Slow Tourism.

Art  How long do you usually spend visiting art galleries?  The pace with which I'm able to feel like I've confidently seen a collection has reduced as I've aged to the point that it's become impossible for me to see a venue without multiple visits.  If I'm in the right mood I can confidently spend days returning to the same collection and even then I never quite feel like I've given the work justice.  For that project, it took at least two days for me to see the Walker Art Gallery and even then I felt like I rushed around.  The best paintings demand that you spend time over them, teasing out their mimetic qualities over the long term. 

Which is why when in deciding to revisit the National Gallery after what must be a couple of decades, the notion that I might be able to see the place in a couple of days was fanciful at best.  This is one of the most important art collections in the world, every painting of either national or international importance.  There isn't any filler, and although there are leaflets available highlighting the eighty or some most sought after works, from what I've seen so far, that's like selecting some choice phrases from Shakespeare's canon.  Even at some of the my favourite other galleries, the quality just isn't this high.

And so, after talking an hour tottering about the first room of the Sainsbury Wing, I surrendered to the fact that I might well be spending the rest of the year not visiting London once a month, but rather the National Gallery.  If you'd told the younger version of me that his mid-life crisis incarnation would spend two hours just looking at various interpretations of the Madonna and Child and crucifixion, he'd probably wonder if Joey and Pacey would really spend the rest of their lives together finally having told Dawson to go away.  Even fifteen years ago I probably would have found the notion entirely tedious.  Not now.

Judging by the floorplan, I managed to see rooms 51, 58, 59, 60 and 66, although the wing is in flux with room closures, some of which don't seem to have been corrected on the online map.  Perhaps I did only see five rooms, but it feels like more.  One of the reasons I took my time, it took so long, was because I decided to listen to all of the audio explanations were available and nearly every item has a description or explanation read by a voice which sounds almost but not exactly like someone notable.  One of them may be Michael Sheen.  I think another could have been in Doctor Who.  There's apparently about fifty hours of this material.

Other than re-invigorating my interest in the history of art, what specifically did I draw from the visit?  That my new favourite artist is Carlo Crivelli, the Venetian painter from the 1450s.  His subject matter tends to be biblical, as was the mode of the time, but his style feels entirely like that of a high end comic book artist, bold lines with detailed colouring, with exquisitely graphic rather than attempted photo-realistic representations of the people (note he was a contemporary of Leonardo).  This Pridella is typical,   Zoom in and notice the detailing of the landscape, the walls and grass, like a book illustration.  But this all happened on egg tempera.

Meanwhile that what we venerate now as masterpieces of world art amounted to nothing more than expensive furniture, literally in the case of Botticelli's Venus and Mars which was either a headboard or the back board of day chest.  That it survived this long, this intact is a miracle, and probably had a lot to do with the habit in later centuries of hacking furniture apart and selling off the good bits.  Apparently there'll be more Botticelli on display when some of the galleries re-open in April after the refit.  I suspect I won't be leaving the Sainsbury wing any time soon.  On the days I'm in London at least. 

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