Small but perfectly formed describes the Giovanni da Rimini exhibition at the National Gallery. Small and free. Less of an exhibition and more of a welcome party for “Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and other Saints” by Giovanni da Rimini. To make sure the less than snappily titled work settles in, her sister work “Scenes from the Life of Christ” has made the journey from Rome. It is the first time that the pair have hung side by side for a long time.
How did the National Gallery come to acquire this Giovanni da Rimini? Well, the Duke of Northumberland decided to put her up for auction in 2015. The National Gallery was loath to see her leave the country, at this point Ronald S Lauder (of cosmetics fame) stepped in and donated the money required. Somewhat unusually the painting will live with Mr Lauder during his lifetime making regular visits to the National Gallery. This is the first time that “Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and Other Saints” has been on public display. Over seven hundred years old and the detail and colours are amazing. These are stories told in a cartoon like fashion, in that one picture follows another.
Rimini may be famous as Italy’s biggest beach resort now, but seven hundred years ago it was a prosperous port town with strong connections to the Byzantine empire. It was here that the tradition of icon painting from the East merged with the more naturalist painting from the West for the first time. Giovanni was one of many painters working at the time. The National Gallery already owns this painting by him showing the Blessed Clare, who was his contemporary, receiving a book from St John the Evangelist overlooked by an enormous Christ.
Also joining the welcome party is this tiny, but incredibly detailed, ivory panel depicting the Nativity and washing of the infant Jesus. As with the paintings, the fine workmanship is outstanding. All done at a time without electric lights or machine-tooled instruments or even varifocal glasses.
If you are visiting the National Gallery this summer do pop into Room 1 to welcome the gallery’s latest acquisition. As you go up the main steps, pause to look down at the mosaics and then turn left.
GIOVANNI DA RIMINI: A FOURTEENTH CENTURY MASTERPIECE UNVEILED
National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN
14 June – 8 October 2017
Open: Daily 10am – 6pm (9pm on Fridays)