The National Gallery in London is perfectly placed. Outside of it is Trafalgar Square, with the iconic Nelson’s Column towering in its center. It is a symbol of British pride, a way of keeping the past alive. Inside the gallery, the past also lives. For art students especially, this gallery provides a perfect opportunity to see some of these paintings from the humble beginnings of the Renaissance and the artists influenced by such a famous time.
Paintings from 1200 to 1900 give an inside look into European life, influences and culture. One thing that dominates the early periods (from late 1400s to mid-1600s) is religion. The Catholic Church is very prominent in most of these paintings, and the Bible seems to provide the perfect inspiration with its stories of love, sacrifice and its teachings. Elaborate paintings tell the story of Sampson and Delilah and the “Death of St. Peter Martyr.” But, most are made original by the artist. Many feature Biblical figures as if they lived in Europe, dressing them like lords and ladies.
As time moves forward, there appears to be a shift toward landscape art and paintings portraying European life. Festivals and parties in Mediterranean-style squares or sunsets on the beach are painted with a wide range of colors, elements and styles specific to a certain region. The good thing is if you go to this museum with little to no knowledge of what styles come from where, all there is to know about a painting is written out right there beside it. This makes the paintings come to life in a completely different way.
My personal favorites are paintings that depict historic events or times. The execution of Lady Jane Grey is portrayed in a breathtaking piece. You can sense the drama within the towering piece and it calls attention to itself even when mixed with so many other beautiful paintings. The National Gallery provides a new appreciation but also a new perspective on European history and how it has influenced its people. With history and life portrayed so strikingly, it is no wonder history seems to survive here much more than in the United States.
by: Adam Troxtell