The decadent setting of a palatial West London gallery –it’s the V&A, South Kensington. The exhibition looks amazing; although you sometimes struggle for space to view the larger paintings. For some reason this is particularly true of the Pre-Raphaelite section of the exhibition, where you can’t quite find peace or distance around the exquisite Burne-Jones’ and Rossetti’s. Perhaps this is the reason that there is a sign at the door prohibiting photography and sketching.
The exhibition is to celebrate an artist who could be considered the author of a distinct and repeating form that he first depicted in The Birth of Venus in 1486. It’s also about the influence of his work generally too, but The Birth of Venus is the painting that draws most of the exhibits together.
The exhibition is designed around a chronology that aims to lift his influence off the pages of books and from a worldwide range of galleries in which these paintings now hang. I realise this is what many exhibitions do, but this one has a lot of big art stars and I feel privileged to be viewing them all together.
It begins with a film clip of Ursula Andress, emerging from the sea in the James Bond film, Dr No., and then Uma Thurman emerging from a shell in Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. These provide relatively recent examples of the inspirational reach of Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli, and maybe it’s a challenge too – modern art that includes mainstream film clips. I’m in favour. Many of the images are about female beauty; it’s the depiction of women that dominates the exhibition.
I had expected to first be greeted by the oils and tempera of Botticelli’s paintings; the religious iconography is lost on many but I still enjoy the emotional draw and the static message from the towering early renaissance figure. It’s like someone left the TV on from the past, the images aren’t dulled or nullified by the changes to our philosophy and beliefs, and the resonance is still there to be felt.
I’d last seen Botticelli’s tondos in the dimly lit rooms of the Uffizi in Florence. ‘Botticelli Reimagined’ includes the story that the V&A and the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin (where this exhibition was previously hosted) have curated – the time between now and then and the daub and controlled precision of Western artists that are brought together here. Warhol, Magritte and LaChapelle are particularly outstanding examples. The exhibition includes the glitter and trashy feels of modern incantations, but I honestly can’t say that this was my favourite part. Maybe it’s living by the sea, or maybe I’m just a romantic through and through but my favourite paintings were those of the Pre-Raphaelites. Well worth a viewing.
Written by Lou Clement