Art in the Age of Shakespeare: A Distant Mirror over 450 Years Ago!

Thank you all for your keen participation in today’s visit to the Renaissance section of the NSW Art Gallery. We all got a very good taste of the range of  art work from the period and the connections of all this work to Shakespeare’s imagination. Most powerfully this painting by Jacques Blanchard Mars and the Vestal Virgin 1600, captures both the Renaissance obsession with classical/ mythological history and captures something of Shakespeare’s rollicking enjoyment of the physical, sensual side of life. This painting reminds me very much of scenes from both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It. 

PS- click on any of these paintings for a detailed close-up

Mars and Vestal Virgin

This painting of a Girl with a Flute by Jan Van Bijlert (1630) also brings As You Like It vividly to mind, the way that Shakespeare so deliberately in that play links amorous behaviour with music: “If music be the food of love, play on!” (which is actually a line from the opening of Twelfth Night!)

Girl with a Flute

Then there was this wonderfully down-to-earth picture by Jan Van Noordt of Granida & Daifilo (1645) about love (“lurve”) at first sight! Shakespeare loved that! Remember Midsummer Night’s Dream was full of it!

Granida and DaifiloThen there was no shortage of beautiful, young men who seemed to step right out of any of the plays we have been studying. Look at the amazing get-up that this young man by Franz Pourbos (1610) has to feel comfortable in!Pourbos Portrait of a ManWe also looked at some works by Peter Paul Rubens, the Shakespeare of the Art world in the Renaissance. This is his self-portrait with that wonderful dark/light effect for which he is so famous.

Rubens Self Portrait He also produced this amazing study of the moment that Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor was given the keys to the city of Rome. This was one of the most momentous moments of Christian history, here being celebrated in the Renaissance. Rubens- Constantine First Christian Emperor

Alongside this painting was this most extraordinary, decorated ceramic plate depicting the event in Renaissance Europe which was equivalent to 9/11. This was not the destruction of the twin towers, but it was the destruction of a whole city, Rome, by invading German and Spanish armies. This was felt to be like the end of the Christina world and if you look closely at the images on the right of the plate you can see, Saint Peter standing very precariously on what looks like a football, but is probably the globe. At all events, his posture and position represents the extreme vulnerability felt by Christian Europe in the wake of this event which happened on May 5th, 1527.  The Sack of Rome The artist has carefully recorded the date and the event on the back of this amazingly well-kept plate which will be 500 years old in 2027!Sack of Rome- underside

Last but not least of this collection of images there is this wonderful Still Life by Laurens Craen which captures so powerfully the vivid life-style and tastes of the European Renaissance: the oysters are literally falling off the canvas into the palm of your hands, as are the luscious grapes and the slices of melon: Yum! There is a feast-table like this set up in the middle of Shakespeare’s The Tempest – look out for it when we get there in a couple of weeks time.Still Life

BLOG TOPICS: Another no-brainer arising from this week’s visit. Present a brief account of what you found most interesting or what meant most to you from all the art works we explored today. I look forward to reading your entries.

PS: most of the paintings we explored today can be accessed on-line through the NSW Art Gallery web page.

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