Saturday 17 August 2019

In Kassel

Continental galleries have an atmosphere distinct from their English counterparts. Walk into the National Gallery, say, or especially Tate Modern and you might be on a station concourse or in a shopping centre. The lack of an entrance fee probably explains the difference as much as any notions of greater European sophistication. In Europe you don't wander in and wander out. Your visit is an event.

I was practically the only visitor to the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in the small central German city of Kassel. Misjudging the distance and incline, I toiled up the Wilhelmshöher Allee towards a curving palace on a hill. Coolness descended among rooms of huge canvases: airy generous displays of masterpieces by Rubens, Jordaens, Van Dyck and Rembrandt: whole salons devoted to each, with side-aisles full of smaller pictures by their workshops or contemporaries. Several works stand out: this Jupiter and Callisto by Rubens...

...this Rubens Mary with saints and sinners...

...this Bean Feast by Jordaens (I've seen other versions in Brussels and Vienna)...

...and this Childhood of Jupiter also by Jordaens:

Of the two artists the latter most appeals. I like to look for the figures in Jordaens who look out at us, collusively across the centuries.

The gallery occupies a stately site overlooking Kassel. Landscaped English-style but also unEnglish gardens and parkland dotted with follies and mock ruins rise towards the famous Hercules monument.

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