Blood, gore at "disturbing" Sacred Made Real show

Tue Oct 20, 2009 1:01pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - The first image visitors confront at the National Gallery's new "Sacred Made Real" show is an impressively realistic severed head, complete with detailed rendition of the anatomy of a neck.

"Head of Saint John the Baptist," by Spanish master carver Juan de Mesa, was made in about 1625 and shows the lengths to which he and his peers went to make their subjects seem real.

Curator Xavier Bray believed the artist may well have used a real severed head as a model, "as a lot of people were decapitated in those days."

Throughout the six rooms that make up the exhibition, there are painstakingly painted sculptures of saints, martyrs, the Virgin Mary and Christ, hanging on the cross and lying dead, naked apart from small loincloths.

They are interspersed with religious paintings by Spanish masters like Francisco de Zurbaran and Diego Velazquez, and the show explores the importance of one art form to the other in 17th century Spain.

While it is widely accepted that Caravaggio ushered in the powerful realism achieved by such painters, the National Gallery argues that religious sculpture was just as important and explained the sculptural effect of the canvases on display.

"This is an exhibition of sculpture and painting, and the relationship between the two is very important," said National Gallery director Nicholas Penny at a press preview on Tuesday.

"It is also an exhibition on a really neglected aspect of European art being displayed outside of Spain for the first time."   Continued...

<p>The National Gallery is seen in London's Trafalgar Square March 21, 2007. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico</p>