I do not know if it is because I find myself becoming disconnected with aspects of contemporary art but I have started to rekindle my appreciation and excitement about Old Master paintings. The start of this new journey is the research I am undertaking on seventeenth century printmaking and the consequent investigation of the landscape backgrounds of the Old Masters. That being another story for another time I confess I have not looked at Renaissance and post Renaissance paintings for many years. Having spent my entire university courses studying Baroque to Neo Classicism I rather turned my back on all things historical when dedicating myself to my career in modern and contemporary art.
Now that I am returning to the past I discover that I am looking at these works in completely different light, being rather older and wiser. Recent experiences at the National Gallery of Scotland and at Tate Britain have been instructive in ways I consider that I would have been unable to appreciate thirty years ago. I am not for a moment propounding anything earthshattering in anyone’s understanding or appreciation of, say, eighteenth and early nineteenth century British painting. This is a very personal apotheosis. I have never realised quite how modern Constable is, for example, in his use of flashes of white to scintillate even the darkest areas of foliage or shade, or how abstractly depicted (in almost modernist ways) are areas of Titian’s backgrounds.
I first experienced a view of interpreting Old Master paintings in a contemporary light when seeing Andrea Mantegna’s glorious series Triumphs of Caesar in an exhibition at the Royal Academy (they are usually housed the orangery at Hampton Court) in 1992. At a time when British Art was defined by the popularity, both critical and public, of strong and distinctive figurative art, and definitely pre pickled sharks, I remember asking a question in my mind about quite how far contemporary figurative art had come in five hundred years.