One of the reasons I was excited to visit Holyrood Palace this time around, was because of the chance to see a small selection of paintings that are normally on display in Buckingham Palace, but were on loan to the Queen’s Gallery.
In particular, I was excited to see paintings by Rembrandt for the first time in person, and not just look at photos of them.
This is going to sound like a cliché, because I’ve just presented you with a photograph, but, standing just a couple of feet away from this painting, for the first time I truly understood why Rembrandt is considered a Master. As you peer into the painting, you meet his eye, and actually feel like you are about to strike up a conversation with the artist himself.
I can probably explain even better with this one:
Now, Agatha Bas is not a particularly beautiful woman, and Rembrandt does not try to flatter, but paints what he sees. The exquisite artistry in this painting is, as the label says, in her clothing which, of course, you can’t really see in a photograph, so let me paint a picture with words.
The detail of the front of her dress, on her locket, and in particular on the extensive decorative lace, is extraordinary, particularly where her right cuff folds over slightly, making for a less-than-perfect, but very real, pose. What is even more incredible is the fan, built up with layers of paint stippled to an amazing depth, so that the fan literally juts out from the painting.
And her hand on the frame. At any second, you expect Agatha to step right through the frame, as if it’s a doorway. A photograph can only hint at these things, but believe me, the presence of Agatha Bas leaves you expecting her to join you in the room at any moment.
And one of the best parts about this gallery is that there is nothing to stop you getting right up close – no barriers, no distance you are expected to maintain. The temptation to touch is challenging, but I suspect one of the stewards hovering nearby might have something to say if you tried.
Other paintings I particularly enjoyed experiencing were Athena, by Parmigianino
The somewhat shocking juxtaposition of beauty and death in ‘Judith with the head of Holofernes’
And this particular Van Dyck
Have you ever been up close and personal with a masterpiece? How did it make you feel?