Whenever time affords, I love going into The National Gallery which overlooks Trafalgar Square, London.
I make directly for Room 30 (climbing the central steps and through a room or two).
Then in front of me to the left is a painting which attracts me for the sheer beauty of subject matter, professional technique of the amazing artist Velazquez, and glorious colours (though it is said some areas when originally painted, centuries ago, were mote brilliant in colour). It still remains a most striking painting.
Opposite The ‘Rokeby’ Venus‘ (Rokeby Park Mansion, Yorkshire, now County Durham, was the location where this painting was found, then it was refurbished, and salvaged for our Nation), is a lovely banquet but it is rare to find an empty space to sit thereon, so popular is this painting that people are drawn to it and speculate about various aspects, and others just want to admire the work for itself and sense some type of spiritual soothing. It speaks to most, of that I am sure as they flock to it.
Recently I heard a tour guide clarifying various details of the painting to a group of people listening attentively. The guide may or may not have been an Official Gallery representative, and that is an important element. Other guides usually give themselves away by either not knowing certain things about the painting or adding the most extraordinary fictitious accounts which amuse me until I think that some poor person will go away thinking the outline given to them is true.
When I was young, art used to be a subject of no interest to me because during the austerity of the 1950s all children were constantly being placed before easels and left to it with a limited choice of pots of paint and told ‘paint something’. My internal dialogue went something like!!!!@!@!@! I was only five.
Then when I was seven we were all told at a different school to paint an imaginary fish but the key remit was its pattern. Once again I was bereft as to me, a fish, was a fish, was a fish!!!
If there had been a can of Campbell’s Soup around, who knows, I may have beaten Andy Warhol to it! (Another of my favourite artists).
So what I am saying is for some reason art suddenly took on a new meaning to me in my 20s when the store ‘Athena’ arrived and we could all buy glorious prints of classic, abstract and eclectic art.
Art, music, perfume all ‘hit’ the soul. Perfume is said to be the most immediate reminding of an important time in our life or of a person. Nothing is more annoying than walking by a stranger, loving their waft of perfume and not having the courage to find out what it is called.
Music has its own fast route to the soul, am thinking of Beethoven or Elgar as examples. Our hearts are stirred (not excluding ‘Sgt. Pepper’).
Art can be a futures commodity for some, others fall in love with it because there is an ethereal message within for a few, but a different piece of art moves another.
I quite surprised myself once when visiting someone who is a professional artist and they showed me one of their paintings which utilised similar colours as those within the Rokeby Venus, because a tear trickled down my cheek. A dialogue with the painting, one that surpassed language. Apparently, I was told, others had reacted in the same way. (Thank God for that!).
Returning to the Rokeby Venus. I think the colours are a key factor, but complementary in the whole has to be the cherub, and ribbons that are streaming. The cherub is obliging in holding a mirror at such a clever angle that not only is the subject, ‘lady at her boudoir’ being facilitated but we, the viewer of the painting, can also see the face of the person courtesy of the same mirror.
This painting was, we know, utilised in ‘St Trinians‘ film to great effect, transferring a different face via special digital replacement. I wouldn’t mind having that done for myself too.
The film gives me another reason to think of this painting as I walk up the steps of The National Gallery across the floor mosaic, as I always recall how the girls of St Trinians storm the same area as part of the storyline of the film.
When they approach the Gallery via Trafalgar Square my mind reasserts what a heritage is theirs and I am filled with pride to know that the Rokeby Venus belongs to us all.
We eat food to keep the body nourished and drink water to prevent dehydration. The doctor endeavours to heal our ailments, the dentist to remove pain of toothache and keep us healthy in that regard, but ask yourself (leaving aside any belief, church or religious denomination as I am referring to something distinct herein)…
What feeds the soul? It has to be culture in any of the mediums referred to.
One cannot explain ‘why’ we are moved or touched in such ethereal ways through creativity, but the fact remains we are.
Like the butterfly can be considered ‘a calling card from God’ with the beauteous art of its wing patterns, we just know that culture feeds an intangible need language cannot reach. The butterfly is an example perhaps from God as a bridge between belief and culture as they both proclaim the very essence of a soul’s needs.
Please do try and visit the Rokeby Venus painting. After all it belongs to the Nation, so it belongs to us all.
Photo (c) Hazel Speed – used by kind permision to Tuck Magazine