Madonnas and Miracles

Yesterday, for one very good reason or another, my mid-morning student and I found occasion to pop over to the Fitzwilliam Museum for a spot of intensive culture, with a focus on the somewhat niche language for linear perspective (orthogonals, vanishing point, volumetric, and so on). 

Leaving aside the irrelevance that it was sparkling early-spring day, and a crying shame to be sitting in a classroom, we made a profitable trip. We had a look at the gallery of Italian art, and got about as far as the Titian and Veronese; then we wound around to the new exhibition they have on, Madonnas and Miracles, and pogoed rapidly but happily through that. To repeat, all very intensive and instructive.

We had spent a portion of the first lesson looking at a video on Khan Academy about Brunelleschi’s invention of linear perspective, and the exhibition provided a series of counter-examples to those we found in the permanent collection: any number of meditative devotional panels, their madonnas and children floating in abstract volumes of dark space, very unlike the coordinate location system of linear perspective. And very appropriate too, for icon-like works designed for private contemplation.

The exhibition focusses on religious imagery in domestic spaces, and comprises not just works of high culture (Filippo Lippi, workshop of Botticelli, etc.), but a good deal of demotic or low-grade devotional art, whether sculpture, illumination, painting, drawing or print. More of historical-sociological interest, then, than strictly aesthetic appeal.