Saturday, 19 April 2014

Fra Angelico at the Courtauld Gallery

Imagine my surprise to find seven small paintings by Fra Angelico in London that I'd never heard of before. They're in the Courtauld Gallery collection in Somerset House on The Strand in three sections of a predella, the small paintings underneath a main altarpiece. They're in the dark medieval room on the ground floor near the ticket desk, the room I don't go into since I usually just head upstairs to the exhibition rooms and the main collection. Glory under my nose and I never noticed.

The round paintings are about 4" in diameter against a gold background. The first two paintings are of a Dominican nun, possibly the Blessed Sibyllina, and St Cecelia; the second panel shows Mary Magdalene, Christ and St John the Evangelist; the third panel shows Catherine of Alexandria and St Agnes. The paintings are very delicate and small but, if you look closely, you can see a small blush to every cheek (other that the dead Christ).

When you look at Mary Magdalene it's almost as if she's gesturing 'look what you've done' as she points to the dead Christ and John looks on, almost in tears. I also like Catherine leaning on her spiky wheel, serene and confident in her Christ to save her. They're lovely little paintings.

The Courtauld is a bit of a gem in the centre of London, with a great collection of classic paintings, including some rather famous ones by Cezanne and Van Gogh, with a few Kandinsky's and Maurice de Vlaminck, some Samuel Palmers and even a large Botticelli. And, of course, some Fra Angelicos which puts it much higher up the list of must sees.

If you've got an hour or two to spare in the middle of town then you could do worse than going to the Courtauld. I know what I'll be looking at the next time I go...

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