By IRIS CONLAY IT is important to be clear
exactly what one is going to see before going to the exhibition, "Italian Art and Britain" at Burlington House
It is not a chronologically arranged collection of works which mirror in miniature a history of Italian art. The first room plunges the viewer right into the middle; into Giorgione. Bassano, Lotto. The point of the exhibition is as much to display developing British taste as it is to display Italian pictures. Hence the arrangement shows what kings (beginning with Charles I and ending with the Prince Consort) liked and bought and also what commoners, from Stuart times to our own, have treasured.
SO it begins with pictures which were already in Britain by 1700, collected by Charles I and his court. and rudely interrupted by Cromwell. It then continues with the resumed collection of Charles II and James H, augmented by Sir Peter Lely and others. After that one is led straight into the High Renaissance of Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese (collected at all periods).
Only after 1800 did the primitives begin to appear in Britain, and in a tremendous blaze, in room IX, the richness of our heritage of early Italian painting appears — a magnificent Duccio, Simone Martini. Gentile da Fabriano, Fra Angelico. and the lesser, but unforgettably dramatic, Giovanni da Poste and Ercole Roberti.
THESE are followed by even THESE
memorable masters of the early Renaissance; the Leonardo "Madonna with the Yarnwinder", a Mona Lisa-like Madonna with her Child who smiles as He sees a symbolic cross made by the spindle and reel. Finally one is led to the 17th and 18th century works which reflect the taste of modern collectors.
That is the shape of the exhibition. Its highlights for me were among the glowing Venetians. the
devotional primitives and the great drawings of Leonardo, Michaelangelo and Raphael. But as there
has been some Englishman of the past whose particular taste has individually chosen each work, so there will be an equivalent Englishman today, finding his taste exactly reflecting his ancestors' and answering to the same stimulus, for other periods and styles.