March Mostra 2017 / Meet the Artists… Neil McNally

Tonight sees the opening of our annual March Mostra and there is much anticipation around the BSR to see the new works by our current resident artists and architects produced over the last three months. To round off our Meet the Artists blog series, we bring you Neil McNally, Abbey Fellow in Painting.

Neil McNally has a conceptual approach to painting that questions the fundamental roots of the medium. Using the briefest of gestures and brushstrokes, McNally often declares a work complete at the first available opportunity. Believing that there is now little new that can be done with painting, McNally is engaged in the medium’s endgame, playing the final moves again and again without ever reaching its conclusion: ‘I do not believe I can invent something new in art or painting because whatever I would want to invent already exists.’ Rather than invent something new, McNally’s restrained brushstrokes leave a canvas open and full of possibilities. Like an unfinished sentence, his works leave the viewer guessing what might happen next.

“I am an author, dreamweaver, visionary. Plus actor. Whilst in Rome I have been swimming the Tiber, learning Latin and studying mime. During the day I create masterpieces. International scholars of renown admire my exquisite works. In the evening I go to the opera or the ballet. Seeking inspiration and distraction from the rigours of artistic creation I sometimes visit a nearby church to take in the divine architecture or to listen to Baroque music played on period instruments. Today I share a small photo essay of new work, new friends and new inspirations”. (Neil McNally)

Neil McNally, 'The Winter is Cold'

9. doghouse

10. Dream car

 


Neil’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.

 

 

 

March Mostra 2017 / Meet the Artists… Vivien Zhang

For this instalment of the March Mostra Meet the Artists blog series, we spoke to Vivien Zhang, our 2016-17 Abbey Scholar in Painting. Here Vivien reflects upon the progression of her work since the December Mostra, her approach to the upcoming March Mostra, and her projects for the next three months at the BSR.

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Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Vivien Zhang’s work looks at the idea of repetition and painting as a site for assemblage. Context-specific motifs, such as the mathematical shape gömböc and aluminium foil, enact as well as interrupt fields of repetition. Layering in Zhang’s work often simulates algorithms found in digital imaging software – an approach influenced by our ways of engaging with visual material today. Zhang explores through her work our expanding accessibility to images and information today, our shifting authorship and authority over such materials, and our increasing re-identification as trans-border inhabitants.

This is your second BSR Mostra – have you noticed a significant change in your work or your approach to your work since the December Mostra?

Yes, definitely. I think my work for this Mostra will be more experimental, more unfamiliar for myself. Whereas for the last Mostra, it was the first time so I was still getting to know what the BSR is and what Rome is like. So partly, I think the December Mostra was more like a presentation of my known practice, whereas for this one I might be able to unpack what I do a little bit and introduce things I am interested in that I have found in Rome.

When I look at your work, I see all these different layers and I have to really study it to work out which layer is on top and how they are woven into each other. Can you talk me through the process of building up a piece of work?

Someone recently asked me how much of the painting would I know before I first start one. I know I progress a painting through the different layers. I don’t start with a vision of what the final painting will look like, but I usually know which basic shapes and forms I would use in a work – for example the pebbles in this work [see image below]. So the first move here is the background in silver, and then I add these bands which are images that haven’t properly loaded on the internet. The third move is the addition of this math shape, the gömböc. The scientist behind the gömböc originally tried to find a pebble as a natural physical example of a gömböc; that’s why the pebbles are here. The process of thinking about the space [on the canvas] happens while I am doing the work, instead of it being predetermined and knowing how it will look at the end.

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Since you met Gabor Domokos, one of the creators of the gömböc, have you revisited the shape and have you been looking at it in a different way?

Definitely! [Shows the gömböc] They manufacture this shape in different materials, and this is a new synthetic plastic which is cheaper, lighter, and more affordable for students. It always rocks back to that stable point. If you play around with it for a little bit, it doesn’t roll for as long as I had hoped it would before returning to its stable point – the inventor did say that the heavier the material is, the better the demonstration. When I met him – for the first time in January this year – he told me lots of political stories that surrounded his research and the production of the shape, and that was incredibly fascinating, adding another dimension to the shape.

Is there any particular site or gallery or space in Rome that has made a particular impression on you?

That’s a question I might have to answer after the BSR! Because at the moment, everything is captivating… But I did go around yesterday, looking for something I want to focus on next term, and that is the flood markers around Rome. Rome has been a long victim of flood and since the thirteenth century flood markers have been put up all around Rome to mark various catastrophic ones – this one outside Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. They’re like markers of history. All the buildings and sites in Rome are markers of history, and they are so because they are allowed to survive in the city, to remain. These flood markers, on the other hand, are symbols of a particular happening, marking a relationship to the rest of the standing history of Rome. What’s more, they were actively placed and were made to have a kind of elevated status – are they like commemoration plaques? What’s their relationship to the rest of history, the city and its people? This is something that’s interesting to me.

Gavin Brown is a gallery that’s made an impression on me. It’s a commercial gallery in a dilapidating church in Rome. Using the site as an exhibition space is quite challenging. Obviously for any artist who has a show in that space, it’s very impressive and an exciting opportunity.

Have you got an idea of where you’ll be in the gallery and do you know what the other artists are going to show, and have you thought about how your work will interact?

I think we make a point in every Mostra meeting that this is a show without an overarching exhibition theme, but there have been interesting new conversations. For example, this term, we have Sinta [Tantra, Bridget Riley Fellow] who is an artist who works much more with abstraction and Caroline [Cloutier, Québec Resident] who works with trompe l’oeil. I feel like I identify with their works much more perhaps than works in the last term. But last term was very challenging in a good way, because I usually don’t show with figurative artists. The context gave a new twist to my work and maybe to the way people read my work.

It will be interesting to see this Mostra after last term, as it will be so different with the December Mostra all being figurative painting.

Last term the artists were all very ‘painterly’ and the conversations painters have amongst ourselves are quite distinct, just for example the mere fascination with a colour or medium, talking about how ‘buttery’ or ‘creamy’ paint can be, the painterly gesture, and so on. But just this morning I was listening to Morgan [Gostwyck-Lewis, Scholars’ Prize in Architecture] talk about his work and how he wants to activate the exhibition space and use his findings with the Etruscan tombs, and the kind of bands in tombs used as horizons. Again that’s really interesting and makes you think more about what you’re looking at, absorb his perspective and approach and then use it in your own work and when it comes to staging the show.

Have you found it a challenge keeping a balance between the BSR and travelling for meetings or exhibitions?

It’s difficult and I think everyone is trying to balance the opportunity of being in Rome, in the BSR, and the other opportunities that come around. I think at the end of the day I just go organically with what is on offer. For my Pescara show [at SOYUZ], the curator originally found my work somewhere and then learned that I was in Rome coincidentally, so it was nice to piece something together. With the Milan art fair that’s coming up later this month, the gallery applied knowing that I was in Rome but with no expectations. And when we got in, it’s like wow, that’s a really nice addition. It will be nice to travel to Milan and see it as a tourist but also to do work there. Also Pescara would probably be at the bottom of my list for places to visit as it’s a new town, it’s been bombed during war and all the architecture there is from the 70s, but when I visited I received a real sense of the Italian lifestyle – I was there hanging out with Italian artists, curators and architects, and just socially you experience a different totality.

Your award is nine months long; do you think that the knowledge that you’ll be here for that amount of time affects the way you work, given that you can plan ahead as to how you’re next going to use your time in Rome?

Yes, definitely, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad – taking things at a leisurely pace maybe. But I think because of the nine-month timeframe, I can keep my normal practice going which I don’t want to leave aside, but also absorb this new place. Nine months seems long but it isn’t actually. I can imagine that for the people here for three months, it might be almost like a teaser to Rome.

Is there anything else you would like to to say about the work coming up for the Mostra?

I am interested to see, because there is so many site specific works – Caroline and Morgan’s –putting together the show will be a very different process. In December, it was a case of bringing all the work to the gallery, swapping and changing and seeing how things fits together. This time we have two pieces that have to be in specific positions, and then everything else has to be coordinated according to these two works – which I think could make it simpler. It’ll be a good challenge again, because I have never worked in an exhibition with very big site-specific and trompe l’oeil work. The test is maybe how to install mine and Catherine’s paintings on canvas: when these pieces sit next to larger installations, paintings can become decorative touches or appear very introspective, so the challenge is to avoid that problem.


Vivien’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson.

March Mostra 2017 / Meet the Artists … Catherine Parsonage

The March Mostra is drawing closer, and in today’s blog we take a closer look at the practice of Catherine Parsonage (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture). This will be Catherine’s second BSR mostra, so we asked her to elaborate on how her BSR residency has impacted upon her work so far.

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Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Catherine Parsonage uses painting and sculpture to pursue the ultimate reduction of the female form, condensing the body to its most elementary essence through single deft lines. The drawings and paintings carefully choreograph the body as the fashion photographer might its subject, creating a distilled mise-en-scene, where the subtle shifts in weight and angle are imbued with movement and poise.

This is your second BSR Mostra – would you say your practice has changed much since the December Mostra? If so, how?

I think that my practice shifted very soon after I arrived at the BSR and has continued to do so since the December Mostra. All of the artists at the BSR during autumn had very particular approaches to painting and our conversations and time together encouraged me to approach painting in a way that more clearly reflects direct experience.

Since being in Rome, what has made a particular impression on you that has been reflected in your work?

The collection of Etruscan artefacts in Villa Giulia, particularly the ceramics and mirrors have definitely been reflected in my work, (as I already use very linear, reduced lines to depict the body.)

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Etruscan mirror exhibited in the Villa Giulia. Photo by Catherine Parsonage.

Can you tell me a bit about the pieces you will be showing in the March Mostra?

The March Mostra is collaboratively curated so the final pieces are still slightly unknown but I think I will be showing a selection of drawings with a photograph, and then potentially a painting. It will be the first time I have exhibited a photograph alongside other works so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Have you been experimenting with different materials or techniques since being in Rome?

Yes I have been part of a printmaking group in Piramide for my first four months in Rome, it is the first time I have done any traditional etching and it has had a huge impact on my painting; I hope to continue etching throughout the rest of the residency.

How do you choose which pieces to show?

For this mostra particularly I am choosing pieces to test out some new combinations and modes of framing and showing.

Have you started to think about new ideas to work with for next term?

I have some longer term projects which I have been working towards for next term including a project in stained glass and ceramics.


Catherine’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.

March Mostra 2017 / Meet the Artists… Morgan Gostwyck-Lewis

Over the next few days we will be introducing you in turn to our six resident artists and architects who will be exhibiting in the March Mostra, opening Friday 17 March. The first awardee in focus is Morgan Gostwyck-Lewis, this year’s Scholars’ Prize in Architecture Winner, who here discusses the project he is working on for the Mostra.

MeetTheArtists_MorganLewis_Image

Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Morgan Gostwyck-Lewis investigates the relationship between architectural ornamentation and figurative representation in Etruscan art. His research focuses on the elements that connect them, through the use of photography, writing and paint. Lewis is an architect whose projects have primarily been for the arts and education sector, and whose research has focused on the representation of landscape.

First of all, can you summarise your project?
I’ve been looking at architectural painting and ornamentation in a set of early Etruscan tombs (8-6th C BC). The Etruscans are an iron-age culture transforming into a quite sophisticated, quite internationally embedded urban culture, getting the hang of making cities, writing and new forms of art with a lot of important iconographic development. They retained a lot of iron age conceptions, and they’re making these rooms which are quite interesting because they conflate a number of different architectural features, and they are relatively early in the classical tradition, so that’s also interesting. I don’t think you could claim that they are the origin of specific architectural ideas, they certainly get things like decent columns and four cornered rooms from more-established cultures, but they are using them in a way that I think is quite telling of where and how those architectural motifs originally emerged and certainly how they can be deployed, and that’s quite useful for an architect to think about [as] these can be quite difficult things to articulate and subjects to get a handle on. So, in the set of tombs that I am looking at I have focused on a particular architectural motif which is a figurative horizon line that then becomes something that we may describe as something more ornamental. The project is really research about this process more than it is a project about making a piece.

Why the interest in Etruscans? Where did the inspiration for this project come from?
I’m not particularly interested in the Etruscans as a topic in themselves. I guess I found the rooms they were making just inherently appealing and I had a hunch they were doing quite strange things, and I still feel they’re doing quite a lot of strange things that I haven’t really got in to – this movement between what is figurative and what is repeated as a pattern and how that relates to the way it’s arranged spatially is quite complex. They’re very loose with their boundaries – for example a sea motif that very quickly becomes a setting for a real sea scene – and that is quite unusual, to jump back and forth so fluidly like that and to do it so seemingly effortlessly. And I presume that that’s because they were in a culture that was being forged incredibly quickly.

Is this the first time you’ve done a project like this? Are you used to producing work for mostre and is the process at the BSR very different?
I have made stuff for a mostra before as a student – this is quite a big part of architectural education. Usually you’re making miniaturised versions of a hypothetical building and therefore you are concerned about how it looks as a piece, but really it’s a model and you almost want to avoid thinking about it too much as a piece, because you can then fall in love with it to the detriment of what you’re modelling, which is perhaps a kind of endemic problem more widely found in society in fact, but here, if you know the end point is a mostra, you want whatever you make to read as a thing in itself. As a way of doing research, that might strike one as odd, because perhaps one might think the natural outcome of a research project like this would be a paper. But it’s nice because it means that I get a studio and the opportunity to address the material aspect of topics. and most of all because you are forced to do things in a different way.

Do you know which space you’re going to have in the gallery?
Yes, I really needed to think about the space and know what the dimensions would be before I could start making the installation – I couldn’t just make something and put it in there.

Has doing this project given rise to new ideas? Have you thought of new projects to pursue beyond the BSR?
Yes, in terms of my analysis of this topic I feel like I’m just starting. Even in looking at a specific topic, such as a particular motif in a limited number of Etruscan tombs, I feel, there is obviously a huge amount more that could be done. In terms of transforming it into something instrumental, I think it’s always interesting to think about the origins of the architectural motifs as a way of treating space and it will somehow feed in to later work. I think perhaps I had a broader interest in the interior use of colour before I arrived which has remained latent in looking a specific moments in the tomb during the time I have been here, but it would be great to revisit that in the context of what I have been looking at. The point is that colour is always spatial, so perhaps this research is one way into rethinking that topic. I think that’s something I would really like to do next.

Have you had the chance to speak to our resident Etruscan expert, [Director] Christopher Smith, about your topic?
Yes, we had a great meeting. He was very good to talk to about it. I think because he has a brilliant overview of the field and although he is not an artist himself, he has a good sense of what art is for and how art works, so I think he tried to understand where I was coming from and where an architect could play a role.

Has your time at the BSR changed the way that you work or approach a project?
I think the BSR has great resources; the library is fantastic, and you can visit all the relevant sites. I think it would be impossible for me to do this kind of research in London. So in that sense, that is great. In terms of changing the way I work, it’s possibly too early to tell. Three months is a short time and it’s quite difficult to know if any momentum can be sustained from this project. Maybe it will. What’s really nice here is that you get the chance to talk to a lot of people who work in other fields and so that might feed in to future work.

MeetTheArtists_MorganLewis_Image2


Morgan’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson

BSR Visual Art alumni exhibit in Rome

As well as giving artists the time and space to explore their practice, our Visual Art residencies open up a fruitful dialogue and exchange with the Rome audience via our mostre and studio visits which showcase the work of our artists, and gallery visits which can open up opportunities for further projects and collaborations.

Some of our recent alumni have been drawn back to the Rome art scene, and this winter saw several former award-holders — including Rachel Adams (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture 2015-16), Jonathan Baldock (Abbey Fellow 2012-13), Damien Duffy (Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow 2015-16), and Joseph Griffiths (Australia Council Resident 2015-16) — return to Rome to pursue further residencies and collaborations with Roman and international artists and galleries.

Damien Duffy spent six months at the BSR earlier this year as Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow. We were delighted to see him return to Rome in October, this time to spend a month in the city as FPA Fellow at the Fondazione per l’Arte, a highly competitive Fellowship that he held alongside Polish artist Bartosz Beda and Italian artist Danilo Correale (both based in the USA). Damien explains:

‘The FPA Fellowship was conducted in studios in Via del Mandrione, an area that has tremendous archaeological significance, being the route of the Felice Aqueduct, as well as having great historical value.

Its marginal status between railway lines and aqueduct offers a place that is almost an urban island within Rome, and with a history of marginality that — along with its post-war shanty town built under the arches of the aqueduct — attracted the figures of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Moravia.

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An ‘open studio’ with Damien at the BSR earlier this year. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

Works I made there continued themes developed at the BSR earlier in 2016. New works deployed the squeegee labour of car-washers often seen at the traffic lights in Rome’s streets.

Developing from adaptations of Twombly’s works, I considered the issue of migration, leading to a new body of work Screenwash deploying the labour-authorship of those working within marginal economies (see below).damienduffy-1damienduffy-2

In addition a work developed around the disappearance at sea of the artist Bas Jan Ader is currently on show as part of the exhibition About: blank with fellow alumni Rachel Adams (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture 2015-16) and Joseph Griffiths (Australia Council Resident 2015-16). The show runs until 8 January’.

Closer to home — that is, just across the Villa Borghese park at the Villa Medici, home of the French Academy in Rome — Joseph Griffiths (Australia Council Resident 2015-16) was invited to participate in Art Club #9 — Bois D’Amour in the Villa Medici’s I Giovedì alla Villa series, curated by Pier Paolo Pancotto. Below are some installation shots of his installation Communicating Vessels in situ at the Villa Medici. The work expands upon his series Fountains first shown here at the BSR at June Mostra earlier this year.

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Communicating Vessels 2016, water collected from Roman fountains, PVC, silicone, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist.

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Communicating Vessels 2016, water collected from Roman fountains, PVC, silicone, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist.

Back in the UK Jonathan Baldock (Abbey Fellow 2012-13) is currently showing alongside Emma Hart whom we were delighted to host for an artist’s talk here at the BSR back in November. Their show Love Life, an exhibition in three acts — which will also tour to The Grundy, Blackpool, and the De La Warr, Bexhill  — ‘re-imagine[s] the traditional seaside show Punch and Judy, transforming the puppet booth living quarters of the pair into an oversized, warped and darkly humorous place’. The exhibition runs until 28 January at Peer Gallery (see below – photo courtesy of Jonathan Baldock).

love-life

Here in Rome however, Jonathan is participating in a group show at Fondazione Memmo. Some of our readers may recall Fondazione Memmo’s exhibition Conversation Piece I which took place in 2014 and showcased work by BSR alumni Rowena Harris (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture 2014-15) and Eddie Peake (Abbey Scholar 2008-9). The third instalment, Conversation Piece III, opened in December with work by Jonathan and other international artists, and runs until 2 April.

Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager)

A week in the life of a BSR award-holder

Living in such a culturally and historically rich city as Rome means that a wealth of opportunities are on offer, and our award-holders and residents have been making the most of this! Numerous excursions, gallery tours and conferences are attended each week, and here we take a look at the ‘extra-curricular’ activities of a typical week at the BSR.

All of our residents were invited to the opening of the Japanese House exhibition at the MAXXI last Tuesday, which runs until late February 2017, after which it will move to the Barbican Centre and then on to the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. The exhibition featured a series of photographs and models exploring the development of postwar domestic architecture in Japan.

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Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster

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Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster

 

Back at the BSR: as part of the research for her AHRC Leadership Fellowship, Amy Russell, 2009-10 Ralegh Radford Rome Scholar and current BSR Research Fellow, gave a fantastic lecture on the imperial senate and the way in which it interacted with both the emperor and the city. Joining us from slightly further afield, yesterday evening’s guest speaker William Gudenrath (Corning Museum of Glass, New York) gave a talk on the history of glasswork and the glassblower from early Roman antiquity through to its ‘golden age’ in the Renaissance.

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Amy Russell on ‘The imperial senate and the city of Rome’. Photo credit: Arthur Westwell

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William Gudenrath discusses different glassblowing techniques. Photo credit: Stephen Kay

These lectures will soon be available to watch again on YouTube, and you can always find out more about our upcoming events on our website.

As always, both lectures were followed by a lively question-and-answer session, with the discussions continuing in the atrium for a rinfresco and cena speciale.

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Discussion and rinfresco following a talk. Photo credit: Antonio Palmieri

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BSR tiramisù ready for a cena speciale!

The great wealth of history and art in Rome means that our residents have the chance to demonstrate their expertise on a huge range of topics. Last Thursday, our current Henry Moore Foundation–BSR Fellow in Sculpture, Simon Barker, led a trip to Tarquinia to see the stunning Etruscan tombs. Simon enlightened the group with his extensive knowledge of the Etruscan period, and the artists gave their perspectives on the styles and techniques of the artefacts and tomb paintings.

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Detail of one of the painted Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia

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Wandering through the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia

Friday saw our award-holders take on stone carving for the first time. Led by sculptor Peter Barstow Rockwell, each person was given a slab of stone to work on and instructed on how to work the material. Everyone returned exhausted from the effort of the carving, but had a fantastic time in the process!

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Photo credit: Jana Schuster

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Photo credit: Jana Schuster

stone-carving

Photo credit: Jana Schuster

On Sunday 13 November 2016, Jacopo Benci (Senior Research Fellow in Modern Studies and Contemporary Visual Culture) organised and participated in an informal roundtable on women and artistic practice at  Centro Studi DARPS (Donne Arte Pensiero Società), where the five women artists currently in residence at the BSR (Kelly Best, Maria de Lima, Maria Farrar, Catherine Parsonage and Vivien Zhang) discussed with Marica Croce Caldarulo (director of DARPS), Serena Alessi (literary critic and women’s studies scholar; BSR Rome Fellow, Oct 2016-June 2017), Lucrezia Cippitelli (art critic; lecturer in Aesthetics, Florence Academy of Fine Arts; lecturer in Art Theories, University of Addis Ababa); Costanza Mazzonis (contemporary art consultant, Sotheby’s Italy), and Marina Micangeli Sanfelice (entrepreneur).

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Enjoying some burrata at the DARPS event

One of the many perks of being a BSR resident is the access to sites that are usually closed to the public. Today marked a particularly special trip: Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens led a visit to the Casa Bellezza, a series of fantastically preserved frescoed rooms from the late Republican era which sit underneath a 1930s structure which was the home of conductor Vincenzo Bellezza.

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Photo credit: Vivien Zhang

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Photo credit: Maria Farrar

Just another week at the BSR!

Ellie Johnson (Administrative Assistant (Communications and Events))

 

‘a magnificently wrought picture…a most pious image’

On 7 March 2016, Dr Gabriele Finaldi (Director, National Gallery, London) gave a talk entitled Rogier van der Weyden and the encounter between faith and art as part of our BSR at the British Academy lecture series.

Rogier van der WeydenSaint Luke drawing the Virgin, c. 1435-40Oil on panel, 137.5 x 110.8 cmBoston, Museum of Fine Arts

Rogier van der Weyden, St Luke Drawing the Virgin, c. 1435-40, oil on panel, 137.5 x 110.8 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

‘As part of the British Academy’s season of lectures and events on faith, we were delighted to invite Dr Gabriele Finaldi, co-curator of the National Gallery’s millennium exhibition Seeing Salvation: The Image of Christ. Gabriele — then still at the Prado — kindly said yes. I was intrigued to learn that he intended to speak to us about Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–64) — the great Early Netherlandish master — but knew him well enough to be reassured there would be good reason.

Upon taking the stage on 7 March, Gabriele (now of course Director of the National Gallery) confessed that the most Italian thing about his talk would be his own name. The packed room (we were, understandably, oversubscribed) laughed. But this was not true, as he explained that the great Burgundian court painter enjoyed great fame in Italy in his lifetime. Quoting Rogier’s contemporary Cyriacus of Ancona, who had been shown the artist’s work by Leonello d’Este, we were asked to focus on his descriptions: ‘magnificently wrought’ and ‘a most pious image’. We were then helped, with these two descriptive lenses to hand, to look very closely at some of Rogier’s key paintings, and to understand why Italy was in thrall to this northern artist.

Gabriele focused our gaze first on the composition of the paintings, then on their intricate details, reminding us of both the importance of the liturgical or scriptural accuracy of what we were seeing and the artistic innovation displayed by Rogier. Our close looking at masterpieces, combined with the speaker’s words, rewarded us: the delicate metalpoint drawing of the Virgin in St Luke Drawing the Virgin (MFA, Boston); the playful Christ child in the Durán Madonna (Prado, Madrid) grabbing the book held by his mother; the intense devotional contemplation in The Magdalen Reading (National Gallery, London); and the cleverly composed liturgical narrative in The Seven Sacraments (KMSKA, Antwerp).

The Prado’s jewel, The Descent from the Cross, provided arguably the most dramatic impact. The device of compressing the scene within its compositional frame immediately lends a discomfort to the viewer, but it is the virtuosity of the finish and the emotion of each figure which help convey such a vivid sense of pathos. The final image in Gabriele’s talk was the Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John (Escorial, Madrid), possibly the artist’s final work, which is not only a stunning painting but also a marvel of careful conservation.

Rogier van der Weyden, The Descent from the Cross, before 1443, oil on panel, 220.5 x 259.5 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, deposited by the Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid.

Rogier van der Weyden, The Descent from the Cross, before 1443, oil on panel, 220.5 x 259.5 cm,
Museo Nacional del Prado, deposited by the Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid.

The BSR has a proud tradition of scholarship on the relationship between northern European culture and Italy, and this paper was a perfect complement to the careful scholarship of, for instance, Dr Sue Russell (BSR Assistant Director) on Herman van Swanevelt, or Austėja Mackelaitė (Rome Scholar 2014-15) on Marten van Heemskerck — and we could list many more. The lecture encouraged us to look closely and to think about what we were seeing, how it reflected contemporary religious belief and in what ways it might have influenced later artists. In viewing these magnificently wrought pictures, these most pious images, we were connected with the most universal emotions, with humanity itself.  It was a triumphant occasion and a worthy contribution to the BA’s series.’

Rogier van der Weyden, The Crucifixion, c. 1457-64, oil on panel, 323.5 x 192 cm, Patrimonio Nacional, Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, Madrid.

Rogier van der Weyden, Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John, c. 1457-64, oil on panel, 323.5 x 192 cm, Patrimonio Nacional, Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, Madrid.

Elizabeth Rabineau (Development Director)