Renaissance, by Andrew Graham-Dixon

July 31, 2019 at 8:26 pm (Art, books)

I have just finished reading Renaissance by Andrew Graham-Dixon. This is a companion volume to his six part television series. Both date from about 1999-2000.

I want to let Graham-Dixon speak for himself. So let’s begin with Giotto‘s Lamentation (1303-6}:

The grief of his figures seems inextricably bound up with a quality of spiritual contemplation. By giving them this quality, making them at once actors in a scene and meditators upon it, Giotto has bridged the gap between and the world. We too, the congregation before the picture, are invited to become witnesses to Christ’s death, to see and feel its dreadfulness. It is as if his figures are responding to the scene on our behalf – are showing us the way to respond to the death of Christ….Because Giotto’s art insists on including us it is still as harrowing as when it was first painted.

[Click twice to enlarge]


The sense of the real in fifteenth century Northern European painting that it becomes uncanny. The liquidity and brilliance of colors suspended in oil lends a particular lustre to details such as the copper ewer and the lights reflected in it. A dappled patch of light conveys the passage of sunshine on to on to a wall though the small panes of a thickly glazed window with astonishing virtuosity….No wonder, perhaps, that the early Netherlandish artists should have acquired a reputation as necromancers and alchemists. Their illusions are enchantments.

Virgin and Child in an Interior, by Jacques Daret (or so it is thought) c.1435


Masaccio was the shooting star in the Florentine firmament, gone almost as soon as his brilliance had been seen.

Expulsion from Paradise, mid 1420s, by Masaccio. ‘A strong emotion had been made visible in a way that is unforgettable. There is no more wrenching image of human sorrow.’

Born in December 1401, Masaccio died in the summer of 1428 at the age of twenty-six. Twenty-six! Filippo Brunelleschi said, with heartbreaking simplicity: ‘We have suffered a great loss.’



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