Friday, 5 October 2012

Veronese: The Rape of Europa : Art through Words - National Gallery, London

29th September, 2012

After my summer break, I went to the Saturday morning Art Through Words in the National Gallery. These are held at 11.30 and we meet in the Sainsbury Wing at the Information Desk.

I find it easier now to use the London Underground as the Trafalgar Square exit from Charing Cross has been reopened.  Walking through Trafalgar Square allows traffic free access to both the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. 

Three of the usual attendees were already there and we chatted about other events.   I was soon greeted by Marian whom I had met at a Wallace Collection workshop.  Marian is from the West Midlands and is visually impaired.  Marian also volunteers at the Barber Institute in Birmingham.  (They have a nice collection of Flemish and Dutch Paintings which I am keen to visit.)

Soon afterwards we met our describers for the session, Viyki Turnbull and Clare Coope.  Viyki had described the Corot “Peasants under the Trees at Dawn” ( and as an artist has a mine of practical tips. 

Viyki started by reading an extract from the poem by Ovid in his Metamorphosis series.  The story of the abduction, seduction or rape of Europa by Jupiter transformed into a calf like bull set the story.  Viyki briefly explained the narrative aspects of the picture.  Europa is seen being laid on the back of a bull, then is shown astride the bull moving towards the sea on the shore of Sidon and finally they are in the sea.  (I did not say this, but Debussy La Mer and the sequence from Shirley Valentine came into mind!)

Viyki then described the painting, starting from the top right hand corner.  The picture can be found on the link below.

The Rape of Europa by Paolo Veronese (about 1570) -

We were working in the quiet of a study room with an almost full size reproduction.   The main action is the hoisting of Europa by two of her attendants in what Viyki described as a fireman’s lift.  Europa is then on the back of the bull and her right leg is raised and angled. 

The angles and lines associated with each character with a line of gaze was described.  Aspects of clothing were discussed and how Veronese had painted them.  The bull was described as crouched down and turning his face towards Europa, he started to lick her feet.  Images of Sarah Ferguson and other habits were hinted by some.  I asked if the bull had had his horns gilded. (In the Odyssey Homer describes the scene with Telemachus at the court of Nestor in Pylos with Pisistratus  at a banquet in which slaughter is made of a white, unblemished calf whose horns had been gilded prior to slaughter.)  This Veronese bull was certainly garlanded but we were not sure about the golden horns.  A zoom copy of the central characters was then given to each of us. 

These blow ups allow much more access to some of the detail and I could make out some of the facial expressions of Europa and one of the handmaidens.  In fact, the handmaiden reminded me of one of the nurses lifting a patient with a hip replacement!

Someone asked if Europa was wearing earrings.  The answer was in the negative.  Then the statement was made that this Europa was no allusion to a saint.  I did not know that saints did not wear earrings. 

At this point a large copy of Guido Reni’s painting of the Rape of Europa was passed round.  This appeared to be a bit more saintly as this woman was not wearing earrings. 

Next it was time to visit the Veronese painting in the gallery.  In Art through Words we are invited to say our names and say how far we have come.  We had two sighted visitors, Margherita Mazzoni and Dr Gianetta Corley (also known as Barbara), Cathedral Guide at St Paul’s Cathedral, who joined us as we went to view the original painting. 

The copy we had studied gave us a good idea of the original but it always amazes me how much more one thinks one sees when gazing at the real thing.  There are 2 small paintings below the Veronese and the picture labels were read out to me. 

Adjacent to the Veronese was something familiar.  To the left is a very large Titian.  The Diana and Callisto and Diana and Acteon have been moved from the Titian 2012 Metamorphosis exhibition and now face each other. I checked with Clare if this was the case and we discussed the Metamorphosis show.  I had enjoyed the complementary works, some more than others. 

At the end Viyki offered to take us to another point in the gallery or the exit.  Marian had come to London to view the Bronze exhibition so I navigated the way to the RA where I made my second visit.

These Art through Words sessions allow peaceful study of a painting followed by a trip through the gallery.  The social aspect is also important as we visually impaired people are also seen in the gallery. 

The next Art through Words is on 27th October at 11:30.  More details can be found on: