etc I began to see the great skills involved. What looks smooth and nearly photographic from a distance, may have quick brush strokes, layering and glazing of paint with lashings of thick strokes over the top to describe fabric, lace and tassels. Rather than being flat or too repetitious in method, they are on the contrary, luscious and painterly.

Artists, in these paintings, show us sophisticated knowledge of colour, tone, light, reflectiveness, anatomy, perspective, and their materials. They reflect many years of training and dedication to their art and if you look carefully, a little bit of their personalities and preferences in their own lives.

Why don’t you do what I did, and hope to do on my next visit. Take a small sketch book and pick out some parts of paintings or drawings that take your fancy and try to draw them. I chose a kneeling woman from one work and just a hand from another and found that there was much more to it than I expected. If you have a good day which isn’t too busy, people just pass around you and you can stand and draw undisturbed. There are also seats in the middle of some rooms if you need to take a break.

Paintings I liked in Particular

Here is a list of some drawings and paintings that I liked:

  • The Immaculate Conception, Giambattista Tiepolo
    Look at the face of the main figure and the expression!
  • Noli me Tangere, Antonio Correggio
    I loved the rendering of the fabric in this one.
  • Salome with he head of John the Bapist, Titian
    Again the fabric plus the expression in her face.
  • Penitent Mary Magdalene, Paolo Veronese
    Fabric rendering again, plus the face and expression.
  • The Israelites Drinking from the Miraculous Water, Jacopo Bassano
    I took a while to really look at this one, all the figures are so interesting. Look at each one as a single item!
  • The Virgin and the Child in Glory, Carlo Maratti
    The use of complementary colours making a strong statement with such soft folds in the fabric.
  • Saint Veronica, Bernado Strozzi
    I love the tassels on the end of the white cloth, thick layering of paint and not as ornate or fiddly as it first appears.
  • The Raising of Lazarus, Pietro Novelli
    The hands in this one drew me in, so expressive and so well done!
  • Allegory of Touch, Jusepe De Ribera
    Very different subject in this group, the lighting remixed me of Rembrandt, so dramatic!
  • The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Matthias Stom
    I love how well the figures are painted plus the lighting creating such drama.
  • Susanna and the Elders, Guercino
    This one stood out from across the room, just because of one thing, the arm on the foreground male figure, so 3D!
  • Still Life with Fish and a Turtle, Giuseppe Recco
    Great use of complementaries and the turtle looks so alive!
  • Young Man Smoking, Lorenzo Tiepolo
    White and red chalk drawing which could have been done yesterday, just lovely.
  • The Grotto att Posillipo (Naples), Gaspare Vanvitelli
    the shadows and way the rock faces are painted drew me to this one.
  • Theatre Set, Francesco Galli Da Bibiena
    Great perspective, the pen and ink with the use of soft ink wash gives depth and shadows without need for great detail.
  • Male Nude, Donato Creti
    Beautiful tonal study, great light and shadows.
  • Academic Drawing, Pompeo Batoni
    Beautiful rendering of the male figure, love the feet!

Just to finish off, I will mention the book of the exhibition. I like to purchase a book at each visit and this one is huge and brilliant. It will take a while to read it all, but just for the beautiful prints of the paintings it is a worthwhile purchase for my library.

Sketches from my Visit

See if you can find the paintings I took these drawing from!

sketch NGV Itlaian masters 080714

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