The Renaissance Nude


(Royal Academy, London, until 2 June 2019)

What do St Sebastian, Lucretia, Hercules and Eve have in common? All four of them allowed Renaissance artists to experiment with representations of the nude body. The Royal Academy’s new exhibition – formerly on view at the Getty in Los Angeles – focuses on this depiction of the unclothed form during the 15th and 16th centuries, taking in both Northern and Italian art, and explores the different meanings that the nude could have: from innocence to eroticism, Christianity to classical myth, brute strength to sensuality. It’s almost a shame that a subject of such breadth and promise is confined to the cramped Sackler Galleries upstairs, but the five rooms nevertheless include a select treasure-trove of paintings and drawings by some of the most celebrated artists of the time – some very famous works, other less familiar but remarkably beautiful.

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Jean-Etienne Liotard (2015-16)

(Royal Academy, London, until 31 January 2016)

This is the first exhibition devoted to Liotard in the UK and it’s long overdue. He’s an artist I’ve always particularly liked, for he seems to represent the most appealing aspects of the 18th century: its increasing informality and its new interest in the individual as a worthy object of study. Born in Geneva, he had an unusually peripatetic life which took him not only to the usual artistic centres of Paris, Rome and London, but also to more exotic regions: after joining the entourage of a couple of British Grand Tourists whom he met in Rome, he spent four years in the Ottoman capital in Constantinople. For the rest of his life his art would be flavoured by the textures and patterns of the Turkish world.

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Giovanni Battista Moroni (2014-15)

Moroni: Portrait of a Tailor

(Royal Academy, London, until 25 January 2015)

He’s a familiar sight in the National Gallery. A young tailor has been distracted in the middle of his work. Resting his scissors on the table for a moment he glances up, as if you’ve just wandered into his workroom, half-inquisitive, half-challenging. His clothes are simple but well-made, showing off his craft: his cream doublet is elaborately pinked and finely-detailed lace peeks out at collar and cuffs. In a moment his assessing gaze will shade into something more specific: a frown at being disturbed, perhaps, or a welcoming smile, but for now he’s captured in that split second where everything is still possible: a moment of infinite potential.

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Daumier: Visions of Paris (2013-14)

Daumier: The Sideshow

(Royal Academy, London, until 26 January 2014)

The Royal Academy’s autumn exhibition, nestled up in the Sackler Wing, turns the focus onto Daumier, one of the liveliest and most irrepressible artists of the 19th century. He has always fallen slightly outside my comfort zone and, when I first began looking at his art some years ago, I had the impression that there was something rather hard and cutting about it. That’s probably because I was most familiar with his lithographs, laced with political satire, whereas this show presents a survey of his whole career, deliberately looking beyond the caricatures to bring to light the vein of human sympathy running through his art.

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Bronze (2012)

Chimera of Arezzo

(Royal Academy, London, until 9 December 2012)

Fate has a sense of humour. One of the things I would have loved to see in Sicily was the Dancing Satyr in Mazara del Vallo: the beautiful bronze which was pulled out of the Mediterranean by a fishing boat in 1998. Of course, with only five days on hand, we couldn’t trek across country simply for the sake of seeing one bronze statue, so I quietly added it to my list for my next visit. So imagine my surprise and delight this afternoon, when I stepped into the first room of the Royal Academy’s new exhibition, Bronze.

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From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism (2012)

Renoir: Girl with a Fan

(Royal Academy, London, until 23 September 2012)

The current exhibition at the RA presents a selection of 19th-century French paintings from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. The marketing department clearly chose the title to focus on the most popular aspect of the show, but there are also works from the Barbizon School and a handful of Orientalist paintings at the end. The show’s main purpose is to give us a glimpse of the collecting taste of the Institute’s founders.

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