06 June 2019, The Tablet

The limp body of Christ was supported from behind by a hefty, swarthy, female angel


The limp body of Christ was supported from behind by a hefty, swarthy, female angel
 

It’s interesting, the Royal Academy summer show, as an expression of where contemporary art is at. There are 1,573 works this year, and while there are many accomplished pieces, and several I’d rather like to own, I couldn’t for the life of me work out from them what the character of modern art now is. There’s no unifying impulse, or impulses, that you could characterise as a movement; nothing like the superabundant vitality of a century ago.

One thing that’s emphatically absent from this show is religion. It’s an extraordinary absence. But there were a couple of exceptions. One was a whimsical treatment of the prophet Ezekiel looking at the city. Another was two pairs of spastels on the traditional themes, the Agony in the Garden and the Deposition; and the Visitation and Death of the Virgin. Obviously, this is well trodden ground, except that the treatment was strikingly different from the usual; the figures, with the single exception of Christ, face hidden, were women; big powerful women, solidly built, in plain Victorian dress.

Without exception, the angels were solid women; in the case of the Deposition, the limp body of Christ was supported from behind by a hefty, swarthy, female angel in yellow, from below by a strong figure in black, who was, it seems from the later pictures, the Virgin. The Agony in the Garden did not feature Christ, but the same hefty angel, kneeling and agonised, her striking yellow dress in the foreground; in the background was the Virgin in black, like a Mediterranean widow.

Get Instant Access

Continue Reading


Register for free to read this article in full


Subscribe for unlimited access

From just £21.50 quarterly

  Complete access to all Tablet website content including all premium content.
  The full weekly edition in print and digital including our 179 years archive.
  PDF version to view on iPad, iPhone or computer.

Already a subscriber? Login