Town mouse on ‘The Northern Renaissance’

With Lent not quite over, I thought I ought to visit Queen’s Gallery, to mortify my flesh with ‘The Northern Renaissance’ exhibition (until April 14). When Italian artists were rejoicing in flowery landscapes and the divine beauty of the human body, their counterparts in northern Europe made life a bed of nails.

If the children of Christian II of Denmark really were as depicted by Jan Gossaert, the King could be forgiven for avoiding the nursery. How difficult it would have been to walk through Dürer’s universe without snagging your clothes. Who would want to make conversation with Lucas Cranach’s halfwitted, double-jointed goddesses? Admittedly, conversation may not have been the point.

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But I warmed to the far from Lenten Juxtaposition of goldwork, tapestry and armour, and one can quite see why Theseus carried off long-limbed Antiope, in Adriaen de Vries’s Mannerist bronze. Each of the Holbein portrait drawings has the psychological penetration of a novel. Sir Thomas More’s father, the judge Sir John More, was described as ‘virtuous’ and ‘merry’ but you don’t need to be told-it’s all in the line. The American with the ponytail thought the work was as good as if ‘a computer had made it from a photograph’.

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