The National Gallery Masterpiece Tours
Issued February 2022
'Saskia van Uylenburgh in Arcadian Costume'
2022 Tour dates:
Oriel Davies: 12 March – 26 June 2022
The Beacon Museum: 24 September 2022 – 8 January 2023
Carmarthenshire Museum: 14 January – 23 April 2023
Workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio
'Tobias and the Angel'
2023 Tour dates:
Oriel Davies: 2 December 2022 – 5 March 2023
The Beacon Museum: 10 March – 4 June 2023
Carmarthenshire Museum: 8 September 2023 – 7 January 2024
For the first time in the Masterpiece Tour’s history, in 2021, the partner venues were selected for a three-year period. The painting chosen for the first year of the Gallery’s three-year Masterpiece partnership was Chardin’s The House of Cards.
The second and third paintings, Rembrandt’s 'Saskia van Uylenburgh in Arcadian Costume' (1635) and 'Tobias and the Angel' (about 1470–5) by the Workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio have been chosen jointly by the partner venues; Oriel Davies Gallery (Newtown, Powys, Wales); the Beacon Museum (Whitehaven, Cumbria); and Carmarthenshire Museum (Abergwili, Carmarthen); and the National Gallery.
The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour 2021–23 offers three non-London museums, galleries or art centres the opportunity to partner with the National Gallery for three years and to display one different major work from our collection each year.
Oriel Davies Gallery
12 March – 26 June 2022
2 December 2022 – 5 March 2023
Oriel Davies Gallery kicks off the Masterpiece Tour 2022 by illuminating different aspects and facets of Rembrandt’s Saskia van Uylenburgh in Arcadian Costume through contemporary voices. The display will focus on Rembrandt as a portrait artist by showing his work alongside contemporary portraits.
The myth of Blodeuwedd, or Blodeuedd (Welsh: ‘Flower-Form’), who was made from flowers of broom, meadowsweet and oak by the magicians Math and Gwydion in the Welsh collection of stories called the Mabinogion, will be explored with an installation in another space using native flora.
Steffan Jones‐Hughes, Director of Oriel Davies, said: ‘This is a great opportunity for people to explore this historic masterpiece through the work of contemporary artists. We look forward to welcoming visitors and hearing their response.’
24 September 2022 – 8 January 2023
10 March – 4 June 2023
Rembrandt’s Saskia van Uylenburgh in Arcadian Costume will be shown in an exhibition that will enable the Beacon to engage its existing audience and to also attract a wider more diverse audience. The exhibition will provide the opportunity for social groups to engage in lifelong learning and community led engagement and co-curation.
The supporting events programme will include gallery talks, lectures, and, activity sessions created in the gallery such as family learning through storytelling, creative workshops and drama. The aim is to collaborate with local schools, their teachers and pupils, to develop a national curriculum-linked activity session aimed at KS2 and 3 and extended schools. This will focus on a cross-curricular approach including elements of creative writing, art, geography and drama based around the themes of the painting.
The work will also provide learning and engagement opportunities. The artistic merits of the painting and the historical information which is revealed will be highlighted and explored in a new outreach programme working with community groups to support inclusion.
Heather Holmes, Customer and Visitor Experience Manager, said: ‘The Beacon Museum is delighted to be working in partnership with the National Gallery once again. This year we are thrilled to accept the loan of Rembrandt’s Saskia Van Uylenburg in Arcadian Costume, a once in a lifetime opportunity for visitors to view an artwork by a true Dutch master. We hope it will prompt conversation and inspire a lifelong love of art’
14 January – 23 April 2023
8 September 2023 – 7 January 2024
The 2022 tour ends at Carmarthenshire Museum with an exhibition inspired by the book, The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris which was a response to the disconnect between the human and natural world.
The exhibition will be looking to our past through museum collections and will explore those connections that were very familiar in the past, such as the language of flowers and plants in 19th-century art, society and culture; the world of botanical researchers, collectors and illustrators; possibly fashion and textiles; and the science and myth associated with the healing properties of flowers and plants as evidenced in our collections. Some contemporary examples will be shown as well.
The Rembrandt portrait will be a powerful and symbolic image of the abundance and joy that spring brings. Visitors to the exhibition will have an opportunity to reflect on the wellbeing that enjoying flowers bring us, whether walking in a garden, the scents, the colours and textures, as decoration, and so much more.
National Gallery Director Dr Gabriele Finaldi said: ‘The National Gallery’s pictures are for all to enjoy. A Rembrandt masterpiece and a superb Renaissance painting will be travelling to venues in Wales and the North west of England. We are delighted to be working closely with our partners in Newtown, Abergwili and Whitehaven to devise engaging displays and programmes around these great paintings.’
More information at nationalgallery.org.uk
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Notes to editors
Workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio
'Tobias and the Angel'
Tempera on wood
83.6 x 66 cm
© The National Gallery
'Saskia van Uylenburgh in Arcadian Costume'
Oil on canvas
123.5 x 97.5 cm
© The National Gallery, London
Rembrandt, 'Saskia van Uylenburgh in Arcadian Costume'
Saskia van Uylenburgh, the daughter of a burgomaster of Leeuwarden in Friesland, was 23 years old and had been married to Rembrandt for a year when he painted her portrait. She is in Arcadian costume (in other words, dressed as a shepherdess, though a very grand shepherdess).
She has gold embroidery on her wide belt and on the brocade edge to her spring-green over-gown. Her sumptuous dress bells out over her cream satin petticoats and the light, almost transparent sleeves fall at her sides in gauzy folds. The low, wide neck pushes up her breasts, edging them with delicate lace. Her long red hair waves down to brush her shoulders, and glowing pearls hang from her ears and peep over the crown of her head. The necklace of tiny wild flowers is echoed around her brow and a sprig of juniper sways over her head.
Her costume is not of the 17th century, nor of Roman times: it’s a dressing-up version of Renaissance dress, something that Rembrandt liked to use for intimate portraits and the big biblical scenes he aspired to paint, regardless of when they were actually thought to have taken place. They added drama or poetic meaning to the picture.
The painting is sometimes referred to as ‘Saskia as Flora’, the Roman goddess of spring and fertility, a title much more in keeping with her costume and with the profusion of flowers that she holds, primulas, tulips, roses and tiny pinks among them. In the other hand is her shepherdess’s stick, entwined with delicate green leaves. At the time, such classical representations – the seasons, Greek or Roman gods and goddesses or more abstract figures such as Justice, Mercy, Envy – were popular in all the arts. Poets, writers and composers all looked back at the ancient world for inspiration.
But it’s possible that there’s another dimension to this portrait. Saskia grasps the stick firmly as if for support, rather than just as a decorative prop. The hand clutching the flowers is stiff and tense from the weight and unwieldiness of the bouquet. She appears to lean back slightly, as if easing discomfort, carrying unaccustomed weight. Suspended across her gown just below the waist, a little chain draws attention to her belly. Her expression is difficult to decipher. Her large blue eyes gaze not at us, but a little over to the right to someone standing near – the artist perhaps. Her oval face with soft cheeks is enlivened by a little half-smile. We can‘t discount the possibility that when Saskia stood as the model for this painting she was visibly pregnant, and that Rembrandt has portrayed her as such.
During the seven years of their marriage, Saskia had three children who died very young. Only the fourth child, Titus, survived into adulthood. Titus was born in 1641. Saskia died a year later and Titus in 1668, a year before his father. So, for Rembrandt, although the promise of abundant life was fulfilled for a while, it didn’t endure – except in his portrait of Saskia as Flora, goddess of spring.
Workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, 'Tobias and the Angel'
This picture tells a story told in the biblical book of Tobit (which is regarded as apocryphal by Jews and Protestants). The blind old man Tobit, a merchant and devout Jew, sent his son Tobias to the country of Media, near Assyria, to collect a debt. The family were exiles from Israel, living in Assyria. God sent the Archangel Raphael – the winged figure on the left of the scene – to accompany Tobias and his dog. Although he is shown here with wings, according to the text Raphael disguised himself as one of Tobias’s relatives.
Tobias holds receipt of the debt, labelled ‘ricordo’, in one hand and a freshly caught and gutted fish in the other – if you look closely, you‘ll see the red line of blood where its stomach has been slit. Raphael had instructed Tobias to catch and gut the fish, keeping its heart, liver and gall. Tobias gazes at the angel as though listening intently: according to the text, Raphael explained that these organs could be used as ointment to cure blindness and be burnt to drive away evil spirits. He holds the precious organs in a little box.
While on their journey the pair visited Tobias’s cousin, Sarah. She had married seven times, but each time a demon had killed her husband before the wedding night. Tobias decided to marry her and end the curse. On the wedding night he burnt the organs which, as Raphael had foretold, drove the demon away. The book culminates with Tobias’s return home, where he took Raphael’s advice and cured his father’s blindness. The artist expresses the figures’ momentum by painting their draperies rippling in the wind behind them.
The quality of this picture ranges dramatically. Most of it seems to have been painted by an unknown member of Verrocchio’s large workshop. For example, both figures seem to have the exact same left hand, probably copied exactly from a model book. The fish, however, is like a minute still life, its scales reflecting the light like shining armour; it appears to be the result of very close observation. It has been suggested that Verrocchio’s pupil Leonardo may have painted the fish and the dog, which seem to have been added at the last minute – if you look closely you can see how the grass and shrubs behind show through the fur and scales.
Tobias and Raphael’s journey to Media was very popular in the late 15th century when devotion to the Archangel, known as Saint Raphael, was promoted by a number of confraternities dedicated to him. He became known as the patron saint of healers and travellers. Many rich Florentines, who might have commissioned such works, shared Tobit’s profession of merchant – it’s possible that an association with the charitable, honest and pious Tobit was desirable. The moral message could be disguised in the appealing imagery of a young man, an angel and a dog crossing a vast landscape.
The National Gallery is one of the greatest art galleries in the world. Founded by Parliament in 1824, the Gallery houses the nation’s collection of paintings in the Western European tradition from the late 13th to the early 20th century. The collection includes works by Bellini, Cézanne, Degas, Leonardo, Monet, Raphael, Rembrandt, Renoir, Rubens, Titian, Turner, Van Dyck, Van Gogh and Velázquez. The Gallery’s key objectives are to enhance the collection, care for the collection and provide the best possible access to visitors. To find out more about the National Gallery’s strategic aims please visit https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/media/25328/strategic-plan_2018-2023.pdf .
Every year, the National Gallery partners with organisations and audiences across the UK in a range of different and innovative ways. We want to ensure that everyone in Britain can engage with their national collection. Over the past three years we have partnered with a larger number of organisations of very different scales through a range of projects including our flagship Masterpiece Tour, contemporary Artist-in-Residence programme, Visits tour and Take One Picture programme. We are always keen to hear from potential partners and explore ways in which we can engage with you and your audiences. If you are interested in partnering with us and would like more information about these exhibitions or opportunities to connect to our Learning programmes please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/about-us/the-gallery-nationwide
The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour
About Oriel Davies Gallery
Oriel Davies Gallery is a key public art gallery of Wales, based in Newtown, Mid Wales, presenting world‐class, thought provoking and challenging art by national and international artists in an environment that is welcoming, engaging, informative and free. The Gallery and exhibition spaces are family‐friendly, physically accessible and ideal for experiencing contemporary art.
More at www.orieldavies.org
About the Beacon Museum
Situated on the harbourside of the historic Georgian town of Whitehaven, the Beacon Museum tells the story of historical Copeland, which boasts two World Heritage Sites and includes stunning coastline as well as dramatic Lake District landscapes.
At the Beacon Museum you can watch Norse silver being unearthed, become a crew member on a trading ship, play Roman board games, discover what life was like in the 19th century, present a weather forecast, and revisit favourite childhood memories. Science lovers can delve into the living heritage of the west Cumbrian nuclear industry in the interactive Sellafield Story exhibition.
From Pre-history, Iron Age discoveries, Roman occupation, Norse silver to Victorian trading ships, a vibrant collection of historic objects and artwork is accompanied by a blend of local and touring exhibitions throughout the year.
Additionally, the ongoing Beacon Sparks project will bring the museum to life through a series of digital interactives from touch screens, virtual reality experiences and downloadable trail apps of the town, harbour and West Cumbria.
The project aims to revitalise the visualisation of local history with subjects including history, art and science transformed for visitors to learn and enjoy.
About Carmarthenshire Museum
It was the palace of the Bishops of St Davids for 400 years and now home to the county museum for just over 40 years. Carmarthenshire Museum has been closed since 2020 for extensive restoration works, which is a project continued beyond the palace and out into its historic park setting. The museum reopened in summer 2021 following major improvements to accessibility and transformation of ground floor galleries. Its vision is as a place for conversations, to tell stories and discover objects from the past that help us all connect with and understand our history.
For further press information, please contact the National Gallery Press Office at email@example.com and 020 7747 2865.
For further press information for Oriel Davies Gallery, please contact Steffan Jones-Hughes on 07498 570217/01686 625041 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For further press information for Beacon Museum, please contact Alan Gillon, Learning and Collections Manager on 01946592302 or e-mail email@example.com
For further press information for Carmarthenshire County Museum, please contact Carmarthenshire County Council Press Office on 01267 224900 or e‐mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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