Sunday, 11 November 2012

Northern Renaissance: Durer to Holbein

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: Queen's Gallery
When: 2 November - 14 April 2013

Jan Gossaert, Adam and Eve, c.1520. Copyright Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Northern Renaissance wasn't an individual movement in itself but this exhibition explores how the artists of Northern Europe were influenced by the Renaissance. But enough with semantics and on to the exhibition itself.

As the title implies, the exhibition kicks off with a look at Durer's many prints. These are impeccably and horrifically detailed with many apocalyptic scenes to be found. They also highlight what an astute businessman Durer was in recognising that his prints were easily replicable and there was money to be made in selling them.

This is followed by three excellent paintings by Lucas Cranach, featuring his signature of dark yet detailed backgrounds and seemingly illuminated figures in the foreground. His depiction of Apollo and Diana is on a par with his Adam and Eve that hangs in the Courtauld Gallery.

After this the exhibition does lose some momentum and the works from France aren't too impressive but as we progress to the Netherlands, it picks up again.

There are some astounding works on display by Jan Gossaert such as Adam and Eve (pictured above) and 'The Children of Christian II'. This painting was created just after their mother's death and the grief is palpable in their sunken eyes and pallid complexions.

We're also treated to a work by Brueghel, who never disappoints with his scenes full of activity. His reproduction of the 'Massacre of the Innocents' is so harrowing that when the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II took ownership of the work he had many of the massacred children painted over. Now, thanks to infra-red technology, a nearby panel can show us what the original would've looked like - a real treat.

This room also gives us the chance to see some lesser know artists such as van Heemskerck's and his vision of heaven and hell. But truth be told, these 'lesser' painters pale when hung next to greats like Gossaert and Brueghel.

We finish with a room full of portraits by Holbein and though many are intricately detailed, none manage to capture the imagination like 'The Ambassadors' in the National Gallery.

This exhibition swings from masterpieces down to works that are significantly less impressive but there are enough great works on display to justify making some time for this exhibition.