The National Gallery (London): Must-see paintings
Posted on February 3, 2011 by Andy Renmei
The National Gallery in London houses one of the finest collections of Western European paintings in the world. This selection of 7 highlights includes some of the Gallery’s best-loved works.
The Fighting Temeraire, by Joseph Mallord William Turner
The painting was thought to represent the decline of Britain’s naval power. The ‘Temeraire’ is shown travelling east, away from the sunset, even though Rotherhithe is west of Sheerness, but Turner’s main concern was to evoke a sense of loss, rather than to give an exact recording of the event. The spectacularly colourful setting of the sun draws a parallel with the passing of the old warship. By contrast the new steam-powered tug is smaller and more prosaic.
Whistlejacket, by George Stubbs
According to some writers of the period the original intention was to commission an equestrian portrait of George III, but it is more likely that Stubbs always intended to show the horse alone rearing up against a neutral background.
Venus and Mars, by Sandro Botticelli
Mars, God of War, was one of the lovers of Venus, 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.
Samson and Delilah, by Peter Paul Rubens
Rubens depicts a candlelit interior; the Philistines wait at the door, one of their number cuts Samson’s hair, while an elderly woman provides extra light. In a niche behind is a statue of the goddess of love, Venus, with Cupid – a reference to the cause of Samson’s fate.
The Toilet of Venus (‘The Rokeby Venus’), by Diego Velázquez
Venus, the goddess of Love, was the most beautiful of the goddesses, and was regarded as a personification of female beauty. She is shown here with her son Cupid, who holds up a mirror for her to look both at herself and at the viewer.
The Supper at Emmaus, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
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. The viewer too is made to feel a participant in the event.
The Arnolfini Portrait, by Jan Van Eyck
This work is a portrait of Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, but is not intended as a record of their wedding. His wife is not pregnant, as is often thought, but holding up her full-skirted dress in the contemporary fashion. Arnolfini was a member of a merchant family from Lucca living in Bruges. The couple are shown in a well-appointed interior.
The ornate Latin signature translates as ‘Jan van Eyck was here 1434′. The similarity to modern graffiti is not accidental. Van Eyck often inscribed his pictures in a witty way. The mirror reflects two figures in the doorway. One may be the painter himself. Arnolfini raises his right hand as he faces them, perhaps as a greeting.
Van Eyck was intensely interested in the effects of light: oil paint allowed him to depict it with great subtlety in this picture, notably on the gleaming brass chandelier.