Beyond the Canvas
A heathen's pilgrimage to the National Gallery
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
Today I'm celebrating my first trip into central London after 5 months of mostly staying at home. The Titian: Love, Desire, Death exhibition, now extended to January 2021, is unique and should not be missed in that in reunites for the first time all the six Titian paintings inspired by Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. They are, of course, wonderful and everyone should go see them: book your slot, turn up 15' early and wear a mask - it all worked really seamlessly for me. But I now realise it was something bigger and deeper that lured me to Trafalgar Square. The truth is I had missed being inside a museum, this one in particular, and today was like coming home to a place of wonderful familiarity and much needed comfort.
Museum-going patterns increasingly resemble ritualistic experiences of cathartic quality, and I believe most of it is a response to the architecture. Whether borrowing from the monumental structures of the past or making a bold statement via cutting edge contemporary shapes, museums often look like places of worship. It is only natural that the behaviours we adopt when we visit them mimic religious rituals. In the case of the National Gallery, the love I have for the collection is such that I needed to be physically and spiritually reunited with some of my favourite paintings and the people in them (some details below). A post I saw yesterday on the Gallerie dell'Accademia's instagram account very timely reminded me to defy my shrinking attention span and to always do the artists and the paintings justice by taking the time to properly observe and appreciate what's in front of me. Like a faithful kneeling before the altar, today I did exactly that.
The pandemic forced the National Gallery to close its doors for an unprecedented 111 days. In the United States, it is predicted that a third of museums may never open again. The institutions that will be able to reopen are facing drastically decreased revenues and are likely to be operating in the red, resulting in substantial layoffs and a devastating impact on the community. And while I am aware we alone cannot save the museum industry, I feel this quote by the illustrator Maira Kalman sums up my feelings and intentions: "A visit to a museum is a search for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. Go to museums as often as you can."
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"Darling, I am home."
Bronzino, detail from Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1550-55
Titian, detail from Portrait of a Lady (La Schiavona), c. 1510-12
Andrea del Sarto, detail from Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1517-18
Bronzino, detail from An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, c. 1545
Titian, detail from Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo, c. 1510
Giovanni Battista Moroni, detail from Portrait of a Lady, c. 1556-60
Paolo Veronese, detail from The Dream of Saint Helena, c. 1570