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Posts tagged ‘Renaissance’

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part V: Lakeside in Garda

It’s something of a contradiction in terms, that two Gentlemen in Verona were not in Verona at all, but should have ventured swiftly onwards to Italy’s great Lake Garda. However, the location of this mountain-locked beauty is comfortably close to Verona, and a mere 30 minute’s train ride transmitted us in a frictionless trajectory to the still waters of Garda, and to the idyllic town of Sirmione, the Lake’s most popular destination.

I’m no lover of tourist hot-spots, but it’s easy to see why Sirmione is visited by millions and the beloved of many. With it’s fairy-tale like Scaligero Castle marking the town’s entrance, and a quaint little historical centre all set upon a slender little peninsular jutting out into the lake, Sirmione is veritable honeypot of Italian charm, and the perfect location for gelato, lemon-flavoured treats and an aperol spritz aplenty.


I first wanted to see Garda when we saw the utterly mesmerising scenes of young love being played out on its shores in Call Me By Your Name (2017), which I have long proclaimed to be the best film ever made. The protagonists, Oliver and Elio, are not there for long. Accompanying Elio’s father to unearth the discovery of an ancient sculpture found on the bed of the lake, there is a beautiful scene when all three go for a swim amongst the grasses and reeds which give this wide expanse of water the nature of a lake rather than the sea which it otherwise resembles. As we arrived near Sirmione we saw those same lush reeds and grasses, and the presence of ducks and swans marked this out as a freshwater paradise, with a tranquility most unlike the sea.


A second signposting to Garda was the ravishing book, The Land Where Lemons Grow, in which author Helena Attlee expertly guides the reader through Italy’s most historically and currently significant citrus growing spots. The atmosphere she conjured with her descriptions of lemon growth on the shores of Lake Garda had me dreaming of the lake long before I went there. Once alongside Garda, I reveled in a panoply of lemon-infused products to mark our arrival in this wonderful place, a lemon-cream filled cannolo being chief among these guilty pleasures.


Our trip to Lake Garda lived up to both film, and book. We left knowing that this one visit was a mere lemon-filled taster, and that one day we will return. For now, as we ventured back to Verona, these Two Gentlemen felt fully at home, as the city of love and style and Italian chic welcomed us back for one evening more… to drink Valpolicella amongst the people of the Piazza della Erbe, and to stroll in the marble-paved streets of the Romans that went before us.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part IV: Four Churches which Enchanted Us

“There are four main churches in Verona”, our hostess told us, “and you must visit them all.” Not two Gentlemen to take advice lightly, we decided we had better do just that. And so in their turn we visited the four principal churches of the city – Sant’Anastasia, San Fermo, the Duomo and San Zeno (although when viewed from the hilly city surroundings, we could see that Verona, peppered with spires, is host to more than four).

A combined visitors ticket made access to the spiritual quartet an easy endeavour, and once we had been inside the first – Sant’Anastasia – we were hungry to see them all. With its soaring vaulting ceilings frescoed in delicate bouquets of floral motifs, and harbouring the famous fresco of Saint George by Pisanello (which you’ll have to strain your neck to see), Sant’Anastasia made for an impressive beginning. The church had a tangible luminosity which bounced off its high ceilings and the walls adorned with devotional masterpieces. However it was the small details which enchanted the most, chief among them the holy water fonts, or hunchbacks, whose faces contorted with pain are said to represent the fact that the people of Verona were brought almost to their knees by the massive undertaking of constructing this church. Looking at the scale of the place, I can quite imagine why.



A short stroll away saw us arriving at the second, and I suppose you should say the most important church of the lot – the Duomo. After Sant’Anastasia, the interior, while beautiful, did not impress us as much. That was the preserve of the exterior, whose delightful striped facade made for a truly beautiful sight when offset against the Veronese blue sky, while the huge mythological griffins which hold up enormous columns either side of the main entrance portico lent a true grandiosity to the building. A further highlight deserving of a mention is the Baptistery’s stunning octagonal font. Rendered from a single block of Veronese marble, it is aptly considered to be a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture and with good reason. Its scenes of expressive high-relief figures were joyous to behold, bursting to life in their narrative of the birth and baptism of Jesus and the many hurdles along the way.

The Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta


After lunch and a stroll through the Giardino Giusti, we took in our third church on the way back to our apartment. San Fermo is all about the ceiling. Ancient though it may be, the extraordinary multi-arched wooden construction is punctuated by an even more impressive collection of some 416 portraits of saints. It was time again to strain the neck to appreciate them, although the scale of work meant this short-term discomfort was well worth it, just to pay homage to the unknown artist whose ingenuity created them. 

San Fermo


Our fourth and final visit came the following day, when Saturday meant that our visit coincided with a big fat fluffy wedding. While this meant for a rather glamorous spectacle as the church of San Zeno was given over to a vision of bridal beauty and the admiration of all, it did mean that we were unable to get close and personal with all of the ancient masterpieces contained within the church. We did however manage to sneak in a moment or two with San Zeno’s greatest spectacle: its doors.

Comprising 48 bronze panels, dating from 1030 and 1137 respectively depending on which of the two doors you are looking at, the panels depict in delightfully naive fashion the life and times of San Zeno. More than the images, I loved seeing the parts which had been rubbed smooth by centuries of visitors, the dark bronze polished to a sparkling lustre by the touch of the faithful. I can well imagine how churches such as these inspired visitors over the years to reach out and touch… just to be sure that these miracles of art and faith actually existed, and weren’t just a wonderful mirage. That same sense of awe-inspiring disbelief continues to this day, as Verona’s four main churches continue to inspire.

San Zeno


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part III: The Piazzas which Seduced Us

A bustling café, an aperol spritz, a hand-full of renaissance palaces and preferably a fountain or two, all set within the confines of an elegant piazza – now that, for me, is Italy. And as piazzas go, they frankly don’t get much better than Verona’s. Every Italian city has a piazza or five – just look at Rome, where a glamorous fountain-filled piazza breaks the monotony of straight roads at every turn. But Verona’s squares are something truly special. Is it because they feel authentic – a haunt of locals as well as tourists? Is it the quality of the light, warm and golden as sun bounces off terracotta buildings and ancient marble statuary? Probably both, plus the very explicit beauty which oozes from every facet of Verona’s impressive piazzas.


Chief among them is the Piazza delle Erbe. Paved with the same silky-smooth Marmo Rosso di Verona as lines many of the city’s streets, and surrounded by some of the most spectacular buildings in the city – amongst them the ravishingly frescoed Case Mazzanti, and the two towers, Torre dei Lamberti and Torre del Gardello – the former sales platform of herbs and flowers retains the bustling market feel of its heritage (although sadly the stalls of today are a little touristic in nature). But for the real Veronese experience, head to one of the cafes which circle the square and enjoy every vantage point of this spectacular place. Our favourite was the Caffe Filippini where, as if fate had ordained it, we managed to seize a front-line table, just by the Fontana di Madonna Verona, every time we visited, and from there of course I had the very best spot from which to sketch, and enjoy that glistening orange aperol spritz.


But the great thing about Verona is you get two squares for the price of one. Not for the Veronese is one stunning piazza enough. For separated by a mere arch (the Arco della Costa to be exact) and a whale’s bone (hanging underneath said arch), you will stroll from the Piazza delle Erbe into the equally mesmerising site of the Piazza dei Signori. As the old political centre of the city, the intimate space exudes a tangible spirit of power-play reflected off fortress-like palazzos decorated with friezes made from stone and peppered with statues of great minds and the all powerful winged lion of Venice. At the centre of it all, a statue of Dante Alighieri looms in a masterful pose which dominates the square. No wonder the best cafe there (and arguably in town) is the Caffe Dante – our lunch there, of creamy al dente pasta, a deconstructed tiramisu and a chilled glass of white wine, was proof enough for that…Just one more reason why the piazza lifestyle is the best way to enjoy time in one of Italy’s most picturesque cities.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part II: The Gardens which Beguiled Us

It’s funny. When I think back to my first encounter with Verona, some 17 years ago in the prime of my youth, touring from one art historical Italian treasure to another, I can remember very little of the city. I remember the balcony purported to be that of Shakespeare’s fictional Juliet, and the street where I purchased my first Burberry scarf. I remember the relief which blue skies and a bustling living city afforded after 10 days or so ensconced in the fog-filled fantasy land of Venice. But I remember little of the stunning streets and grand piazzas which dominated this most recent reconnaissance with Verona. But of all the highlights I remember with absolute clarity, despite the passing of the years, it is the wonder of the Giardino Giusti, arguably the best Renaissance garden in all of Italy.


Just beyond the bustling centre, housed between the Mannerist walls of the Giusti palace and the higher hilltops of the upper gardens, the Giardino Giusti is a place of almost mystical quality. With perfectly trimmed box-hedge mazes and prim parterres punctuated by moss-covered statues from the ancient realms, the Giusti gardens is at once a Lewis Carroll wonderland as it is a perfect example of the Renaissance style. A sense of perfectly manicured order provided by sweeping central paths and cypress tree-bordering is yet tempered by the pure poetry which comes of patios lined by potted cypress trees and half-hidden structures such as the rose-pink colonnaded belvedere, which affords the most unbeatable view over the labyrinth of hedges and collections of ancient statuary.


In fact it was in that same belvedere where my fondest memory of Verona was born. There, in 2001 in the autumn sunshine, my friends and I picnicked on fresh pesto and salumi, with a little wine, and some recitals to accompany the scene. Is it possible to ever beat such epiphanaic perfection? I don’t think I ever have. But this visit to the Giardino Giusti was just as I remembered it – a memory in no way diluted by the joy of my return, to a paradise garden which remains, for me, the highlight of any visit to Verona.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Florence, Land of the Medici (Part 3): The Gozzoli Chapel

Attempting to highlight one work of art in the vast collection amassed by Italy’s most famous Renaissance patrons, the Medici dynasty, is rather like choosing one golden bean from a bag of thousands. The Medici family brought together such a hoard of masterpieces that one could choose a different highlight for each day of the year, and never run out during the course of an entire lifetime. But certainly one of the most enchanting of the works commissioned by the family is one which says Medici like none other, a masterpiece of colour and figuration which is unapologetic in its glorification of the entire Medici clan. I am, of course, talking about the fresco series painted by one Benozzo Gozzoli and depicting the journey of the Magi in all its magical splendour.


Entirely covering the walls of the private chapel of the Palazzo Medici, close to Florence’s Duomo, the Gozzoli fresco must surely be one of the most magnificent examples of Renaissance decoration ever conceived. Its location deep within the mammoth fortress-like pietra-forte walls of the Medici’s palace makes the chapel conceivably missable by those unaware of its existence (I am lucky enough to enjoy the highly refined recommendations of my dear friend Charlotte, whose suggestions for art historical treasures always hit the spot), but has also been the source of its superb condition, protecting the inherently delicate surface of the fresco from the elements. Only structural changes to the chapel when a new owner, the Riccardi family, took over the palace in the 18th century, caused damage to the fresco when an entire corner was moved inwards to make way for a staircase, spoiling the perfect symmetry conceived for the original cycle. However, what remains today is nonetheless a feast for the eyes, and frankly my photos don’t do it justice.


Gozzoli’s fresco is both a perfectly festive narrative of the Three Kings’ journey to visit the newly born Jesus, but also a wonderfully characterful portrait of the Medici family and their magnificent entourage. There you can find an idealised cherub-like portrait of what was, in reality, a rather ugly Lorenzo the Magnificent. The original father of the Medici tribe, Cosimo the Elder is also in the crowd, together with Pietro the Gouty and Lorenzo’s assassinated brother, Giuliano. Quite asides from the portraits, I adore the colours – unapologetic homage is paid to cadium reds and ultramarine blues, verdant green landscapes and cool grey rocky outcrops. The fresco is filled with little details – deer chased in a hunt, a pond surrounded by ducks and delicate birds, and hillsides rolling across valleys and peppered with trees of every shape and size.


Moving across all four walls of the chapel, Gozzoli artfully steers the viewer along the course of the mountain road, encouraging your eye to follow the route of the Magi and so feel immersed in their same magical journey. The result is the sensation of being not in a tiny chapel, but out in the open air enjoying the Tuscan countryside with these magnificent looking Medieval monarchs, filled with the excitement of the birth of this new Messiah.

How many relics from the 1460s have such a transformative effect and contemporary feel? So often the age and condition of Renaissance works predicates against total engagement of the kind intended by the artist at that time. It’s too easy to be distracted by the signs of age, by the cracks and the mildew. But like the perfectly conceived David, Gozzoli’s work is another example of the immediacy and wonderful accessibility of Renaissance art when unimpeded by the deterioration of the years. It is a true gem of the Medici collection and an undisputed treasure perfectly preserved of the age. I can only thank Charlotte for recommending it, and suggest that all visitors to Florence make it an equal priority of their trip.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

NG1 (after Sebastiano del Piombo)

Those eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed that in the background of my freshly dressed kitchen Christmas tree (featured on Tuesday’s blog), a new painting lay in the shadows. Recently completed after some months of on and off work, the painting, NG1, is the latest in my series of interpretative abstracts which aim to reinterpret great masterpieces in an abstract form. This work is based on the great painting by Sebastiano del Piombo, a protégé of Michelangelo’s and who painted the work as a commission for Cardinal Giulio di Medici in around 1518.  Entitled The Raising of Lazarus, the original work shows the moment when Jesus performed the miracle in which Lazarus was raised from the bounds of death. My reinterpretation aims to follow the exact compositional and colour profile of the original, dramatic scene, while presenting the moment of this miracle in a far more modern light.


NPG1 (after Sebastiano) ©2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas

It was important for me that I was able to present the background in an almost identical form to the original. But that is where the similarities end, and the figures which dominate Sebastiano’s original are henceforth reduced into purely abstract forms. The result loses nothing of the compositional force of the original, yet feels like an altogether more contemporary work.

As for the name – NG1 – this emanates, very simply, from the inventory code for the original painting relative to its place within the collection of the National Gallery in London. As the first major masterpiece purchased for the Gallery’s collection, it gained the code no.1, and is today unsurpassed in retaining its prominent position hanging gloriously amongst the Renaissance masterpieces displayed nearby.


The original work, The Raising of Nazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo (1517-19)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit 

The Sicily Series | Part IX – Momentous Modica: the Churches and the Chocolate

Modica, the momentous mountainous town lying somewhere in the craggy landscape between Ragusa and Noto, was the last visit of our multiple Baroque exposure during just a few days in the south of Sicily. Who knew that there could be such a concentration of putti and angels, of curling stone foliage and grandiose capitals, all to be found in comparatively tiny towns heavily overshadowed by these architectural masterpieces. But just as Noto had been notable for its golden yellow consistency, Ragusa for its hillside spectacle, and Ortygia for its elegance on water, Modica impressed us with the sheer magnificence of its churches, and for the unique quality of its famous chocolate.


Modica, like Ragusa, is a town clustered around several steep hillsides before filling, in a dense mass of stone coloured houses and richly decorated public buildings, the lower town below. It is so tightly packed into and around the natural valley carved into steeply sloping hillsides that Modica is almost like shanty towns of South America, only much richer in its decoration. For amongst this swathe of little stone houses are two spectacular churches which just take the breath away. The first, the Chiesa di San Pietro, is framed by a series of fully lifelike, wonderfully detailed statues which line the grand staircase leading to its vast iron doors and another ridiculously over the top facade comprising an opulent broken pediment and rusticated pilasters. But if this church was to win the prize for its excesses of sculpture, the church of San Giorgio would carry away the award for theatre. For sat atop of sweeping soaring multi layered staircase, this masterpiece of the baroque is like the hotly anticipated starlet descending onto the stage from on high, a veritable wedding cake sitting abreast a multi-tiered display stand from which she demands the respect and astonishment of all who come before her.


But Modica is not just a place which is inspiring for the eyes. The tastebuds will get a good tickle too. For Modica has another defining feature too: its chocolate which, usefully in this climate, never melts. Reticent to indulge too heavily (this was the end of the holiday after all, and the pasta carb-count was already at an all time high), we were nevertheless dragged into the chocolate dream that Modica presents so well by a very charming shop keeper from whom we had bought a parking voucher in his Pasticceria Frisby on the Via Vittorio Veneto (n.38). Generous to the full, he not only allowed us to taste the uniquely granular chocolate, but took us out to his kitchen and showed us how to make it too. Comprised essentially from bitter dark chocolate heavily sweetened with a coarse sugar which is not allowed to melt (hence the grainy texture) and various dried ingredients to make different flavour variations, the resulting chocolate paste is essentially banged into shape in a series of traditional moulds before being set in the refrigerator, traditionally wrapped and sold.

Learning the trade: Chocolate making in Pasticceria Frisby


In that chocolate shop, we had our share of banging the chocolate, of tasting the various stages (pure bitter chocolate not to be recommended) and generally enjoying the utmost hospitality of this wonderful shopkeeper and his wife. Of course we left their store with far too much chocolate at frankly stupidly cheap prices. But above all things we left with a warmth in our heart founded on the great kindliness shown by those two chocolatiers. We arrived to Sicily thinking it would be a hard land full of mafiosi and moody islanders. We left touched by the hospitality we had been shown, and determined to return to this island of plenty.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Discovering Mallorca: Ravishing La Raixa

Just when I thought that Mallorca had unfurled its many hidden gems, another came into view as I drove down a dirt track off the main Palma to Soller road last week. At the end of the dusty bumpy path, my car a little worse for wear in the cleanliness stakes, a stunning country manor came into view. Perfectly appointed in the immediate foothills of the Tramuntana Mountains, and using those very mountainous slopes to mount its stunning renaissance style terraced gardens, I had arrived at the incredible Raixa estate, surely one of the most stunning former private residences on the island.

And indeed the palatial residence, which is today open for all the public to enjoy, was built to impress. Purposefully fashioned in its latest renovation by Cardinal Antoni Despuig in the late 18th century to instantly impress visitors with its magnificence both inside and out, La Raixa is a residence which remains a knock-out beauty seen from afar and up close, an unrivalled vision of Italianate whitewashed perfection which dazzles against its rugged but manicured mountainous grounds.


Little is left today of the house’s former internal grandeur, with the interiors largely given over to a natural-history-style exhibit focused on the geography and geology of the Tramuntana mountains. However the real treasure is undoubtedly the pleasures that lie in wait outside the manor, not just the exterior of the house itself, whose magnificent arched colonnade and white washed walls recall the romantic opulence of a Tuscan estate, but the gardens beyond whose construction was also heavily influenced by the Italian Renaissance and later Baroque styles. This is no better expressed than in the tiered gardens to the rear of the property, with their impressive central staircase accompanied by the four muses, and a panoply of pastiched ancient ruins peppering the landscape to stunning effect.

They are muses which are well appointed, for in these voluptuously floral, brilliantly landscaped, utterly tranquil surroundings, I was very quickly and utterly inspired, and very reluctant to leave.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Dürer the Prodigy – at the Courtauld Gallery

It’s always a thrill to turn back the clock on an artist, putting asides the famous masterpieces of their renown, and heading back to their early years. Those formative first works are always so illuminating, not just as an art historical evaluation of the influences which were to be instructive in helping to characterise the artist’s own creations, but also as a demonstration of just how talented an artist truly was. Take Picasso for example : while we are so used to his heavily abstracted, childlike works (some even doubting that he had any talent at all), one look at the exceptional figurative quality of his teenage works demonstrate how truly exceptional he really was, so much so that he famously asserted that he learnt to paint like a master as a child, and then spent the rest of his adult life learning to paint like a child.

London’s exclusive little Courtauld Gallery, whose exceptional collection contains some of the world’s most recognised impressionist and post-impressionst masterpieces including Sr Picasso himself, is the perfect sized gallery to draw such a focus on the formative years of an artist’s life in one of its small but perfectly formed temporary exhibitions. And with its new show, opening to the public yesterday, the Courtauld does just that. With The Young Dürer: Drawing the Figure, the Courtauld examines the very first creative years of this master of the Northern European Renaissance, heading back to the 1490s when, in his late teens and early twenties, Albrecht Dürer set out on his wanderjahre – literally a wandering journey, taking him across Germany and over the Alps into Italy, where the young prodigy was widely influenced and honed his already exceptional drafting skills.

Dürer the great master…

Self Portrait (1500)

Self Portrait (1500)

A Young Hare (1502)

A Young Hare (1502)

Praying Hands (1508)

Praying Hands (1508)

The show, which includes some wonderful works never before seen in the United Kingdom, provides an engaging insight into the early talent of a young Dürer, and for an audience who, like me, loves to study the meticulous details of black and white ink drawings and print works, is a thrilling event. While the few works included in this post from Dürer’s later career demonstrate just how exceptional a draughtsman he was to become, the early works on exhibition at the Courtauld demonstrate how Dürer worked tirelessly to hone those skills which were later to make him one of the most revered draughtsmen of his time.

The show includes, for example, a good many studies in pen and ink – of the perilously difficult folds of drapery, the complex fall of the material captured proficiently no matter the many poses adopted by the sitter;  of hands and feet, and the foreshortening of limbs. Such studies are then utilised to brilliant effect, as Dürer moves into creating his first largescale drawings and printworks. In The Prodigal Son for example, Dürer brilliantly captures the detailed fuzzy coats of a group of pigs, while in the fantastically detailed woodcut depicting The Flagellation of Christ, Dürer shows himself to be adept, not just in his portrayal of a complex group of figures, but in his use of foreshortening, and his depiction of drapery and costume.

Dürer the early prodigy

Man's Bath (1496)

Man’s Bath (1496)

The Prodigal Son (1495)

The Prodigal Son (1495)

Flagellation of Christ (from the Large Passion Series) (1497-1500)

Flagellation of Christ (from the Large Passion Series) (1497-1500)

But perhaps one of the most insightful works of them all is the simple self-portrait drawing he made of himself in 1491. Eyes staring, full of melancholy, straight into those of the viewer, the portrait is one with a psychological intensity which invites the modern day audience to travel straight back into the 15th century mind of this young artist, whose skills, as demonstrated here, need no introduction – just look how his brilliantly drawn hand pushes against the slightly sagging skin of his face, distorting his features perfectly. And all this drawn fluidly and confidently in what appears to have been a single attempt.

Self Portrait (1491)

Self Portrait (1491)

It’s a brilliant protrait and a brilliant collection which make artists like me quake in fear that one day a similar such exhibition of our early works may demonstrate just how little talent we had when compared with prodigies such as this. But hey, there will always be those with more talent, and the new Courtauld show allows us to revel in the early skills of one of the greatest.

The Young Dürer: Drawing the Figure is on at the Courtauld until 12th January 2014. Admission to the exhibition is generally £6 unless a concession applies – and that includes the gallery’s stunning permanent collection to boot. Bargain.

Norms in Heaven and Norms in Hell

Back in 2005/6 when the Norms were born, my Norm-riddled imagination went all Last Judgment on me, and a diptych with all the foreboding power of the archetypal Renaissance altar-piece was the imploding result: Norms in Heaven and Norms in Hell.

Norms in Heaven (acrylic on canvas, 2005 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Norms in Heaven features 10 serene angels, floating amidst fair-weather clouds, radiant in their angelic glory, relishing in the celestial music flowing from the golden instruments of three, while for two, the propagation of love is their priority, one one-handed Norm angel holding cupid’s bow, while the other helps to pull back the arrow in readyness for its launch into Elysium. However, even in this scene of paradise, there is always a foreboding reminder of what awaits those whose sins make them unworthy for the great pleasures of this joyful nirvana… the gateway to hell, guarded in all his intrusiveness redness by a demon Norm, a portentous warning of the visions of horror awaiting the viewer in the second half of the diptych…

Norms in Hell (acrylic on canvas, 2006 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

For its audience of innocent little earthly Norms, Norms in Hell would be a shocking warning of the fate that awaits those who do not behave. For those Norms whose sins have necessitated a descent into the abyss, their arrival is through a rubbish shoot where their dead, rotten souls pile up in a New Arrivals skip. From there, demon Norms, eager to torture their newly arrived victims, spear the Norms through their side, before awakening their souls to a life of eternal damnation. Thereafter they will be subjected to the most terrifying of horrors, such as the scene of flogging on the left, being hanged from a column and left to roast in the fires of hell, or being caged up only to await an audience with Satan Norm himself, whose punishments deal the deepest and most appalling blows of all. Meanwhile the scene is dramatically lit by the glow of a lava river flowing behind, while on the other side of this burning deluge, further damned souls can be seen in their torment, behind bars, awaiting further retribution for their depraved and iniquitous lives.

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