Saturday, October 25, 2008

At the National Gallery

This week I volunteered to help with a school trip to the National Gallery.
It was a nice trip: the girls were well-behaved and all I had to do was ensure they got to see a range of paintings and accompany them on a talk. There were some proper teachers who did the boring things like getting them to clear up the lunch room.

One of the things I enjoyed was being able to bore tell a new set of people about the things I find interesting. So instead of walking through a room with four paintings based on the four elements, we stopped and I gave a precis of the ideas about earth, air, fire and water.

"You don't go to a library and expect to read all the books in one visit" said the speaker at the start of the talk. She compared art galleries, museums, zoos and libraries as collections of things to study, and made the point that studying each of them took a bit of time.
One painting she took us to see was "Bacchus and Ariadne" by Titian. While we were looking at it, she explained that if one of the figures is looking at the painting's viewer, it was like an invitation to join in. Although one of the characters is looking out, the painting next to it had the sitter staring at us.
Man with a quilted sleeve
The man looks sideways at me, a clear invitation: he is ignoring the painter, and with that quizzical look of his, is trying to engage me in his activity. I was in two minds as to whether to buy the postcard, until I saw the name of the painting : "man with a quilted sleeve".

Another painting we were taken to see was "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump": she couldn't have chosen a painting that was of more relevance to me. The contrast between the dark background and the candle lit circle of participants was much greater in real life. After the talk we went back to have another look at it, and I explained to some of the girls about eighteenth century understanding of air, and the role of the traveling lecturer.

The other picture I particularly liked (not in her talk) was 'Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life'. Again this captured some of my interests, the idea of a curiosity cabinet, an un-themed collection of things that were interesting.


Shan said...

I like that painting - I hadn't seen it before.

scarletti said...

Sounds like you had a brilliant trip. I love the experiment painting, love its luminosity; I also like the similar lighting effect in the one where Jesus is questioned by the Sanhedrin. How fabulous to have the chance to share on the teaching and learning for a change.

Penny said...

I haven't seen the Sanhedrin one. I'll have to look out for it.