I was interviewed for this piece some time ago and missed it on its appearance yesterday. It sounds a bit Goody Two-Shoes, when I was still thinking of the issues surrounding succession in theory, rather than its reality next week:-
We went to see the echibition Mantegna Bellini in the Sainsbury Wing, which allows one to compare the two great masters of the second half of the fifteenth century in Venice and Padua – Mantegna, academic and austere, Bellini schooled in his father’s workshop, more sacred, less innovative. It’s amazing to start with their two versions of The Presentation in the Temple: Mantegna’s from Berlin, Bellini’s, twenty years later, from Venice: Mantegna’s tight and fierce and close, Bellini’s sweeter and more lyrical. The contrast between their two depictions of Agony in the Garden, both in the National Gallery, is less extreme: Bellini’s landscape broader, less parched and less condensed. Bellini comes out of the comparison better than expected – tougher as an artist, and with more emotional depth, a brilliant draughtsman, as in his Lamentation in the Uffizi. Of course, many of the best Bellinis come from the collections of the National Gallery itself, bought on Charles Eastlake’s buying sprees in the 1860s or, as in the case of The Assassination of St. Peter Martyr, presented by his widow after his death. A beautiful, thoughtful, well presented exhibition.
While the 1922 Committee was overseeing the vote for the planned, but failed, putsch against the Prime Minister, the House of Lords was engaged in a much more civilised activity, celebrating the 250th. birthday of the Royal Academy:-
I always find it interesting reading their debates – the curious mixture of nineteenth-century civility with often well informed and not necessarily anticipated comments.
Reading the debate on the Royal Academy, I am pleased to see that two of the current issues facing the Academy on my departure were both raised: one is the ability of the Royal Academy Schools to continue to accept European students post-Brexit; the second is whether or not the Heritage Lottery Fund might consider reintroducing its Catalyst fund to help it to raise funds for its endowment, since it was the availability of matching funds which made it possible for the Ashmolean, for example, to embark on its successful endowment campaign.
I was also glad that three great supporters of the Academy – Lords Cormack, Crathorne and Luce, all three of whom have been frequent visitors – all acknowledged the importance of the government’s support of what is essentially an independent institution by providing government indemnity, without which its exhibition programme would be unsustainable, and the advantage of a long-term lease of Burlington House, which gives it security of tenure and the ability to plan for its long-term future.
I had the pleasure of showing Mari Lending, the author of Plaster Monuments: Architecture and the Power of Reproduction, round not just Burlington Gardens, but Burlington House as well. It made me realise how powerfully David Chipperfield has made use of the echoes and original form of Pennethorne’s building and through Pennethorne to Palladio’s Teatro Olympico, whose design may have informed his Lecture Theatre; but also the way that even quite modernist architects, like Jim Cadbury-Brown RA who designed the library and Norman Foster RA who designed the Sackler Galleries, made reference to, and were deferential to, the sense of history in the palimpsest of buildings which is the modern RA.
We went first through the Schools where the casts were apparently nearly eradicated in 2000:-
Then up to the Sackler Galleries:-
We celebrated the actual day of the Royal Academy’s 250th. anniversary in a relatively low key way, considering the different types of celebration which have taken place over the year as a whole:- a tea party in which the cake was cut by the President and Keeper; a meeting of the so-called General Assembly, which is traditionally held on the day of the anniversary and used to be accompanied by one of Reynolds’s Discourses, which were addressed at least as much to the students of the RA Schools as to his fellow Academicians; and a dinner attended by large numbers of RAs, including Olafur Eliasson Hon. RA. No fireworks.
It was on this day, two hundred and fifty years ago, that twenty eight of the original thirty six Royal Academicians met George III at St. James’s Palace to present him with the so-called Instrument of Foundation, which contained the rules by which it has operated more or less ever since. Joshua Reynolds had only been asked to become the President the night before and had upset everyone, including, most especially, the King, by saying that he wanted to consult his two best friends, Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke, before he agreed. Some of them may have been hung over after the celebratory dinner at Joseph Wilton’s.
It was a Saturday. The Thames was flooded after a long period of heavy rain. It was also the day that the Encyclopedia Britannica was first published. Both were examples of Enlightenment thinking at a time when Britain was so keen to participate alongside the best of European culture, institutions and ideas.
We watched the Brexit Debate on Channel 4 to get a better sense of the alternatives in advance of the vote on Tuesday. My own view is that James Cleverley did a perfectly decent job of defending the government’s position, but it represents a compromise which no-one supports, neither fish nor fry; Barry Gardiner was defending a position which is intellectually unreal, that the Labour party might be able to negotiate a better deal, without any evidence as to how or why; Jacob Rees-Mogg has the benefit of a clear position, which is Brexit whatever the intellectual and economic cost; and so the argument was won by Caroline Lucas in favour of a second referendum which would allow the voters to decide whether or not they like what is on offer.