The tondo - from the Italian word for round, rotondo - is a circular painting or sculpture that became popular during the Italian Renaissance. Utilised by the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli and the Della Robbia family to mostly represent religious subjects like the Madonna anche child, this format epitomised harmony and unity.
That is until, in 1937, 24-year-old Philip Guston painted 'Bombardment' in response to the news of the fascist bombings of civilians during the Spanish Civil War. Guston borrows the tondo to show the full horror of those atrocities creating a vortex of human figures and debris that appear to be ejected from the centre of the picture plane toward its edge by the devastating impact of the bombs being dropped. The artist leaves nothing to the imagination and, like Picasso did in Guernica, made in the same year, he paints a mother who holds her possibly dead child in her arms like the serene Madonnas of the Renaissance. It is all rather painfully relevant under the current circumstances.
The show at Tate Modern is a dizzying survey that takes you on Guston's journey from figurative art to abstract expressionism and, finally, illustrates his return to representational art and the visual triumph that is his oddly poignant cartoonish style.
© The Estate of Philip Guston