Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Discovering Art at the National Gallery

August 25th, 2009 · No Comments

My first impression upon entering the National Gallery was skepticism that the art could possibly be any more beautiful than the building’s architecture. I’m not usually much of an art person (although I’m a HUGE Dalí fan), and I usually don’t spend much time in museums dedicated entirely to art. However, to my great surprise, I was abslutely fascinated by the thousands of paintings. Of course, I got to see paintings I thought I would only ever see in photos, such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Monet’s Japanese Bridge. Additionally, I chose to make note of paintings I previously was unfamiliar with that caught my eye. Of these, my favorite was Louis-Léopold Boilly’s A Girl at a Window. The oil on canvas painting originally attracted me because it is painted to look like a framed still image; therefore, it is in black and white and rather unique. As I drew closer, I noticed the clarity of the details, especially those of the fish in the bowl next to the girl. The painting is so clear, it could easily be mistaken for a modern-day cartoon or CGI. Being a terrible artist myself, I never imagined a handcrafted painting could look so smooth and realistic.

While looking at the medieval collection of the Gallery, I noticed various paintings depicting the Biblical scene of St. Michael the Archangel defeating the Devil. Carlo Crivelli’s St. Michael (1476), Bartolomé Bermejo’s St. Michael Triumphant Over the Devil (1468), and Piero della Francesca’s St. Michael (1469) all portray St. Michael similarly. He appears as a rather young looking boy wearing medieval style armory. However, Francesca opts to give the archangel wings instead of a cape. The most noticeable difference to me, though, is in the way the artists chose to represent the Devil. Crivelli’s Devil resembles a lizard-like demon, whereas Barmejo’s Devil is smaller and much more cartoonish and almost comical when compared to the triumphant St. Michael. Francesca’s is once again different from the other two, as he portrays the Devil as a simple serpent in the corner of the painting, which focuses on the archangel instead. These paintings fascinated me because of their diversity. I always knew styles of art changed over time, but I never really considered the diversity that could exist between the contemporary artists of a time period. Seeing these three paintings that show the same subject painted within a few years of one another helped me to appreciate the different ways in which artists might imagine their subjects.

Tags: Museums · Sarah