With only two hours in central London via a long layover, David and I decided to spend our time at The National Gallery. We love art and wanted to see the gems that are housed in London. The Gallery is open every day and is free so it was a perfect fit for us.
From the airport, we headed into London via the Tube and after a short walk, ended up in Trafalgar Square at The National Gallery. When we arrived at the museum, I had to eat something before I could enjoy the art. We headed down to the café, a little afraid of the prices; to our surprise, it was very reasonable. The chicken curry sandwich, carrot cake and coffee were delicious and perfect.
Once we arrived, we realized we were right on time for a tour. Guided tours are offered daily at 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM. We joined at least 50 other patrons as a docent guided us through the busy rooms. At first, I was discouraged when the docent stated she would show us only 4 pieces on the hour-long tour due to the large size of the group. But, I can honestly say, it was the best museum tour I have ever experienced.
The guide presented the 4 paintings in order of date painted. She provided a rich and detailed history of each of the works as well as how each painting represented its respective artistic period. She also allowed plenty of time for questions and did an incredible job involving the members of the tour.
The first painting, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano is from the 1500’s. The painting was commissioned for hospitals in an area north of Venice to aid those in pain and to encourage people’s belief in Jesus. It was painted on wood and severely damaged in countless floods. Many in The National Gallery thought it was beyond repair, but scientists and art conservators were able to expertly remove the painting from the rotting wood, place the paint on a new surface and restore the painting. It was an amazing feat. The thing that impressed me the most is now they use this project as a case study in high schools science classrooms across their country. It is so exciting to me when I hear of curriculum that integrates creativity and science.
The other painting I will mention is The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger. David studied this piece in a world history class in high school but it was completely new to me. He was very excited to see it in person! Holbein was an amazingly talented artist, but his talent was restricted due to subjects he was commissioned to paint. Looking straight ahead in his painting, you see an odd shaped object at the bottom. This leads us to the amazing part. The secret of this painting is revealed when you view the painting from the side. Squat down and slowly stand up straight looking at the distorted skull and, all of a sudden, you see the fully shaped skull! He painted a crazy optical illusion. Look at the picture on the right to see what I am talking about.
The artwork was amazing. Covering everything from the Middle Ages to post-Impressionism, the collection has 2,300 pieces of art to view. If the size is a bit overwhelming, follow the museums list of 30 must see paintings. The National Gallery also features works from Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Diego Velazquez, Johannes Vermeer, Claude Monet, George Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cezanne.