Spanish Masters in the Heart of London

A crisp Spring early afternoon sun casting its rays across Trafalgar Square provided the perfect prologue to the British Spanish Society’s latest exclusive visit to the National Gallery. Guided by lecturer Paul Pickering, of the BSS’s Executive Council, a group of members and friends in early March were taken on a memorable tour of works by some of the great masters of Spanish painting. Guests were enchanted by Paul’s personal selection of paintings, each of which he spoke about with evident love and insight, drawing on his expertise to provide historical context , and artistic insight.

Paul set the scene with a brilliant detailed description of Bartolome Bermejo’s Saint Michael Triumphs over the Devil, showing his mastery of the Netherlandish technique of painting in oil, not least in the intricate reflections of the Heavenly City on the main subject’s breastplate.

From the 15 th , to the 17 th Century and a forensic look at further masterpieces in the Gallery’s main Spanish room where, as he put it paintings “went from shadow to light” . He began with Zurbaran’s personification devotional portrait of the austere St Francis of Assisi , and drew to an with Velazquez’s celebration of his young mistress’s body.

Other paintings in Pickering personal ‘catalogue’ included Velázquez’s charming Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, which displays the painter’s extraordinary craftsmanship and naturalism in depicting still-life ,and contrasting human expressions.

Through a world of biblical and real life episodes, populated by saints and sinners, kings, cooks, and smiling street kids, Pickering’s forensic eye finally drew us into before Murillo's Two Trinities, the painter’s impeccable draughtsmanship and tenderness making one of the great mysteries of Christian faith, beautiful to contemplate. For all the swirl of colours and cherubs above them, the look of Mary and Joseph is that of “proud parents”, and the overall image is one of reassuring harmony.

As Paul commented, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that some of the best of Spanish religious arts was created after during and after the Reformation in England and the suppression of Catholicism and its imagery. To see these very Catholic works of arts displayed in London’s most famous art gallery , and to gather at table afterwards for a very traditional English cream,scones, jam, and tea, gallery is a reminder of how British-Spanish links have endured periods of intolerance and emerged in modern times, strengthened through mutual respect for each other’s culture.

BSS Social Affairs Correspondent