Thursday, 24 August 2017

Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford

I'd never been to the Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford, under parts of Christ Church College, so, when I had some time on my hands I thought why not? I'm so pleased I went since I counted 38 paintings from the 1300s and 1400s in the first gallery room. An unsought treasure trove, indeed! It's probably fair to say that none of these paintings are really top notch but they're fascinating nonetheless and I loved them.

One of the earliest named paintings was 'Four Musical Angels' by Bernardo Daddi, a lovely thing to behold. It seems like it's part of a bigger altarpiece and the angel on the left is probably looking up towards the main scene of the altarpiece, maybe a coronation of the Virgin or something else celebratory. It's a lovely painting with its greens, reds and golds, the angels immersed in their music wearing heavy robes and cloaks with just a hint of matching wings.

Another early work is a small triptych, quite badly treated over the years and held in place by being embedded in a velvet surround, attributed to the workshop of Fra Angelico. I couldn't find any reproductions online so here's a photo of the postcard I bought in the shop on the way out.  It's not terribly good but gives an impression of what the small altarpiece is like. It's a small, folding altarpiece for personal devotion to be set up in a room in someone's house or possibly for someone who travels a lot and takes the altarpiece with them. It's also clear that the brush of a master was nowhere near this painting but the composition is interesting, especially with it's three Dominican saints.

There's also the lovely 'The Wounded Satyr' by Filipino Lippi (Fra Angelico knew his dad, Fra Filippo Lippi) along with another painting of 'Five Sybils' by him. There's a very similar painting (and identical in basic composition) of the same subject by Botticelli hanging beside it but I've no idea who did it first.

'The Wounded Satyr' is a lovely painting with its rocky landscape and misty sea and the satyr inspecting the bright quiver or arrows. I don't know what the story of the satyr is (he's probably in Virgil or Homer or someone else) but it's a worthy painting.

There are, of course, many more paintings including a series of small panels of the life of St Francis and a rather lovely painting by Piero della Francesca of the 'Virgin and Child with Three Angels' which has his trademarked foreshortened, flat halos above the heads of the five participants.  It's a very busy painting

Another painting I particularly liked was 'The Deposition of Christ' by the Master of Delft showing three scenes and a crowd of people. We see Christ taken down from the Cross, his being carried to the tomb, and then Christ as the gardener in the background, risen and taking to Mary. What I liked about it was the sheer number of people in different clothes and postures in this painting. It made me smile.

There are a lot of other paintings in the galleries, of course, but it's these early ones (and 'The Deposition') that I was particularly interested in. It's a lovely find, particularly since I was only vaguely aware that it even existed. I will definitely keep my eyes open for news of exhibitions at the Picture Gallery in future - who knows what might pop up there! 

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