Tradition is a word loaded with a bad reputation. It summons-up the old, the rigid, the customary. But tradition is something to learn from – we can investigate what it may say to us today.
A good place to put this insight into action is the Dulwich Picture Gallery with its collection of Old Masters – or it would be, if it were open.
Due to lockdown it’s temporarily closed, but the curious can now explore its contents online. Here are some examples: The Triumph of David (c.1632) by Poussin reminds us that people can find war exhilarating – if they’re victorious. The Virgin of the Rosary (1675-80) by Murillo sounds a saccharine subject, but it shows a humanised Christ toying with rosary beads as any child might.
Elsewhere A Young Man, Possibly the Artist’s Son Titus (c.1668) by Rembrandt, captures its subject’s angst-ridden face, reminding us that artists were concerned with examining emotion long before the arrival of psychology in the nineteenth century; whilst Princess Victoria Aged Four (1823) by Denning shows the young monarch-to-be as a melancholy child, laden with experience which would toughen her up for the perpetual mourning familiar to us from photos taken in her post-Albert years.
And if we seek stronger stimulation, there are online lecture tours of works from the Gallery’s British Surrealism exhibition (reviewed here). The role of the mind, lack of conventional restraint, and sexuality – these were Surrealism’s concerns, and ones which resonate today.
Hosted by Jennifer Scott, the Gallery’s Sackler Director, the tours include work such as Lost Infanta (1944) by Marion Adnams, with its theme of lack of identity. Scott gives us short but pithy insights into what the various artists were trying to convey.
Viewing art online is, of course, not the same as seeing it up close and personal, but the experience can give vital stimulation for our minds and imaginations.
Inspired by them, we can pursue our own online investigation into the lives and work of both them and other associated artists.
Main image: The Triumph of David (c.1632) by Poussin
Log on and see for yourself: www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk