The Passion Altarpiece

As I said earlier I’m continuing with my Open University BA, with the course AA315 Renaissance Art Reconsidered.

As part of the course you have to do an independent essay on a piece of work that you have access to and covers part of the course content.

Luckily enough I have Bowes Museum close by and they have a selection of Renaissance works but my favourite artefact is the one pictured above.

The carvings and paintings are very detailed and work through from the arrest of Christ to his resurrection with a lot of the story being told in the carvings.

This is a religious piece of art made for a church and known as a retable or altarpiece. It was used as a screen that went behind the altar of a church so that the congregation could see the religious scenes depicted. The sheer size and detail of the piece show how important the images were thought to be.

The central panel is made of oak and has been intricately carved in the form of the head of a cross, with scenes of the passion and death of Christ. The scenes represented from left to right are: the scourging of Christ; the Carrying of the Cross; the Crucifixion; the Deposition and the Entombment. Six painted panels form the wings and these show the other significant events in Christ’s life, including the Nativity and the Resurrection.

Master of the View of St Gudule (active c.1465 – 1500) The Passion Altarpiece c.1480 – 1485 Oil on panel 241 x 585.5 cm Flemish school
Master of the View of St Gudule (active c.1465 – 1500)
The Passion Altarpiece c.1480 – 1485
Oil on panel
241 x 585.5 cm
Flemish school

The passion, death and resurrection of Christ were held in the highest regard in the Medieval Church and it was important that all Christians knew the story. However, lots of people in church congregations could not read and write and so religious artwork was vital in reinforcing ordinary people’s understanding of the Christian faith. The sheer scale and detail of this altarpiece and the highly visible location it had in church would have ensured that even if members of the congregation could not understand the Latin read out in the service, the paintings and images in front of them could still help them in their worship.

MFA Hatton Gallery 2012 – Newcastle University

After the wonderful show that I visited last year I thought that I would make a visit to the MFA at Newcastle University an annual event.

The artists involved in this years exhibition are: Julia Heslop, Francisca Alsúa Morchio, Sean Maltby, Isabel Lima, Lyn Hagan, Toby Phips Lloyd, Bernie Clarkson, Gareth Hudson, Sara Borges, Rosie Morris, Harriet Plewis, Joshua Ipoot, Rebecca Woods, Ruth Brenner, Elena Koch, Rosalind McLachlan, Iolanda Dias, Katie Dent, Sam Thorpe, Samantha Cary, Zoë Allen, and Theresa Poulton.

I was really looking forward to the show and set aside a day for the visit so that I could write my thoughts down as I did last year. Unfortunately I found the show lacking, in that I wasn’t caught up emotionally or intellectually with much of what was exhibited. There were two or three pieces that I felt more attuned with, but not in the same way as last year where a few rooms actually excited me and got the pulse racing and/or took my breath away.

One piece reminded me very much of Ana Mendieta’s “Silueta Series”, where Mendieta uses her body as an intevention in the natural landscape. The piece worked on a certain level but was too similar for me to be comfortable with.

The one which I felt the most for, was;

Ruth Brenner: This was an installation of wonder, using materials which gradually became liquid from a perceived solid state, moving through the space that they weren’t meant to inhabit plays with the liminal quality of life. There seems to be sculptural form, but this form is not frozen in the traditional state of wood, metal or stone. These materials are used, but as a support rather than the constituent parts. I wanted to be able to watch this to see the movement but the movement is almost epochal rather than the transience of human perception.

It felt as thought there was a strong movement of large, architectural installation pieces. I don’t know if this was due to the influence of a tutor or it was just a vagary of the group going through the MFA at this moment. Though the structures were both technically excellent and filled the space, they didn’t have the feeling of ‘inhabiting’ the space, they felt a little out of joint.

Still looking forward to next year and to see how some of these themes develop and to see the new interim works.

Essence of the North


What is the “Essence of the North?”

That is what is being asked by The Northerner Blog in the Guardian today. They are asking for contributors to post an image that captures the essence of the North.

Whose North? There is always the chocolate box image of Dales and Moors, unbroken wilderness, apart from James Herriot careening across them in his old car. Hills and lakes, unspoilt beaches and little stone villages shimmering in the sunset.


There is the Christian North, the North of Cathedrals, Saints and Holy Islands. Pilgrimages across the land, fleeing from Viking pillagers, writing works of illuminated art and deciding the way forward for the catholic church.

Or there is the smashed North, the North of Thatcher’s cruelty and industrial decline. A once proud heritage of steel and chemical works, pit villages, ship building and union activity. The Jarrow marchers and Quaker sensibilities. The first locomotives and the crucible of Britain’s industrial revolution.

Book of Kells
Book of Kells

The North I know is an area where people live in great diversity and try to get on with their lives, but has time to commission some of the best public art in the country and has made a feature of regeneration through art projects such as The Sage, The Baltic, Temenos, Hepworth Gallery and The Angel of the North. This large scale development mixes well with the industrial heritage of the area and sits well, all of the above is the North I know and to try and distill an essence is not really needed, just celebrate it all, in images, words and imagination.

MFA Hatton Gallery 2011 – Newcastle University

By chance, during a day of visiting art galleries and museums in Newcastle and Gateshead I came across the MFA 2011 show at the Hatton Gallery on it’s penultimate day.

The Hatton Gallery is based in the Fine Art department of Newcastle University, which was King’s College, Durham. Both Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton taught here in the 1960s.

Overall an excellent show of work from the MFA students at Newcastle university, some extremely rigorous work and some extremely personal work, all of it worth going to see.

The participants were (in no order of preference): Assel Kadyrkhanova, Rachel Lancaster, Kate Stobbart, Ruth Brenner, Yilis del Carmen Suriel, Bernie Clarkson, Rosie Morris, Sara Borges, Sean Maltby, Toby Lloyd, Kevin McPhee, Anita Edenhofer, Charlotte Stubbs, Diana Afanador Vargas, Isabela Lima, John McLean, Viviane Chatel, Harriet Rollitt, Saskia Frost, Isabella Streffern, Julia Heslop, Francisca Alsua Morchio, Maisie Henderson and Sonja Britz.

Looking at the programme I seemed to have missed Harriet Plewis even though I had thought I had covered everywhere you could in the Fine Art department, though the building is a wonderful maze of rooms and stairways.

Again in no real order of preference the works that stood out the most for me were:

  • Kate Stobbart: a deconstruction of five speeches into the physical acts that accompanied the words of the speech. On five large sheets of paper suspended from the ceiling the physical twitches and moments of the person were typed out and onto this was projected a film of the artist re-enacting these physical movements in a dead pan fashion. The whole was extremely haunting and stark. I enjoyed this interpretation of what is seen but not seen when words are of secondary importance to the physical.
  • Rosie Morris: four large canvases each of a single colour, though an extreme ranges of shades from almost white to almost black, were used. Though not figurative as such figures were discernible in the works. Each colour had a definite set of emotions and feelings linked with it; blue was melancholic and sad, the figure felt that it was turning away; green had a feeling of strength and growth as though the figure was going to grow beyond the canvas; yellow was bursting with energy, running figures; and red was sleazy, debauched. Completely immersed in this room, great deal of though and work went into this to deliver such raw emotions.
  • Charlotte Stubbs: initial thoughts were, meh, but as I turned round the dresser the feeling of fantasy, dreams and loss hit me and almost had me in tears, there was definitely a feeling of departure and times past in this work, though there was a definite celebration of fantasy and imaginings.
  • Anita Ebenhofer: “For Now We See”, I’m having to get over my desire not to go into really dark places and this work was worth it, the combination of light and sound was hypnotic, but also thought provoking what was I hearing and seeing? Visceral bass caught right at something primeval even.
  • Rachel Lancaster: I enjoyed the photographs of theatre lights juxtaposed with constellations of lights from a city and a constellation from the sky, each picture was sparse and used a lot of negative space around the main subject.

A happy accident and will be planning to see this show each year, along with the degree show.