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A Short Guide to the National Gallery


In April 1824 the House of Commons agreed to pay £57,000 for the picture collection of the banker John Julius Angerstein. His 38 pictures were intended to form the core of a new national collection which would be housed in a new building.
In 1831, Parliament agreed to construct the building for the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square which finally opened in 1838. The National Gallery had free admission and wished to appeal all sections of society. However its success led to calls to expand the building and subsequent wings were added in 1876, 1907, 1975 and 1991.


Although the collections of John Julius Angerstein and Sir George Beaumont provided the bulk of the National Gallery, in 1855 the new director Sir Charles Eastlake travelled throughout Europe to purchase pictures for the collection. Within 10 years  the Gallery’s collection of Italian painting was considered  one of the best in the world.


When the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner bequeathed over 1000 paintings, drawings and watercolours to the collection in 1856, it was  decided to exhibit British works in a separate premises. Eventually a site was found at Millbank and the Gallery opened in 1897. The new gallery was officially known the National Gallery of British Art, changing its name to the National Gallery, Millbank in 1917. The wealthy industrialist, Henry Tate, offered his collection to the nation and funded the gallery which led to the gallery later becoming known as the Tate Gallery. Therefore ironically the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square only possessed a small selection of British pictures as the majority were transferred to the Tate which up to 1955 was under the administration of the National Gallery.


The National Gallery Collection contains over 2,300 works, including many famous works, such as van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, Turner’s Fighting Temeraire and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

All major traditions of Western European painting are represented from the artists of late medieval and Renaissance Italy to the French Impressionists.
13th- to 15th-century paintings
Duccio, Uccello, van Eyck, Lippi, Mantegna, Botticelli, Dürer, Memling, Bellini
16th-century paintings
Leonardo, Cranach, Michelangelo, Raphael, Holbein, Bruegel, Bronzino, Titian, Veronese
17th-century paintings
Caravaggio, Rubens, Poussin, Van Dyck, Velázquez, Claude, Rembrandt, Cuyp, Vermeer
18th- to early 20th-century paintings
Canaletto, Goya, Turner, Constable, Ingres, Degas, Cézanne, Monet, Van Gogh



A Young Woman standing at a Virginal -Johannes Vermeer about 1670-2

Bacchus and Ariadne – Titian  1520-3

Bathers at Asnières – Georges Seurat  1884

Doge Leonardo Loredan – Giovanni Bellini  1501-2

Equestrian Portrait of Charles I – Anthony van Dyck  about 1637-8

Mr and Mrs Andrews – Thomas Gainsborough about 1750

Samson and Delilah – Peter Paul Rubens about 1609-10

Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula – Claude 1641

Self Portrait at the Age of 34 – Rembrandt 1640

Sunflowers – Vincent van Gogh 1888

The Ambassadors – Hans Holbein the Younger 1533

The Arnolfini Portrait – Jan van Eyck 1434

The Battle of San Romano – Paolo Uccello probably about 1438-40

The Entombment – Michelangelo about 1500-1

The Fighting Temeraire –Joseph Mallord William Turner 1839

The Hay Wain – John Constable 1821

The Madonna of the Pinks (‘La Madonna dei Garofani’) – Raphael about 1506-7

The Toilet of Venus (‘The Rokeby Venus’) – Diego Velázquez 1647-51

The Virgin of the Rocks from Panels from the S. Francesco Altarpiece, Milan

Leonardo da Vinci about 1491/2-9 and 1506-8

The Wilton Diptych – English or French (?)about 1395-9

Venus and Mars – Sandro Botticelli about 1485

Admission Free
Opening hours: Daily 10am – 6pm
Friday 10am – 9pm
The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN

 For more information visit the National Gallery website here

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Exhibition: Building the Picture – Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting at the National Gallery,30 April – 21 September 2014


NG1033 Sandro Botticelli The Adoration of the Kings, about 1470-5

Tempera on poplar ,130.8 x 130.8 cm,Bought, 1878

© The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery presents the first exhibition in Britain to explore the role of architecture within painting, with the focus on Italian Renaissance painting of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.
Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting aims to increase visitors’ appreciation and understanding of some of the most beautiful and architectural paintings by Italian masters such as Duccio, Botticelli, Crivelli, Veneziano, Mazzolini and their contemporaries.
Using the National Gallery’s  famous collection of  Italian Renaissance paintings, this exhibition will also  include the Venetian master Sebastiano del Piombo’s The Judgement of Solomon (Kingston Lacy, The Bankes Collection, National Trust), on display in London for the first time in 30 years, and ‘The Ruskin Madonna’ by Andrea del Verrocchio (National Gallery of Scotland).

Building the Picture explores the roles played by architecture in painting and how it affects the viewing process. Architecture within paintings has often been treated as a passive background or as subordinate to the figures. This exhibition shows how, on the contrary, architecture underpinned many paintings, and was used to design the whole picture from the very start. This was the case in Sandro Botticelli’s Adoration of the Kings , where the ruins in the picture were planned first and still dominate the composition. Renaissance paintings are full of arches, doorways and thresholds.

Visiting London Guide Review


NG3919 Sandro Botticelli Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius, about 1500

Tempera on wood, 64.8 x 139.7 cm, Mond bequest, 1924

© The National Gallery, London

One of the aims of the Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting is to increase visitors’ appreciation and understanding of some of the most beautiful and architectural paintings by Italian masters such as Duccio, Botticelli, Crivelli and their contemporaries.

As you walk around the Exhibition with this is mind, it is quite enlightening to consider the background as well as foreground which usually takes your attention.

It is quite remarkable how many of the Renaissance painting use arches, doorways and thresholds to frame the action in the painting.


It is interesting how the subjects in the paintings are not over powered by the architecture but often seem to be larger than life.


Another interesting aspect is how the buildings give the picture a three dimensional quality and draws the viewer into the picture.


One of the benefits of looking at paintings from roughly the same era but different painters is that common themes are followed and similar painting techniques but each painter will try to be slightly different in the way present the picture.


The National Gallery should be applauded for putting on a exhibition which challenges the viewer to consider how a painting can be made up of different aspects which come together to make the whole more successful.

It also gives some insight into the mind of the Renaissance painter whose vision of beauty was not confined to human beings and nature but also to the bricks and mortar that could be used to create wonderful buildings sometimes in the imagination but also in reality.

The relatively small  size of this exhibition gives the visitor plenty of time to look at the painting individually and in relation to each other.  The exhibition is free so if you are visiting the National Gallery is one not to miss. It also forms part of the Renaissance Spring  as season of exhibitions that include the Veronese  and Strange Beauty Exhibitions.

If you are intrigued by the subject matter of the Exhibition, the National Gallery has commissioned five short films to coincide with this exhibition demonstrate how contemporary practitioners and thinkers are again blurring the boundaries between media and forms of practice. The films provide modern perspectives on real and imagined architecture from award-winning Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, film-maker Martha Fiennes, art historian T. J. Clark, film historian John David Rhodes and computer game cinematic director Peter Gornstein.

Also the Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting is an online exhibition catalogue produced by the National Gallery to accompany the exhibition. This digital catalogue will be accessible online here.

Dates and opening hours

Open to public: 30 April – 21 September 2014

Sunley Room

Admission free

Daily 10am–6pm (last admission 5pm)

Fridays 10am–9pm (last admission 8.15pm)

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended