The National Gallery Presents STRANGE BEAUTY, Now thru 5/11
What exactly makes a work of art beautiful? And how can this perception radically alter due to the changing world its viewer is living in? These are the intriguing questions being posed by Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance at the National Gallery this spring.
This collection-focused exhibition takes a fresh look at paintings, drawings and prints by well-known artists such as Hans Holbein the Younger, Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach the Elder - examining the striking changes in the ways these works were perceived in their time, in the recent past, and how they are viewed today.
More than 30 loans from UK collections will help visitors explore these fascinating themes. Key works coming to Strange Beautyinclude the Matthias Grünewald drawing of An Elderly Woman with Clasped Hands (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), the renowned Holbein miniature of Anne of Cleves (Victoria & Albert Museum, London), Portrait of Young Man with a Rosary by Hans Baldung Grien (Royal Collection Trust on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen) and a collection of fine drawings and prints by Holbein, Dürer and Altdorfer (British Museum, London).
The German Renaissance was part of the cultural and artistic awakening that spread across Northern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. German artists such as Dürer developed an international reputation, their fame reaching all parts of Europe, while renowned humanist scholars such as Erasmus of Rotterdam, the patron of Hans Holbein the Younger, played a leading role in reviving the study of classical texts in the service of Christianity.
Paintings such as 'The Ambassadors' by Holbein, Christ taking Leave of his Mother by Albrecht Altdorfer, Cupid complaining to Venusby Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Man by Hans Baldung Grien and Saint Jerome by Albrecht Dürer were highly valued in the 16th century for qualities such as expression and inventiveness. However, by the 19th and early 20th centuries German Renaissance art was receiving a very mixed reception. Some viewers admired the artists' technical mastery and their embodiment of a perceived German national identity; others perceived these works of art as excessive or even ugly, particularly when compared to works of the Italian Renaissance.
Views such as these - alongside the shifting attitudes towards the German nation in the UK following the First and Second World Wars - were to have a direct effect on the formation and growth of the National Gallery, and indeed all the UK national collections.