National Gallery

Am I too trusting? Probably.

One of my myths, my stories for understanding who I am and how I came to be this way, concerns The Adoration of the Magi by Pieter Bruegel. When I was 18 I had a poster of it on my wall, which I got from my father’s magazine. It was a pose, to show I am an intellectual, and I hated it. The people are so ugly!

Here is a higher resolution image.

However after living with it for a few weeks, I saw it differently. I saw looks of wonderment on the characters’ faces, and loved them. They were ordinary people, amazed at the miracle of the Incarnation. And, I reached this understanding in a moment of inspiration, when the painting changed utterly for me, in an instant!

I had my first Art epiphany with an Epiphany.

So I was shocked to read the National Gallery companion guide, which argues the painting is a satire. “The crowd has eyes only for the rich presents.” I had to go and see, and I asked H to come too, to check.

And, yes, indeed the people are looking in awe and wonder at the gifts. One might be looking at Caspar, who is Black, and one of the soldiers looks out at us, but the soldier in the middle is definitely looking at the gold, and not the baby.

Still, I think it is a gift, always to think the best of people. It takes a lot to convince me they are not well-meaning, community-minded souls. Certain Tory MPs have convinced me, but they had to be revolting to manage it.

Fortunately in the same room is Jan Gossaert’s treatment. These Kings have a proper attitude of reverence.

In another, the people seem to be going through a tedious court ritual, going through the motions, rather than seeing God Incarnate. Or, perhaps, in a dog eat dog Italian court they cannot show any sign of weakness or feeling.

We liked the Botticelli, though. A fully clothed woman and naked man is unusual. And the Justus of Ghent is just my thing- a man kneeling at a woman’s feet, even if she is the personification of rhetoric. This is meant to be seen from below: when I sit on the floor and look up at it, I see it better.

There is so much beauty here! It delights me. These paintings 1250-1500 in the new wing are designed to evoke feelings of awe, wonder and reverence, and in me they do. When I want to leave, arted out, I have to stare at the floor to avoid being distracted.

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