Ulster Museum

Light and Life

Italian and Dutch Paintings 1600s to 1800s

Fri 25 Mar 2016 - Sun 20 May 2018

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This display includes some of the finest Italian and Dutch paintings in the Ulster Museum collection, and explores the use of light in the depiction of religious and secular subjects. During the 1600s, many painters were influenced by the dramatic effects of light and shade pioneered by Caravaggio in Rome. This new style of painting, now called the Baroque, used light in a highly theatrical way to increase the power and impact of religious subjects. The theatricality of the Baroque style was also used to enliven secular or ‘genre’ scenes of everyday life. These subjects were popular with Dutch artists who visited Rome during the 1600s to study Italian painting, and were also attracted to the light and everyday life of the Italian countryside. Artists continued to travel to Italy in the 1800s, and the English painter JMW Turner made some of his most atmospheric and light-filled paintings in Venice.

Britain's Lost Masterpieces

Two paintings in this exhibition were featured in the BBC4 series Britain's Lost Masterpieces. The episode, which aired 12th October 2016, revealed that two panels from the collection were by Pieter Brueghel, the Younger and not copied by a student of his school as previously thought. Pieter Brueghel the Younger was the son of Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525-1569), an influential painter based in Brussels best known for his depictions of peasant life. The tradition of painting the pastoral activities and celebrations associated with each month or season derived from medieval illuminated manuscripts, and Brueghel the Elder was widely admired for his insightful and sensitive observations. Brueghel the Younger was four when his father died, and on completing his training made many works based on his father’s compositions. These works were widely collected and Winter and Spring originally formed part of a series of The Four Seasons, of which a number of versions are known. The Ulster Museum Winter and Spring have recently been conserved, as part of a BBC4 television series Britain’s Lost Masterpieces, and many fine details have come to light.