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Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian Opens Wednesday at the National Gallery in London
Giuseppe Arcimboldo, The Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus, about 1590. © Skoklosters Slot. Photo Samuel Uhrdin (11615)

LONDON.- A landmark exhibition at the National Gallery explores the dramatic rise of portraiture in the Renaissance, through the great Masters of Northern and Southern Europe.

'Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian' features masterpieces by, among others: Raphael, Titian, Botticelli, Van Eyck, Holbein, Dürer, Lotto, Pontormo and Bellini. The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to explore Renaissance portraiture in exceptional depth, displaying over 70 paintings alongside important sculptures, drawings and medals.

The National Gallery houses one of the richest collections of Renaissance portraits in the world, and a selection of these works, including Holbein’s 'The Ambassadors', will be shown alongside major loans from the UK, Europe and North America. Highlights include masterpieces of Habsburg court portraiture on loan from the Museo Nacional del Prado, including Titian’s majestic warrior portrait of the young Philip II and Anthonis Mor’s 'The Court Jester Pejeron'.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, portraits played a vital role in every aspect of human life: childhood, politics, friendship, courtship, marriage, old age and death. The exhibition provides fresh insights into fundamental issues of likeness, memory and identity, while revealing a remarkable community of Renaissance personalities – from princes, envoys and merchants to clergymen, tradesmen and artists (Dürer, 'Self Portrait', Kunsthalle Bremen).

During the Renaissance, it was widely believed that a person’s appearance mirrored their soul, with physical beauty indicating inner morality and virtue. Artists developed highly individual approaches to the representation of ideal beauty. Palma Vecchio’s exquisite 'Portrait of a Young Woman' (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid) and Tullio Lombardo’s marble relief of 'A Young Couple as Bacchus and Ariadne' (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) introduce this key theme with dramatic effect.

Portraits enabled artists and their patrons to convey powerful messages about themselves and the world around them. The use of symbolism in portraiture played a vital function in Renaissance life, not least in marriage alliances and power politics.

The exhibition features many intriguing compositions from Holbein’s 'A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling' (National Gallery) to Arcimboldo’s 'Emperor Rudolph II' as Vertumnus (Skokloster Castle, Sweden), on display in the UK for the first time.

The final room of the exhibition traces the development of the full-length court portrait and its crucial role in court propaganda. Highlights include the dramatic bronze statue of Philip II by Leone and Pompeo Leoni (Prado) and Anthonis Mor’s 'Portrait of Philip II in Armour' (El Escorial).

Renaissance Faces features several captivating portraits of children, both as individuals and among family groups. Young princes were often shown with their fathers, partly to reinforce dynastic continuity, as in Justus of Ghent’s portrait of 'Federico de Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, and his son, Guidobaldo' (Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino). Also on display is the remarkable painted bust by Guido Mazzoni of a 'Laughing Boy' (Royal Collection), now thought to be a portrait of the young Henry VIII. Other works depict poignant details of family life such as Domenico Ghirlandaio’s 'An Old Man and his Grandson' (Louvre).

Renaissance Faces reveals, more than ever before, the extraordinary degree of cross-cultural exchange active in Europe at this time. Van Eyck, Titian and Memling were in demand from North to South, and the influence of their work carried far beyond the courts of their patrons.

Today's News

October 13, 2008

Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian Opens Wednesday at the National Gallery in London

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