Thursday, 27 November 2014

National Gallery of Victoria - The Ancient World to the Renaissance


Look, I'm probably not going to suggest that this is the largest art gallery in Australia, but it is certainly larger than the Art Gallery of New South Wales (or at least has a much larger collection) and this is only the international collection (I believe the Australian art is located elsewhere). The other thing that stands out is that the NGV is not a traditional art gallery. Most art galleries that I have visited tend to only have paintings and sculptures in their collections, however the NGV throws in items such as furniture and dinner sets. This is not surprising because if you look at a collection of art from Ancient Greece you will see a lot of dinner sets (and vases, and drinking horns).
One of the things I like about this place is that the foyer always has something different inside. The first time I came here (in recent times that is, and that was to see an exhibition of Monet paintings) there was a pool with plates floating in it:

Since it is in an art gallery, I guess you can call it art.


The next time I came here the foyer was full of florescent polar bears:
Flourescent Polar Bears
For some reason, I really don't find polar bears all that scary
This time it was a carousel, which I must admit was pretty ordinary (despite there being a line up so that people could sit in it, not that it functioned like a carousel because it didn't gracefully turn in a circle as you would expect a carousel to do).

NGV Carousel
Why is this so interesting?
However, I didn't come here to simply check out the foyer, but to once again wonder around the collection and become immersed in the wonderful world of art.
The largest collection is of European Art, ranging from the 14th century to the modern day. There is also a smaller collection of Asian art and some artifacts from the Ancient World and Meso-America. However, it was the European collection that is of the greatest interest to me at the time (simply because the Greek and Roman section can be passed through in less than ten minutes). Here you can walk through the collection, starting at the 14th Century, and watch how art developed over the centuries. As I also suggested, there is furniture and crockery in the collection, so you can see the development of manufactured goods as well. Mind you, it is a shame that the Greco-Roman collection is off on its own because the art of the Ancient World does have a significant influence on European Art during and after the Renaissance.
Mind you, I'm not convinced that every Grecian pot or plate was painted and I suspect that it was only the upper classes that could afford such items, however if you look at the vases you will notice that they all contain images from mythology:
Grecian Urns
Any excuse for some pictures of ancient pottery
The other important aspect of the ancient world are the sculptures. I have always suggested that Greco-Roman sculptures were incredibly lifelike and thanks to the ancient sculptors we have a very good idea of what many of the famous people of the Greco-Roman world looked like. However my friend then proceeded to point out to me that many of the sculptures idealise the subject, meaning that sculptor would create an image without any of the subject's flaws, in much the same way that we use photoshop to remove the flaws from models today (though I suspect that artists have been doing that for centuries).
There is a but of a jump from the Greco-Roman art to the European collection because much of the European collection begins in the late Middle Ages. The thing about Medieval art is that it is pretty much entirely Christian - the most popular by far being the Madonna and Child (I think I counted at least five):

Three Madonna and Childs
There is also this one, but due to copyright issues I will just use the link.
What I found fascinating though was the depiction of Jesus. Somewhere down the track somebody decided to typecast him has being a white man with long hair and a beard:

Jesus Statue
There must be some debate regarding this statue
I could be wrong, but doesn't that conjure up the image of a hippy?

Hippy
Well, okay, maybe not

My friend suggested that initially Jesus was portrayed as having short hair and being clean shaven, which no doubt was the trend in Rome at the time, but something changed which resulted in the image that has persisted over fifteen hundred years.
The other thing I noticed about the religious art was how the clothing of the characters that were not Jesus were all contemporary. Take for instance this altar-board from Belgium displaying the feeding of the five thousand. Notice that Jesus (if you can spot him) is his traditional long haired bearded self, yet the disciples are all dressed as Medieval monks, and the rest of the five thousand are all dressed as contemporary Flems.

Feeding of the Five Thousand Flemish Altarboard
I guess they did not have modern archaeological techniques
The Renaissance brought about a massive change to the art world as while religious depictions continued to be painted (and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a testament to that), artists began to branch out more taking in scenes from Greco-Roman mythology. In fact Ovid proved to be a very popular inspiration for many of these paintings, and there are plenty of paintings (and sculptures) displaying the story of Apollo and Daphne, Cupid and Psyche, and Diana and Acteaon (and since most of those paintings involve nudity, I will not be posting them on this blog).

Odysseus and the sirens
Okay, it is not exactly a Renaissance painting
The other thing that artists began to do was to paint portraits of living people. As you wonder around the gallery one wonders how some of these portraits were painted as they don't just involve adults, but families, and sometimes even animals. The suggestion that has been passed on to me is that the artist would sketch the outline, make notes of the colours to be used, and then go away and finish the painting elsewhere. Sure, we have seen skits where the subject stands in a pose, and the artist does the 'thumbs up' while painting the subject, but I suspect the reality is substantially different. Anyway, since many of these artists would also paint religious and mythological pieces, no doubt they were able to sketch a human without a subject from which they could model the piece (though, on the other hand, they probably did use models).
While I could write a lot more here, I think I will bring it to an end, since I can always go back another time, get some more inspiration, and write another piece on another aspect of the artistic world. However, I would like to finish with a couple of more things. The first is that there were rooms that were full of items that had come out of factories in the late 18th and early 19th centuries:

Wedgewood Vases
I'm still not convinced that this is art
Personally, I am not sure if I can consider something that was produced by the Wedgwood Factory to be art. Go into your local two-dollar shop and you will find lots of nik-naks that were produced in some sweat-shop in some third world country, and as far as I am concerned that is not art. The Greek vase I have on my wardrobe is not art, it is a trinket I picked up in Athens that is a replica of a Greek vase. Mind friend did ask me whether a calendar that contains a collection of paintings by Renoir would be art, and my response would be that yes, the prints are, but the calendar isn't.
The other thing that my friend said was that some of the paintings tell a story. He mentioned a painting that he looked at that had a woman crying, and a baby lying on the table. However as he studied the painting he noticed a small box under the table and as he considered the box he realised that it was a coffin. It was then that he realised that the painting was about the sorrow that a mother undergoes when her infant child dies. I can't say that I have studied works of art that indepth, but it has given me another perspective for the next time I wonder into an art gallery.
While I don't have a picture of the painting above, when he did tell me that it made me think of this painting below:
Old Woman and the Grim Reaper
Captions anyone?

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