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London Photo Gallery - National Gallery Top 20

In 2004 and 2006 we traveled to London, England

London National Gallery Top 20 00 Peter on Lion in Trafalger Square Here are my top 20 favourite paintings at the National Gallery in London, arranged in chronological sequence. The National Gallery is an art gallery in London, located on the north side of Trafalgar Square. The collection of 2,300 Western European paintings from 1250 to 1900 belongs to the British public, and entry to the main collection is free. Photography is not allowed. Peter needed some help to climb on the lion at Trafalgar Square.

London National Gallery Top 20 00 Peter on Lion in Trafalger Square

London National Gallery Top 20 01 Piero della Francesca - The Baptism Of Christ Piero della Francesca - The Baptism of Christ, 1440-45, 167 x 116 cm. This painting of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist was voted #9 in the 2005 BBC Greatest Painting in Britain Poll. A line from the apex of the arched top runs through the beak of the foreshortened white dove of the Holy Spirit, through the trickle of water from the equally foreshortened bowl held by John, its rim catching the sunlight, down the middle of Christ’s face, and through his reverently clasped hands, ending in the heel of his right foot, on which his weight is supported. The three angels on the left wait to dry and clothe Christ, while to the right of John, a man preparing to be baptized gets undressed. The landscape reveals Piero as a master of spatial depth, as evidenced in the river Jordan winding its way into the background and mirroring the landscape around it.

London National Gallery Top 20 01 Piero della Francesca - The Baptism Of Christ

London National Gallery Top 20 02 Jan van Eyck - The Arnolfini Portrait Jan van Eyck - Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, 1434, 82 × 60 cm. This painting was voted #4 in the 2005 BBC Greatest Painting in Britain Poll. This work is a portrait of a rich Italian merchant Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife, but is not intended as a record of their wedding. Although she looks as if she is pregnant, she is in fact wearing a very long dress, holding it up in front of her. The ornate Latin signature on the back wall translates as

London National Gallery Top 20 02 Jan van Eyck - The Arnolfini Portrait

London National Gallery Top 20 03 Paolo Uccello - Saint George and the Dragon Paolo Uccello - St. George and the Dragon, about 1460, 56 x 74 cm. This picture shows two episodes from the story of St. George: his defeat of a plague-bearing dragon that had been terrorizing a city; and the rescued princess bringing the dragon to heel (with her belt as a leash). In the sky, a storm is gathering. The eye of the storm lines up with St. George's lance, suggesting that divine intervention has helped him to victory. Uccello uses the lance to emphasize the angle from which St. George attacks the dragon, helping to establish a three-dimensional space.

London National Gallery Top 20 03 Paolo Uccello - Saint George and the Dragon

London National Gallery Top 20 04 Sandro Botticelli - Venus and Mars Sandro Botticelli - Venus and Mars, about 1485, 69 × 173 cm. Mars, the god of war, has been conquered by Venus, the goddess of love. Here Mars is asleep and unarmed, while Venus is awake and alert. The meaning of the picture is that love conquers war, or love conquers all. Reclining on the ground, the handsome youth has fallen asleep. Naked and robbed of all his weapons, which are now in the hands of the fauns in the middle ground, he embodies a beautiful ideal from whose mind all thoughts of war are banished. Venus, on the other hand, richly dressed like a young woman from a distinguished family and thereby removed from the context of eroticism, remains alert and in the way symbolizes the permanence of peace. Equally balanced, Venus and Mars are virtually mirror images of each other. They establish the shape of an inverted triangle which is concluded at the top by the three fauns with the lance.

London National Gallery Top 20 04 Sandro Botticelli - Venus and Mars

London National Gallery Top 20 05 Leonardo da Vinci - The Virgin Of The Rocks Leonardo da Vinci - The Virgin of the Rocks, 1508, 190 x 120 cm. Placing the Virgin Mary and the Christ child in a rocky cave was quite unconventional and controversial. The Virgin Mary, the Angel Uriel, Christ, and John the Baptist all form a triangle, each person somehow connected to the next. The Virgin Mary has her left hand extended carefully over the head of Christ, while Uriel is gently propping him up. At the same time, she is delicately pointing to John. The plants within the dark cavern symbolize the fertility and life that Mary represents, while the white flowers symbolize her purity. Leonardo's delicate use of colour and sfumato are beautiful examples of his advanced understanding of distance and depth. The artist’s Milanese clients must have worried about confusing the two infants, for a later hand has given John an identifying scroll and a cross clumsily rooted in one of Leonardo’s exquisite studies of plants.

London National Gallery Top 20 05 Leonardo da Vinci - The Virgin Of The Rocks

London National Gallery Top 20 06 Giovanni Bellini - The Doge Leonardo Loredan Giovanni Bellini - The Doge Leonardo Loredan, 1501-4, 62 x 45cm. Leonardo Loredan was the Doge (head of state) of the Venetian Republic from 1501-21. He is shown here wearing his robes of state for this formal portrait, including the hat and ornate buttons. The expression on the right, lit side, of his face is more severe, while the left side, in shadow, is more benevolent. By graduating the blue of the background, more intense towards the top and lighter at the bottom, Bellini invokes the sky. The strong directionality of the light and its reflections in Loredon’s eyes suggest that he is looking towards the setting sun. But this hint of time passing, combined with Loredon’s aged face, recalls the old comparison between the duration of the day and the span of human life, and the inevitable coming of the night.

London National Gallery Top 20 06 Giovanni Bellini - The Doge Leonardo Loredan

London National Gallery Top 20 07 Michelangelo - The Entombment Michelangelo - The Entombment 1500-1, 162 x 150 cm. Michelangelo abandoned this painting when he left for Florence in the spring of 1501. The theme of Christ’s body being lifted up, prior to being carried to the tomb, is combined with the motif of the dead Christ presented to the viewer for pious meditation. Even at this late stage, however, Michelangelo still omits the wounds in Christ’s hands, feet and side. Christ is supported on the left by the long haired St. John the Evangelist in his canonical red gown. The others are probably Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea who gave up his tomb for Jesus. The figure kneeling below St. John is probably Mary Magdalene, who is shown meditating on the crown of thorns and the nails of the Crucifixion. The woman at the back right is a Holy Woman (Mary Salome). The missing figure on the lower right was to be the Virgin Mary mourning her son.

London National Gallery Top 20 07 Michelangelo - The Entombment

London National Gallery Top 20 08 Quinten Massys - A Grotesque Old Woman Quinten Massys - A Grotesque Old Woman (about 1525-30, 64 x 45 cm). This painting was designed to criticize older women who do not accept their age and try to look younger than they actually are. The effects of the huge ears, wrinkles, and ape-like face, are merely emphasized by the ridiculous hat. The sitter is made even more repugnant by the rich jewels she wears and the indiscretion of her low-cut dress.

London National Gallery Top 20 08 Quinten Massys - A Grotesque Old Woman

London National Gallery Top 20 09 Titian - Bacchus and Ariadne Titian - Bacchus and Ariadne, 1522-23, 175 x 191 cm. Bacchus, god of wine, emerges with his followers from the landscape to the right. Falling in love with Ariadne on sight, he leaps from his chariot, drawn by two cheetahs, towards her. Ariadne had been abandoned on the Greek island of Naxos by Theseus, whose ship is shown in the distance. The picture shows her initial fear of Bacchus, but he raised her to heaven and turned her into a constellation, represented by the stars above her head. Titian’s little dog barks excitedly at the strutting faun with jasmine in his hair, trailing a mangled calf’s head alongside a caper flower, symbol of love.

London National Gallery Top 20 09 Titian - Bacchus and Ariadne

London National Gallery Top 20 10 Bronzino - An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (Agnolo) Bronzino – An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, 1540-50, 146 x 116 cm. Love is no more than transitory. Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, identified by the golden apple given to her by Paris and by her doves, has drawn Cupid’s arrow. Love is accompanied by Jealousy in the shape of the howling figure pulling his hair out at the centre left. Deceit is the young girl looking out with a falsely innocent air behind the boy holding the roses, with her hands wrong way around holding a sweet honeycomb and a scorpion. Foolish pleasure, the laughing child with an anklet of bells, throws rose petals at them, heedless of the thorn piercing his right foot. Only Folly, represented by a woman’s face in the top left-hand corner, attempts to screen the eyes of Saturn, the god of Time. Saturn tears her curtain aside with a powerful thrust of his arm, his hourglass warning of ending and death.

London National Gallery Top 20 10 Bronzino - An Allegory with Venus and Cupid

London National Gallery Top 20 11 Caravaggio - The Supper at Emmaus Caravaggio - The Supper at Emmaus, 1601, 141 x 196.cm. Two of Jesus' disciples were walking to Emmaus after the Crucifixion when the resurrected Jesus himself drew near and went with them, but they did not recognize him. At supper that evening in Emmaus '... he took bread, and blessed it, and brake and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight' (Luke 24: 30-31). Christ is shown at the moment of blessing the bread and revealing his true identity to the two disciples. The depiction of Christ is unusual in that he is beardless and great emphasis is given to the still life on the table. The intensity of the emotions of Christ's disciples is conveyed by their gestures and expression.

London National Gallery Top 20 11 Caravaggio - The Supper at Emmaus

London National Gallery Top 20 12 Anthony Van Dyck - Equestrian Portrait of Charles I Anthony Van Dyck - Equestrian Portrait of Charles I, King of England, 1638, 367 x 292 cm. Van Dyck became the court painter to Charles I in 1632, and created images of him that expressed the King's belief in his divine right to govern. The picture shows Charles I wearing the medallion of a Garter Sovereign, riding as if at the head of his knights. He is dressed in armour and holding a commander's baton. The magnificent horse and the subdued but rich colours of the saddlecloth, landscape and the page holding the helmet complement the elegance of the rider.

London National Gallery Top 20 12 Anthony Van Dyck - Equestrian Portrait of Charles I

London National Gallery Top 20 13 JMW Turner - The fighting Temeraire JMW Turner - The Fighting Temeraire, 1838, 91 x 122 cm. This painting was voted #1 in the 2005 BBC Greatest Painting in Britain Poll. Although Turner painted many years before the Impressionists, I consider him the true first Impressionist. The Temeraire was a famous ship that had helped Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The painting shows the ship as she makes her last voyage before being broken up for salvage. Turner’s brilliant sunset bathes her in light, celebrating her glorious victory. The golden sky contrasts with the dark, modern tug that pulls the majestic old ship to her deathbed. The painting, which Turner called his favourite, is also regarded as a reflection by the artist on his own age and death.

London National Gallery Top 20 13 JMW Turner - The fighting Temeraire

London National Gallery Top 20 14 John Constable - The Hay Wain John Constable - The Haywain, 1821, 130 × 185 cm. This painting was voted #2 in the 2005 BBC Greatest Painting in Britain Poll. A horse drawing a cart (haywain) is wading through the clear water of the river, while a dog is watching the cart draw past. On the right a figure in the bushes is mooring a boat while to the left an old farmhouse is almost completely hidden by trees and bushes. The weather conditions show an overcast sky that promises a rapid succession of rain and sunshine.

London National Gallery Top 20 14 John Constable - The Hay Wain

London National Gallery Top 20 15 Canaletto - The Stonemason's Yard Canaletto - The Stonemason's Yard, 1726-27, 124 x 163 cm. The Campo San Vidal square has been temporarily transformed into a workshop for repairing the nearby church. In the foreground we see the stonemasons at their work between blocks of marble, capitals, fragments and unworked blocks of hewn stone. In the middle ground, we look over the Grand Canal to the church of Santa Maria della Carita, set against a sky of silken blue. A mother, children, stonemasons working outdoors, gondelieri and passers-by are scattered here and there, so that the entire painting merges into a single line of action.

London National Gallery Top 20 15 Canaletto - The Stonemason's Yard

London National Gallery Top 20 16 Vincent Van Gogh - Sunflowers Vincent van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1888, 92 x 73 cm. This painting was voted #6 in the 2005 BBC Greatest Painting in Britain Poll. This is one of four paintings of sunflowers dating from August and September 1888, which Van Gogh intended to decorate Gauguin’s room in the so-called Yellow House that he rented in Arles. Its predominant yellow hue (for van Gogh an emblem of happiness) is also a tribute to Provence.  The Sunflowers illustrates the cycle of life, from the bud, through maturity and death. The spiky or gnarled forms of nature also symbolized human passions to van Gogh. As if in contrast to these natural forms, the tabletop and vase are simplified, flattened and outlines, and van Gogh’s signature, ‘Vincent’, becomes a naďve blue decoration in the glaze of the Provencal terracotta jar.

London National Gallery Top 20 16 Vincent Van Gogh - Sunflowers

London National Gallery Top 20 17 Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Boating On the Seine Pierre Auguste Renoir - Boating on the Seine, 1879-80, 71 x 92 cm. Two young women row lazily on the Seine in the haze of a hot summer’s day. A slight breeze cools the air, as the sunlight flickers on the water, casting shadows and reflections on its rippling surface. The orange hue of the skiff against the blue of the river exploits the use of complementary colours.

London National Gallery Top 20 17 Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Boating On the Seine

London National Gallery Top 20 18 Henri Rousseau - Tiger In A Tropical Storm Henri Rousseau - Tiger on a Tropical Storm (Surprised), 1891, 130 x 162 cm. Rousseau was a self-taught painter who was known as “le Douanier” (the customs officer) because he worked at a customs house and only painted in his spare time. This bold, richly colourful picture is carefully composed for dramatic effect. Windblown grasses and branches silhouette against the long streaks of lightning wriggling across the sky.

London National Gallery Top 20 18 Henri Rousseau - Tiger In A Tropical Storm

London National Gallery Top 20 19 Georges Seurat - Bathers at Asnieres Georges Seurat - Bathers at Asnieres, 1884, 201 x 300 cm. This work shows a group of young factory workers relaxing on the riverbank at Asničres, an industrial suburb west of Paris on the River Seine. Although he hadn’t invented his pointillist technique yet, the artist later reworked areas of this picture using dots of contrasting colour to create a vibrant, luminous effect. For example, dots of orange and blue were added to the boy's hat.

London National Gallery Top 20 19 Georges Seurat - Bathers at Asnieres

London National Gallery Top 20 20 Vincent Van Gogh - Van Goghs Chair Vincent van Gogh - Van Gogh’s Chair, 1888, 92 x 73 cm. This work was painted while Van Gogh was working in the company of Gauguin at Arles. Van Gogh also painted a companion picture of Gauguin's armchair, now in the Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh in Amsterdam. He described his own painting as a picture of ‘a wooden rush-bottomed chair with a pipe and tobacco pouch’. Van Gogh’s Chair is a simple rustic seat of natural materials, seen by daylight in ‘Japanese perspective’ with sprouting bulbs behind it suggesting natural growth.

London National Gallery Top 20 20 Vincent Van Gogh - Van Goghs Chair