Tuesday 23 February 2016

Waldemar's Renaissance, Kamal's clifftop

This startling image is of one of the figures from a breath-taking terracotta mourning group by Niccolo dell'Arca - the Compianto sul Cristo Morto in Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna. Astonishingly it might date from as early as 1460. This, anyway, was the date plumped for by Waldemar Januszczak in The Renaissance Unchained, which I caught on television (BBC4) last night.
 I always enjoy Waldemar's programmes, not least for his strong views and punchy (to put it mildly) delivery - and his new habit of stumping away from the camera, talking over his shoulder. He speaks entirely in italics and bold italics, with plentiful pauses for breath - 'I don't know about you. But when I look at Renaissance paintings. I like to know what I'm looking at.' Well, quite - and he sets about illuminating what we're looking at by focusing on the context, especially on theology and inconography, rather than on the aesthetics. What does this mean? rather than Isn't this lovely?
 After Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico, Waldemar makes a change of direction. 'See that snow on top of that mountain?' he says, pointing to a distant mountain top. 'That's not snow at all. It's marble.' And so we're on to Michelangelo, but Waldemar wants to direct our attention to Pietro Torrigiano, the man who broke Michelangelo's nose, and who went on to introduce Renaissance sculpture to England (his posthumous portrait bust of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey is astonishing). Torrigiano, Januszczak contended, was underrated both in his own time and after because he didn't work in the noble medium of marble, but in lowly terracotta. As did Niccolo dell'Arca.
 Thank heavens we still have BBC4. Without it there wouldn't be much home-grown TV to watch.

Talking of television, also last night I caught a news report by that elegant fellow Kamal Ahmed on the subject of - well, you know the subject, it's the only subject just now: 'Europe'. He was standing, Brian Cox style, on top of one of the white cliffs of Dover, while a helicopter circled expensively overhead, filming him as he declaimed his lines. Why the location? Well, apparently the Channel is our border with continental Europe. Who knew?
There are four months of this referendum campaign to go. Four months. It really doesn't bear thinking about...

1 comment:

  1. Waldemar Januszczak is excellent on TV and always interesting in the Sunday Times for instance. The first programme on "Flemish Primitives" like Van Eyck was even better than the Italian one. I love his comic turns when he lays down on the floor to look at a trompe l'oeil ceiling as he did in his Baroque series. He is a great educator.