The Virgin and Child with SS. Pope Gregory the Great, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Julian, Dominic, and Francis
by Benozzo Gozzoli (1476)
In the new repainted European Renaissance Gallery room 201 of the National Gallery of Canada you will find this painting with a very beautiful golden frame to enhance this very large tableau. Very typical in style to the Italian Renaissance works you see in Italy in Churches and private Family chapels. In this case the name of the Saints appear in Latin in their halos, something Gozzoli liked to do in his paintings. It is done in brilliant colour and is a spectacular piece of art. At the bottom there is a dedication to the Salviati Family of Florence. This painting a Sacred Conversation was intended as an Altar piece for a church in Pisa where the Compagnia dei Fiorentini met. Like other painting of that time period at the NGC it was bought after the Second World War from families or institutions who had been forced to sell their art works or was looted art by the Nazi Regime. The Paul L. Drey Family of New York sold it to the NGC in 1951.
Originally it had been in the collection of the Wallraf-Richartz Museum of Cologne, inventory #500. In 1943 Walter Bornheim who had acquired the A.S. Drey Firm of Munich and who had Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring as an important client, acquired (forcibly sold) this painting. It was confiscated by he USA Army in 1945.
This Altar piece painting format Gozzoli will repeat it differently and it can be seen at the National Gallery in London,UK.
It is an important piece of art of the Italian Renaissance period. I try to interest people in it and take a closer look at this Altar piece. One of the difficulties is that often people do not know what they are looking at. They have no idea who is in the painting despite the name being written on the halos. One gentleman with his family looked at it for a while and when ask my his child what was it, he explained that there was this woman with a baby and Jesus was speaking to them, he was confusing Saint Francis for Jesus because of the stigmata on the hands. As for the other characters he had no idea who they might be. Now this fellow was a ”traditional” Canadian, white Christian male. It is very common today to find people under the age of 50 who have no concept or knowledge of religion of any kind. History is a jumble of confusion, I have to be careful not to inject too many details in my explanation because again people may not understand what I am talking about. I find this very sad and often bewildering. I also see this at the Canadian War Museum, total confusion on the First and Second World War, Korea never heard of it, Vietnam there are vague memories but mostly not sure what it was about. Anything before 1990 and it is ancient history.
I remember the Priest who sang the Funeral service of my mother, telling me afterwards how impress he was with relatives and friends who attended the service because we knew the prayers and responses of the Mass. I said to him, what do you mean Father, he replied you have no idea the ignorance of people today, they only come to Church for a Funeral because they think they have to, so I just make the service short for them, otherwise they are bored.
We have other paintings, in fact the NGC has a collection of 35,000 works of art in its vault. It is the same with other works of art, no matter the era or the painter. Currently the NGC is preparing a Monet exhibition and to attract people we are showing one painting by the master entitled Le pont de bois (1872) a newly built temporary bridge over the Seine River outside Paris. People are invited to leave comments in a book with question they might have about the piece. Next to the painting there is a description of the art work, despite the fact that people read the information notes, many will ask why is the bridge destroyed or who destroyed it, what war was it? It is all explained in the notes next to the painting but it does not sink in. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 is unknown to most people despite its terrible impact it had on France and its consequences for the future in Europe. In Canada we participated to the Boer War in South Africa and has one person asked once, is it called bore war because it was boring?
I find ignorance amongst children the most troubling and the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of their parents. Though I can see with children whose parents read to them or speak to them or involve them in activities other than watching TV or sports, those children are more aware and can follow a discussion. In class I find often that children whose parents or relatives paint or take them to the museum are those who are the bright lights in the class, those who have absent parents or who only hear about hockey are often the laggard in the class. What a terrible disservice such parents do to their children.