14 February 2016

Talk and Draw at the National Gallery

This week the subject was "An Allegory of Love" by Garofalo, painted about 1527-39. 
The artist' real name was Benvenuto Tisi; he was born about 1481 and worked in Ferrara (where in 1529 the Duke created the Camerini d'albastro private art gallery, with paintings by the most famous painters of the time, including Bellini and the young Titian - whose "Bacchus and Ariadne" is also in the National Gallery). The National Gallery has quite a few paintings by Garofalo; see them here.

Garofalo knew about the gods and goddesses of classical art, but doesn't identify the pairs of lovers with anything so apparent as their attributes. The "child" is obviously Cupid, though - he both welcomes us into the picture and seems to give a comment upon it. Perhaps the two pairs represent love vs lust, or sacred vs profane love

At the time it was not uncommon for artists to forgo female models and base the women in their paintings on men, often their apprentices - so our drawing task was to re-imagine the reclining woman as a young man. And then, to turn the back of the man into a woman's back. Interesting, and challenging. It helped to be told that the classical proportion was 7 heads to the height of the figure, and 2 heads giving the width of the shoulders. And that (even now!) women are hourglass shaped (narrow waist) and men shaped more like a triangle (waist as wide as hips).
Though the lower legs rather defeated me, I soldiered bravely on with my bete noir, figures (adding a faint Cupid for good measure), and was amused to overhear: "I didn't bother with changing her into a man, that would have meant too many adjustments" - er, wasn't that the point of the exercise? Never mind, it's all to the good to be sat in front of something painted nearly 500 years ago, absorbing it with eyes and imagination - ars longa vita brevis, wot? ... and also - some things never change ... happy valentines day to all lovers.

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