The Oxford Guide - Differences between Version 26 and Version 25 of Christ Church Picture Gallery

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The Firing Line - Depiction of Conflict in the Collection of General John Guise (1683-1765) which is on until 10th October 2010.
The Firing Line - Depiction of Conflict in the Collection of General John Guise (1683-1765)which is on until 10th October 2010.

Christ Church is unique among the Oxford and Cambridge colleges in possessing an important collection of Old Master paintings and drawings, housed in a purpose-built Gallery of considerable architectural interest in itself.

The collection consists of some 300 paintings and almost 2000 drawings and is strongest in Italian art from the 14th to the 18th century.

The internationally renowned drawings collection in the Picture Gallery at Christ Church is regarded as one of the most important private collections of Old Master drawings in the country. These small in-house exhibitions are changed about every three months to enable the public to see a varied selection from this part of the collection.

The current exhibition is:

The Firing Line - Depiction of Conflict in the Collection of General John Guise (1683-1765)which is on until 10th October 2010.

War and battle have always had a place in art – from prehistoric cave paintings to the most current conflicts of the 21st century. For centuries rulers of states had their military encounters visually glorified, choosing not only their own military encounters, but more often famous historical and mythological battles. Critical depictions of war, with very few exceptions, only occurred from the mid-19th century. The subject matter demands monumentality and most of the painted, woven and sculpted works are impressive in size with the intention to overwhelm and awe the viewer.

This exhibition shows a selection of works from the 16th and 17th centuries in the much more intimate medium of drawing. The sheets on display allow the viewer to examine the beginnings of the monumental designs which were created by artists for their powerful patrons.

The works in the exhibition range from explorative studies of details to finished presentation drawings for the patrons, exemplifying some of the challenges that artists had to face with these multi-figured compositions. Among them are the famous Designs for a Cross Bow by Leonardo da Vinci, who was employed not only as an artist but more importantly as an outstanding war engineer, and a large drawing after Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ Battle between the Greeks and the Amazons, an extraordinary composition of swirling bodies in combat. Another drawing in Rubens’ own hand of the war god Mars shows how the master collected and preserved his inspiration in drawings; whereas a sheet by the Lombard artist and follower of Leonardo, Giovanni Ambrogio Figino, is searching for the ideal form and is covered with designs for a warrior on horseback. A series of finished drawings by the Italian artist Niccolò Circignani offer an insight into the compositions for the wall decorations of the Palazzo della Corgna in Castiglione del Lago (Umbria) – the frescos painted in 1574 can still be seen there today.

The 34 drawings in the exhibition come from the collection of General John Guise (1682-1765), the Picture Gallery’s main benefactor. Guise combined his profession as a soldier with his passion for Old Master drawings. It is therefore tempting to assume that he might have had a special interest in military scenes. Unfortunately, this assumption is difficult to verify, but this exhibition will show some outstanding drawings which he might have studied in more detail and will leave it to the viewer to decide if our collectors’ fascination with war can be detected in his collection of drawings.

Admission: £3/£2. Free to those who have Bod cards and ArtFund members.

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