Scholars and saints: England in July

At the beginning of July, I went down at West Dean to deliver a lecture to the Attingham Summer School made up of international, and many American, curators, architects and art historians, as well as people working for the National Trust and some of the great private collections, and they do an intensive course visiting great houses and collections both National Trust and privately owned.
They are always an excellent and interested audience, I enjoyed talking to scholars from India, America, Australia, the Netherlands, and wish I could follow their tour just more just for the benefit of their cross-fertilisation of ideas. Staying with my father and his wife in Guildford, on the way back, we discussed the article I had written for The Lady on the excellent restoration of the Watts Gallery, which lies only a few miles away, the gallery built by G.F.Watts “England’s Michelangelo”, the nineteenth century painter, in a shady woodland in Compton.

In London, a few days later, I was able to attend private view of Devotion by Design at the National Gallery, an excellent show of Italian altar paintings from before 1500, drawn almost exclusively from the gallery’s own collection. It is full of stunning treasures, including work by Piero della Francesca, Fra Filippo Lippi and Luca Signorelli. The gallery has been lit in an atmospheric gloom to suggest those medieval churches in Italy where these paintings came from – while the paintings themselves are lit carefully to show all the changes in style, technique and construction in this rich and changing period from the late middle ages to the early renaissance. During this period, the altarpainting developed from the complex and deeply venerated image with numerous saints and scenes from the life of Christ to the larger scale, single subject altar-painting of the renaissance. These were the most admired of works when the National Gallery collection was formed.

As we hurried away in the pouring rain, we admired the pluck of the youngsters camping out days before the Harry Potter premiere. I thought of them this morning as I rowed in an eight for two hours in the pouring rain. Well, it is England in July.

Best book read this month
fiction: John Buchan Greenmantle
non fiction: Sir Roy Strong Visions of England
Best meal: wedding anniversary supper at The Cambridge Chop House
Articles to note: James Birch collection of Christine Keeler in next month’s The Field
Best event: ordination of college friend Justin Gau at St Pauls Cathedral

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