In search of immortality

The new National Gallery launches its exhibition programme with an imposing exhibition, dedicated to the Art of the Portrait in the Collections of the Louvre. Spanning more than 3,000 years of history, the exhibition begins from the remotest antiquity – the kingdoms of the Middle East and Egypt – through the Greco-Roman period and the iconic portraits of Homer, Alexander the Great, and Roman emperors, to the Fayum portraits; and from there to the advent of Christianity, when idealism prevailed over the individual, through to the triumphant emergence of the human figure in the Renaissance. Crossing over to ostentatious Baroque, with its formal portraits of kings and nobles, but also with its psychological climaxes, the exhibition presents the philosophers of the Enlightenment, nods to the French Revolution, with Jacques-Louis David’s astounding portrait The Death of Marat, as well as to triumphant Napoleon, with Antoine-Jean Gros’s masterpiece Bonaparte at the Pont d’Arcole. The exhibition pushes to the limits of the collections of the Louvre, featuring iconic masterpieces by Ingres and Delacroix.

No social group is underrepresented in this expansive collection – women, children, families are all represented in works by great artists, including Botticelli, Veronese, El Greco, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Goya, Reynolds, David, Ingres, Delacroix, and more – the faces of history, the living history of art.

Rather than a linear historical narrative, the exhibition curators opted for a thematic articulation of the material, focusing on the social function of the portrait in each period, illuminated by characteristic works that showcase the function and symbolism of the portrait at that time.

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