This month, the National Gallery will have another of its ueberhyped blockbuster exhibitions, with the six poesie of Titian at its centre.
These tasty examples of renaissance art, expressing in pigment the exquisite and witty hexametres of Ovid's Metamorphoses, are, we are told, being brought together for the first time since 1700ish.
I wonder if the teaching materials that will be provided will make the connection with the reign of our own Good King Philip and our own Good Queen Mary. The first few of the poesie were in fact sent to the King in London. But soon, in 1558, the Queen was dead; Bloody Bess occupied the throne, and repeated her infamous father's infamous Anglexit: and the pictures departed from our shores. Thus ended England's brief moment of participation in the Ovidian Renaissance of Catholic Europe. Perhaps this consideration should be added to Eamonn Duffy's demonstration (Fires of Faith) of the vibrancy and intellectual distintion of those brief, happy, years 1553-1558.
I'm not sure how keen I am on these exhibitions. They cost a lot, and are crowded. I hope it isn't cultural snobbery to reflect that 99.99999% of those cluttering up the galleries will never have read Ovid, and, even if a few do a little homework before traipsing to Trafalgar Square, the fact that they've mugged up some "background" will be nothing like the experience of a cultural elite which knew their Ovid, before their eyes engaged with Titian's visual representations of the text. It is not my fault that the cultural bigotry of our age has robbed most of the population of the Greek and Latin classics.
Perhaps the jolliest gallery in London is the Wallace Collection. It possesses one of the poesie, Perseus and Andromeda. Last time London's NG had a Titian blockbuster, in 2003, this picture was not part of it: because the Wallace had firm rules about not lending. It was the one gallery in London ... or anywhere ... where you never saw a nasty little white card informing you that what you'd come to see was on loan to et cetera. And the Wallace is off the tourists' beaten track.
So after 'doing' the 2003 blochkbuster, I went to the Wallace (it's next door to the old Spanish Embassy Chapel) and enjoyed Andromeda undisturbed. I did not have to pay a penny for her.
But the Wallace trustees have now 'discovered' that their founders did not peremptorily forbid loans. So this time round, Andromeda will be in the heaving mob at the NG, undoubtedly with a couple of dim women standing in front of her with their backs to her endlessly chattering about how their nephew Nigel is getting on in the City.
Yes; I really am every bit as nasty as I sound!
I don't think I'll bother with Titian this time round. Perhaps I'll go to the Wallace and peacefully enjoy some Rejoiner hopes in front of Boucher's playful version of Europa. Unless they've loaned it to someone. Who cares if every myrhological poppet Boucher ever painted was posed for by Mme Boucher? I think it's rather endearing.
Less chance, too, of picking up the Coronavirus in the Wallace.
3 March 2020
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I think I'll spend Super Tuesday at home.
I fully agree with your fifth paragraph, Fr Hunwicke. The Wallace Collection is indeed a wonderful art gallery, probably my favourite in the whole country (the only possible rival in my opinion being the Barber Institute Gallery at Birmingham University).
I am, of course, far too polite to say whether or not I fully agree with the single sentence that is your eighth paragraph:-)
Thank God there is someone else who is prepared to admit he is a nasty snob, especially in Lent. I always rather hope that the acknowledging thereof mitigates any offence it may contain, but see no purpose in amendment, as it is a wholly valid response to the hoi polloi.
My own impressions of the National Gallery is that it is a bastion of polite bigotry of the anti-Catholic kind. I can recall very nasty comments about Mrs. Fitzherbert next to her portrait, and some bad portraits of some very good people, obviously chosen with intent. London is full of such little reminders, most of which are very subtle. The only place I saw them openly expressed was on the notice board of the little Protestant chapel behind the National Gallery.
Actually, there is a very popular audiobook of Ovid's Metamorphoses (in translation).
People are a lot more interested in this stuff as they get older.
As to being a ‘snob’, well being ‘modest’ may not be such a stellar alternative. One is likely to be tagged with Churchill’s: “He is a modest man, who has much to be modest about.” Supposedly, in reference to Clement Attlee.
That, I’m told, is a paraprosdokian sentence. Who knew? Our host, I’m sure!
What's the point of reading Ovid when you can just look at the pictures?
"...99.99999% of those cluttering up the galleries will never have read Ovid…"
Wow, only one person in 10 million has read Ovid? So in all of London, for example, only one person has read Ovid? Say it isn't so. Even these days there must be hundreds in London who have read Ovid in Latin, and thousands who have read a translation, for example, the readily available Penguin Classics translation. And can we assume that those visiting the exhibition will be more likely than the general population to have read Ovid, not less?
Still, i live a long way from London, so I'm just guessing.
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