National Gallery (London, England)
Founding of the National Gallery in London
The National Gallery was created on April 2, 1824. There were rumors that the 38 paintings owned by John Julius Angerstein, a wealthy merchant and art collector who died in 1823, were to be sold to someone outside England. King George IV advised that England purchase the collection. At the instigation of the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, Parliament voted £60,000 for the purchase, preservation, and exhibition of the paintings owned by Angerstein.
The National Gallery, housed in Angerstein’s London house, opened for the first time on May 10, 1824. There was little initial interest in the Gallery. Few people could have foreseen that within 20 years of its founding, the National Gallery would be home to two of the most famous paintings in the world, Jan van Eyck’s The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami and Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait of the Doge Leonardo Loredan.
The National Gallery's Art Collection
English art has never been the dominant interest of English collectors. The Angerstein collection included paintings by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn—a Dutch painter and etcher, Peter Paul Rubens—a Flemish painter, Anthony van Dyck—a Flemish painter, and Claude Lorrain (also known just as Claude and as Claude Gellée)—a French-born painter who was active in Italy. English taste has frequently preferred Italian Renaissance paintings and paintings of seventeenth-century France to those paintings executed by English artists.
What I especially like about the National Gallery is that the collection is small—only 2000 paintings, and that it is an acquired collection. Unlike the paintings in the British Museum, many of which belonged to the monarchs in England, the paintings in the National Gallery have either been purchased by the Gallery or inherited from private collectors.
The National Gallery is a gallery of art, not just a repository of paintings and objects of historical significance owned by England’s monarchs. It is much more "personal" than a museum.
I'm showcasing three paintings from the gallery's collection in this article. I hope you enjoy viewing the paintings and reading about them.
National Gallery, London
Jan van Eyck's The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami
Jan van Eyck painted The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami in 1434. The painting is thought to depict a wedding ceremony.
If you look very carefully at the reflection in the mirror on the far wall, you'll see the images of two people. They're standing where you would expect witnesses to the ceremony to stand.
The painting contains several religious symbols—a rosary hanging on the far wall, the rondels on the frame of the mirror, and the posts on the chair. The candle in the chandelier is thought to be a nuptial symbol. Some scholars think the little dog represents Fidelity.
The Latin inscription on the wall above the mirror—Jan van Eyck was here, 1434—almost seems like an early form of graffiti.
Giovanni Bellini's Portrait of the Doge Leonardo Loredan
Giovanni Bellini (1430 to 1516) was an Italian Renaissance painter who lived his entire life in Venice, Italy. He painted this portrait in 1501 to 1502 of the Doge Leonardo Loredan. The Doge was a magistrate elected to office at the age of 65. He guided the Venetian Republic from 1501 to 1521.
The Painter’s Father (1497) by Albrecht Dürer
Albrecht Dürer painted this portrait of his father, Albrecht Dürer, the Elder, a goldsmith, in 1497. It is one of four such similar paintings that the artist did. Although German by birth, Dürer's paintings show more of a Flemish or Italian influence.
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