The Italian Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria opens in Melbourne today. It showcases the best of the Museo del Prado’s Italian art from 1500-1800. It is among the finest such exhibitions ever brought to Australia.
- Matthew Westwood
Spanish painting was not always the tourist magnet of Spain’s national collection. Italian art belongs at the heart of the Spanish Prado, and this is the focus of the second exhibition from the museum to come to Australia.
We are standing in a central gallery before Titian’s monumental portraits of his royal patrons, the Habsburg monarchs Charles V (Charles I of Spain) and his son Philip II. As Holy Roman Emperor, Charles appointed Titian as court painter and commissioned religious pictures and portraits: the most impressive and innovative — in terms of the art of royal portraiture — is the large-format Equestrian Portrait of Charles V at Muhlberg, showing the diminutive and block-jawed emperor in armour and plumed helmet.
Let’s move on to an incredibly beautiful religious picture, Correggio’s Noli me tangere ('Do not touch me').
The painting depicts the risen Christ in a garden, who instructs Mary Magdalene not to touch him because he has not yet ascended to heaven. One of the Prado’s masterpieces, the painting is in superb condition: its colours are so fresh it could have been painted yesterday.
Falomir says X-rays have revealed how Correggio rethought the composition and changed Mary’s pose, so that she and Christ avoid physical contact but are locked in each other’s gaze.
Nearby is a picture by Raphael: a Holy Family with the infant John the Baptist, a painting also known as the Madonna of the Rose, because at Christ’s feet is a rose blossom whose pink matches the colour of the Virgin’s sleeve.
A rose is not necessarily a rose, however: the bloom was added by a later artist, Falomir says, possibly in the 19th century.
Other religious pictures are intended for the appreciation of human form, rather than strictly devotional use.
St Sebastian was one of the more popular subjects for studies of male physique: the Roman soldier turned Christian martyr, here depicted by Guido Reni, has been pierced by an arrow and turns his gaze heavenward. In art history terms, we are now in the early 17th century and the era of Caravaggio.
Not all of the paintings are of religious themes: the Prado is also sending a selection of still-life flowers and bodegon kitchen scenes, mythological and history pictures, portraits and landscapes.
Read full article: Masters of light: the Prado comes to Melbourne (The Australian)
Italian Masterpieces (The Weekly Times)
A right royal treat at the NGVs Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition (The Weekly Times)
Unboxing a 500-year-old Italian masterpiece (WA Today)