Research exercise: Religious paintings

Looking at religious paintings I have decided to do two as my analogies as early on looking through the National Gallery I found two contrasting works by two very different artists.

The first by Matteo di Giovanni is a painting thought to be an alterpiece dating from around 1474 and very iconic in style – I have seen very similar in the Basillica in Venice many years ago and the second by Franciso de Zurbaran of  Saint Francis in Meditation.  The latter is a very stark dark portrait of the saint and my personal reasons for liking it so much is precisely that – it is simple, stark and yet for me I find it very moving and thought provoking (painted around 1635-9)

In contrast the alterpiece called The Assumption of the Virgin is similar to Greek or Russian orthodox church icons yet with more detail with the angels and worshippers around the Virgin Mary.  I actually can’t put my finger on why I like this piece at the point of writing – as soon as I saw it it struck as one of those paintings that just ‘speaks’ to you from across the centuries.

One thing I found slightly frustrating on the virtual tour of the website was that you could see paintings through doorways and if that room was not part of the tour you could not find the specific painting and therefore had to use the floor plans and try and work out which room you needed – slightly more difficult than it initially sounds as some of the paintings could be a couple of rooms away  and I am still looking for one religious works that intrigued me!  However it is these floor plans that have enabled me to find the two works to annotate too.

I have been watching Italy Unpacked on TV recently which combines a chef and art historian travelling through Italy and one thing I have become aware of is that in many religious paintings the artist takes the main characters of the Bible and sets them in locations and settings of the country they live in at the time rather than the Biblical setting.  Alongside the local setting the artist also frequently includes people and clothing of the region too and in some cases there is reference to regional and current events (at the time of the painting).  By doing this it was explained that the artist was able to bring the Biblical story to the people of the region in a way they could understand and relate too.   The colours of the region were also reflected in the paintings many of which were in small country churches and at times frescoes directly on the church walls.  From looking at some of the other religious works in the National Gallery of the great painters it seems that this way of painting in a regional setting was common alongside the more traditional Biblical setting or style.


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