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A modern portrayal of medieval and early Renaissance art
An inventive exhibition featuring the sculptures of Michael Landy is currently on display at the National Gallery. Seven interactive sculptures engage all the senses and bring a modern interpretation to well-known medieval and early Renaissance images of the saints.
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Saint Jerome (17th century). Public domain.
Landy drew the inspiration for his sculptures from National Gallery collections of sacred art portraying the saints' lives, which are on display in the Sainsbury wing. These include Pintoricchio's Saint Catherine of Alexandria with a Donor (1480-1500), Botticelli's Saint Francis of Assisi with Angels (1475-80), Cosimo Tura's Saint Jerome (1470), and many others. Images of these paintings are displayed alongside the sculptures with special notes on where to find them in the gallery.
The sculptures are large-scale objects composed of refuse, papier mache, machine parts, everyday objects, wheels and gears. Controlled by buttons, levers, and foot pedals, visitors can bring the towering saints to life. One example is the sculpture of Saint Jerome, which is mostly a giant bare chest sitting on gears and cogs. A foot pedal causes a mechanical arm to loudly pound the chest with a rock. This is based on the story of Jerome, a fourth century Bible translator, who was said to live like a hermit in the Syrian desert continuously beating his chest to prevent impure thoughts.
Cosimo Rosselli, St Catherine of Alexandria (15th century). Public domain.
The dramatic and jumbled composition of the contemporary sculptures certainly captures the strange and unreal quality of the saints' lives. For instance, Saint Catherine of Alexandria is represented by a huge broken wheel engraved with details of her life. She was tortured on a wheel, for claiming to have a mystic marriage with the infant Christ, and then beheaded - at which point milk flowed from her wounds.
The Multi-Saint sculpture is based on the lives of five saints and was inspired by the late medieval paintings of the artist Carlo Crivelli. The sculpture represents the deaths of these five saints via a piled assemblage of papier mache body parts and demons, machinery, and instruments of torture made of refuse. It is bizarre and discomforting to observe, much like the saints' lives themselves.
The National Gallery is free to enter and the Saints Alive exhibition is also free. The exhibition runs from May 23, 2013 to November 24, 2013. No photography is allowed inside the National Gallery, but a catalogue of the exhibition is available for £9.99. The exhibition is open from 10am to 6pm, Monday to Thursday and Friday from 10am to 9pm.