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Theresa Lola commissioned by National Gallery to write a poem for new digital exhibition of Christmas painting

Issued November 2020

'Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’' 
9 December 2020 – 28 February 2021

Room 1
Admission free

The British Nigerian poet Theresa Lola has been commissioned by the National Gallery to write a poem that will feature in its digital Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’ exhibition opening this December.

Theresa Lola has been asked to write a text that imagines the character of the Black king Balthasar depicted in Jan Gossaert’s 16-century masterpiece The Adoration of the Kings, the centre-piece of a new immersive experience for the Christmas period which has been designed and tested with over seventy members of the public.

Image: Theresa Lola, Photo: Hayley Madden for 'Spread the Word'

Theresa Lola was the 2019 Young People's Laureate for London and the joint winner of the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. In that same year, she was commissioned by the Mayor of London's Office to write and read a poem at the unveiling of Millicent Fawcett's statue at Parliament Square.

Her new poem will be an integral part of 'Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’' which will show one of the Gallery’s most popular pictures as never before and is designed as an immersive experience while maintaining social distancing. 

As visitors view the actual painting, the voice of one of its depicted characters, King Balthasar, will speak to them in a spatialised 360 soundscape before light and sound lead them into individual ‘pods’, whose design is inspired by the bells and robes in the painting, to experience an interactive version of the painting.

In the pods, visitors will find a large screen featuring a digital image of the painting which has been ‘sonified’ using ambient sound, poetic spoken word and music. They will be taken on an aural and visual journey through the detail of the painting with opportunities to zoom into close-up detail using simple gestural movements. The experience immerses the visitor in the world of the painting and helps them discover previously unseen elements. These include details that the artist playfully hid away as well as those that reveal the way he used individual brushstrokes and techniques such as blotted glazes to create intricate and highly wrought elements. The painting was rescanned by the Gallery’s scientific department this autumn at very high resolution to support the best possible viewing experience.

Image: Artist’s impression of 'Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s 'Adoration''. Image by Vasilija Abramovic © The National Gallery, London.

The exhibition explores approaches to both sound and interactive design and has been developed by an interdisciplinary team of Gallery experts, artists, designers, technologists and creatives working closely with our audiences.

These include renowned sound artist Nick Ryan, and Professor Zoran Cvetkovic of King's College London, two of the world's leading experts in immersive audio. Twenty-eight digital prototypes were researched and tested with over seventy70 visitors.

The exhibition has been designed as part of the Gallery’s new digital innovation programme which centres on thinking and working in new ways which put audiences at the heart of the Gallery’s work.

One of the great works of the Northern Renaissance, everything about the construction, composition, content and detail of this painting is designed to focus the viewer on the tiny naked Christ Child in the middle of a desolate scene of ruins. A picture of birth, death and renewal, its exaggerated use of space and perspective gives the sense that the whole world is coming to view this scene; the series of contrasts suggests a moment of significant change in a decaying world (such as the richly dressed kings pictured with dogs at their feet scrapping around among weeds and broken stones.)

The experience begins with the Black king Balthasar’s voice speaking of this transformative moment in time. As the king standing to the left of Mary and the baby Jesus, and with his attendant behind him, Balthasar is the character who best represents the journey to this point of revelation, as he waits in suspense to see the baby Jesus. The importance of Balthasar is highlighted by the fact that Gossaert signed the painting in two places – on Balthasar’s hat and on the collar of his attendant.

'Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’' is the first of a series of Room 1 exhibitions to be supported by the Capricorn Foundation, for the next three years in memory of the late Mr H J Hyams.

It is curated by Dr Susan Foister, the Gallery’s Deputy Director and Curator of Early Netherlandish and German Paintings.

Exhibition supported by

The Capricorn Foundation in memory of Mr H J Hyams


Publicity images can be obtained from

'Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’'
9 December 2020 – 28 February 2021
The National Gallery
Room 1
Admission free

This exhibition will be a free to enter experience, available to visitors who have booked Gallery Entry tickets as well as Titian and Artemisia exhibition tickets. Simply make your way to Gallery Room 1 to enjoy 'Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’'.

Press view: Tuesday 8 December 2020   

About the poet

Theresa Lola is a British Nigerian poet based in London. She was appointed the 2019/2020 Young People's Laureate for London. Theresa has facilitated poetry workshops at St Mary's University and University of Surrey, and schools such as Saint Gabriel's College and St Marylebone School. In March 2020 she had a poetry teaching residency at Bethlem Museum of the Mind centred around poetry and wellbeing, she also held a residency at Wellcome Collection museum. Theresa Lola was a senior judge for The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition 2019.

Theresa Lola has read her work across the UK in places such as Mansion House, Kensington Palace, Southbank Centre, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Goldsmiths University, and internationally in places such as Germany, Brazil, and Singapore. In April 2018 she was invited by the Mayor of London's Office to read a commissioned poem alongside Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Former Prime Minister Theresa May at the unveiling of Millicent Fawcett's statue which took place in at Parliament Square. Theresa Lola was featured in the September 2019 issue of British Vogue which celebrated people who are forces for change.

Her debut full length poetry collection 'In Search of Equilibrium' described as an extraordinary, and exacting study of death and grieving was published by Nine Arches Press in February 2019. Theresa Lola was the joint winner of the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2017 Bridport Poetry Prize. She was awarded Alumna of the Year 2020 by University of Hertfordshire.

About the painting

NG2790, Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart)
active 1508; died 1532

'The Adoration of the Kings', 1510–15
Oil on oak, 179.8 × 163.2 cm

This large altarpiece is crammed with peasants, animals, angels and richly dressed kings and courtiers, come to worship the infant Christ, who sits on his mother’s lap in a palatial but ruined building.

Jan Gossaert has signed the painting on the hat of Balthasar, the king on the left, and on the silver collar of his attendant. Technical analysis has revealed the skill, time and effort which the artist put into this picture. There is a considerable amount of underdrawing and a great many changes made at all stages, all apparently done by Gossaert himself. There are virtuoso passages of detail, especially in the foreground: the hairs sprouting from Caspar’s cheek and the decoration of his hat; the fringes of Balthasar’s stole.  

By 1600 this painting was perhaps in the abbey of St Adrian at Geraardsbergen (Graamont) in East Flanders. Gossaert seems to have painted it for the church between about 1510 and 1515, probably for the funerary chapel of Daniel van Boechout, lord of Boelare near Geraardsbergen.

For more information read the online National Gallery catalogue entry for this painting:  


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