The Ugly Duchess
Starts in 2 weeks...
The Ugly Duchess: Beauty and Satire in the Renaissance
at the National Gallery, 16 March - 11 June 2023
Quentin Massys's painting, which has inspired what promises to be a fascinating exhibition at the National Gallery, got its nickname 'The Ugly Duchess' after it was used by John Tenniel as the inspiration for his drawings of the Duchess in Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland. For years its official title at the Gallery was 'A Grotesque Old Woman', but for the last decade or so she had been known, more simply, as 'An Old Woman' - the result of sensitivities about potential medical reasons for her appearance. But although this may be related to a physical condition, Massys's original intent was undoubtedly satirical.
The aim of the exhibition is to look a the other side of the Renaissance - not the beauty, idealisation, and perfect proportions which are seen as the essence of the style, but ugliness, and the birth of caricature. These are the exceptions which prove the rule.
Or is it, perhaps, the exhibition's curator asks, that we are looking at a powerful, empowered women, 'subversive, fierce, and defiant'? These are just some of the issues we will consider as part of this talk.
Included in the exhibition, alongside the titular painting, are drawings by Leonardo which have long been associated with Massys's image, and a rarely-seen painting by Massys himself, 'An Old Man', who appears to be the lady's intended... it should be a remarkable encounter!
Please remember, I do not record my talks.