I went to see the Beyond Caravaggio exhibition at the National Gallery this week. Knowing Caravaggio mostly through his Boy Bitten By A Lizard, which I dislike, I was stopped in my tracks by his other paintings in the exhibition
There’s only six paintings by him in an exhibition intended to examine his influence on his immediate contemporaries. To see hanging side by side The Taking of Christ (Caravaggio has painted himself into it, holding a lantern on the right) and The Supper at Emmaus is startling. The former is a masterpiece of claustrophobic atmosphere drawing in the viewer – the suspended kiss of Judas may have happened or be about to happen – whilst the latter, in a similarly tight visual framework, draws in the viewer by reaching out. I had never paid much attention to the painting in reproduction, but was struck by the impact in the original of the disciple rising from his chair on the left, and the extraordinary angle of the outstretched arms of the disciple on the right.
Most other works were interesting but there were other highlights. Artemisia Gentileschi’s disturbing Susannah and the Elders (as I heard one expert point out, it is only looking at the original painting that you can see the tears in her eyes), the beautiful beard of the saint in Ribera’s The Martydom of Saint Bartholomew, the near life-size Christ giving the viewer direct eye contact in LoSpadarino’s Christ Displaying His Wounds, and the extraordinary flesh of Ribera’s Saint Onuphrius.
It’s a dark claustrophobic show and so it was a delight to come out and see David Shrigley’s Fourth Plinth: Really Good (see above). Although the more I look at it the weirder it gets. Shrigley’s artwork is usually darkly humorous. I’m not sure his thumbs up is simply the optimistic sign Lord Mayor Khan has told us it is.