Wednesday, February 02, 2011


I was in Florence last week (and it was freezing). I know the names of all those great Italian Renaissance painters but to be honest I couldn't have told a Giotto from a Pierro della Francesca. But since seeing it all in situ I am hooked and today I had to pay a visit to the National Gallery (in London) to check out the beautiful paintings in the Sainsbury Wing (which is the best bit of the gallery and the least crowded).

My Florence highlight was the San Marco Museum. This is the monastery where Fra Angelica frescoed all of the monks cells. We went along early in the morning, it was pretty much empty and it was absolutely beautiful. Fra Angelica's paintings are almost minimalist - he eradicates all that showy off perspective and just cuts to the chase. When I went upstairs to where the cells are situated the first painting that greeted me (Annunciation - pictured below) was completely familiar. This is something that often happens when I visit the great art galleries of the world and it is because the painting is featured in a book called History of Painting which was published in 1961. This book belonged to my mum and when I was growing up I spent hours looking at it and subsequently I know all of the paintings in it (but don't necessarily know who they are by). I now have 'the book' in my possession - it is falling to pieces and really not that remarkable - but looking at it is an amazingly evocative experience.