A gallery visit with Year 9 from a secondary school in the North East of England to the temporary exhibition at the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle focusing on oil paints and portraiture.
We began our visit in the New Testament section of the ‘Faith and Love’ temporary exhibition. Our well informed education officer and professional artists asked us some probing questions about the painting on display.
Why is there a landscape in this exhibition of religious art?
“Landscape with Flight into Egypt” by Jan van Amstel (Flemish ca.1500-1540)
We discovered sometimes we have to observe a painting very closely to understand its message- the tiny figures in the foreground explain the paintings religious significance.
We also talked about how artists might depict an unfamiliar environment and decided rather than ‘making it up’ they might use what they can see around them in their everyday life.
What might be happening to a very ill looking man?
“The Miracle of the Eucharist” by Sassetta (Italian ca. 1390-1450) [left]
We talked about who the main subject of the painting a man in black collapsing backwards with his mouth open. On careful inspection we spotted a strange black creature (a demon) rising from his mouth.
We discussed the people around him the men with white capes and shaved heads monks and the man in ornately decorated vestments a priest. The people were lining up to receive the Eucharist.
This painting was warning people to believe in transubstantiation. The belief the bread and wine of the Eucharist are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.
This painting shows a questioning monk collapsing after taking the bread (the body) and to prove his doubt wrong the bread has turned into a bloody piece of flesh in the priests hand.
A gruesome warning to people, who were illiterate and could not understand services said in latin, to believe.
Which one do you prefer Raphael’s drawing or his assistants painting?
Painting attributed to Raphael possibly by Francesco Giovanni Penni, one of Raphael’s studio assistants.
Drawing- “Madonna and Child” by Raphael (Italian 1483-1520)
We talked about proportions of the face and other differences between the two. Most year 9s preferred Francesco Giovanni Penni’s painting because it was colourful and clearer… the reason for this lack of clarity in the drawing (or cartoon as it is known) was discussed including the drawings age, the fact that paint is more permanent and the the cartoon would have been pricked and pounced (more on that later)
Which important person from Jesus’ life is looking so upset at his crucifixion?
“The Tears of St Peter” by El Greco (c1580) [left]
This took a bit of detective work. We thought who was upset after Jesus’ crucifixion who felt bad and why? Someone sensibly suggested Judas, we then thought about the other disciples and came to Peter chosen by Jesus as one of his first disciples. But why would Peter be so upset?
Jesus told Peter that he would deny association with him three times when he was arrested. The three denials were…
A denial when a female servant of the high priest spots Simon Peter, saying that he had been with Jesus.
A denial when Simon Peter had gone out to the gateway, away from the firelight, but the same servant girl or another told the bystanders he was a follower of Jesus.
A denial came when recognition of Peter as a Galilean was taken as proof that he was indeed a disciple of Jesus.
We learned that every saint has an ‘attribute’ or symbol people who could not read wold understand and that St Peters attribute was a key.
How can artists use the background, mid ground and foreground to tell different parts of a story/narrative in one piece?
We examined an altarpiece painting showing different parts of the story of Christ’s life riding a donkey, carrying the cross (his Passion, his physical, spiritual and mental pain before his trial and upto his execution by crucifixtion), and his death.
What did we do…
After our discussion of key works in the exhibition we had 15 minutes to explore the exhibition an make a cartoon (sketch) in the style of Raphael. We wanted accurate proportions, sketchy lines and some indication of tone (how light or dark areas of the face where).
Some students selected paintings we had already discussed others found their own treasures including prints by Nicolas Chaperon who, copied Raphael’s artworks in the Vatican in Rome so more people could appreciate them.
“Leaving the Ark at Mount Ararat” by Nicolas Chaperon (French 1612-1656) after Raphael, Engravings [left]
Our cartoons/sketches were then photocopied and we Nicarefully pricked them. This template was placed on top of specially textured oil painting paper, and coated with charcoal and pounced it… dabbed it through the pricked holes.
After lunch, and 15 more minutes grabbed looking at the exhibition, we joined the dots and watched on oil painting demonstration.
We heard how pigments would be collected from minerals and plants and dried then powered. The pigment would then be mixed with oil (in this case linseed oil) on a marble slab with a glass muller (like a flat bottomed pessel) to make paint
Painting with oils for the first time was enjoyable but challenging. When the images dry we will complete them at school. I was amazed at the sensitivity of the work students produced and was proud of our students for working really hard for the entire day.