Gallery 27 – 14th to 16th century European art
Good things come in small packages. Gallery 27 may be one of our smallest gallery spaces, but the new display of 14th to 16th century European art contains some gems which are worth spending time with.
One half of the room explores the way Christian art has used women to represent extremes of good and evil. A bronze sculpture shows Eve, who took an apple from the forbidden tree and caused humanity’s expulsion from Paradise. In contrast, Suzannah was a symbol of virtue because she refused to give in to the advances of two men who interrupted her bath.
The Virgin Mary, the ultimate example of female purity, is depicted with simple realism in Verrochio’s terracotta panel. This panel was made in the same workshop in which Leonardo da Vinci receiving his training as a young apprentice.
The other half of the room brings together examples of the technical skill and creativity displayed by the artists of this period. The tiny panel by Simone Martini is particularly moving: it shows a saint grieving over the dead Christ. The panel showing Christ no longer exists so we have to imagine the object of the man’s grief.
One of my favourite items is the painting of the nativity by an unknown Flemish artist known as the ‘Master of the Prado Adoration’. This miraculous scene is set in surroundings which would have been entirely familiar to a 14th century audience. The stable and Flemish townscape in the background would have created the impression that Christ was being born in the ‘here and now’. Joseph seems particularly real to me – the kind of elderly man you could meet on the bus.
Curator of History