Art encounter in Munich: ‘Reading Woman’ by Pieter Janssens Elinga


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A recent BBC Radio interview considered the importance of viewing paintings in the flesh, so to speak.  Of engaging with art as physically close to the real thing as manners and gallery by-laws might allow.  It was discussed that one should spend ‘time’ observing the art and, importantly, be ‘present’ with it.

My recent visit to The Alte Pinakothek in Munich, the renowned art gallery and home of paintings by Rubens, Dürer and van Dyke, provided me with some of both.  I had an hour or so to visit between hopping off an Italy to Germany train, dashing through the Munich Christmas Market, and hopping back on. There was some time, but admittedly much less than a place like this deserved. I was nevertheless able to meet up close and be present with Flemish or Italian art.

But the painting that struck me even more, from within the gallery’s Dutch collection, was one I had neither the time nor permission to see.  It would have gone completely unseen had it not been for a postcard in the gallery shop and a reference in the gallery catalogue, that indicated it was somewhere in the building.  You see, while some collections were open for view, the gallery renovations – which started in 2014 and are on-going to 2017, had for now closed off the Dutch collection.

Within the ‘Old’ Pinakothek’s collection of Dutch art, Reading Woman (or Woman Reading) by Pieter Janssens Elinga in around 1660,  shows a solitary female – seated in a room, relaxed and reading.

Pieter Janssens Elinga (1623-1682) was born in Bruges in Belgium, and later moved to Rotterdam, then Amsterdam.

What is at first noticeable for me from Reading Woman is how marginal the room’s furnishings and accoutrements are made, in favour of reading a book. Physical stuff is side-lined for the cerebral or imaginative.    Then, the light – maybe a lazing afternoon sun – illuminates the room and the reading.  The spotlight effect presents the reading activity as central.  Even more so, perhaps the light becomes something of a motif for enlightenment in the room, the text and the 17th century woman pictured.  Next are the strewn shoes in the foreground.  They are seemingly cast off in a way that might seem palpably modern and free spirited. Yet maybe, the woman is actually from the servant class – suggested by the ‘Dutch cap’ she is wearing.

The painting, for me, evokes a calm, contemplative and peaceful atmosphere. Daily strictures removed and imagination expanded.  It is also perfect to prompt aspirations for a more reading-filled year ahead. In fact, although I haven’t read it, this painting has apparently also inspired fiction, in the form of Katie Ward’s debut novel ‘Girl Reading’.

So, I have found this work of art and I’ve looked at it, but have I really seen it?  Am I compelled to return to the gallery one day to see the painting in its original physical form?  It might be that a postcard and glossy brochure alone are unsatisfying proxies for truly being present with a work of art.  But what I have seen is the capacity for a reproduced painting, in book or postcard form, to create a layering of art encounter by which one might eventually, layer by layer, become truly present with a painting in all its dimensions.

See: The Alte Pinakothek, Munich and Reading Woman

© Laura Claire H  2015


Top 5 Galleria Laura blog posts in 2014


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This time last year I had no plans to start a blog.  Joining Twitter and Pinterest was not on my New Year’s resolutions list.

What I did know was that I enjoyed the arts and wanted to see as many exhibitions and hear as many concerts as practicalities would allow – in addition to my already spare time volunteering at some local theatres and a museum.

#1 Galleria Laura 2014 blog postThe London Swing Orchestra in Oxford

As a volunteer in the local cultural sector I am privileged to see the effort and commitment that goes into ‘putting on a show’ of one kind or another. As well as the audience or visitors’ various reactions. As an enthusiastic visitor to galleries, museums and concerts myself I also know how, when I want to savour the memory of something that has positively captured my imagination – a colour, painting, musical phrase, scene, atmosphere,  a few days later I might struggle to remember it quite as vividly but wish the same feeling could be conjured up again – right now.

#2 Galleria Laura 2014 blog post – Garden Museum, London

This time last year I also knew that if I got the opportunity to start something creative – I didn’t particularly know what – I would call it Galleria Laura.

Of course, Galleria is Italian for gallery and Laura is my first name. Galleria Laura would be an ode to Italy where some recent holidays have been filled with beautiful gardens, architecture and a vibrant atmosphere fuelled by exquisite cultural sights. It would also be a nod to my years spent travelling to other parts of Europe (for a day job) where my first name would often be said with a strictly continental pronunciation.

#3 Galleria Laura 2014 blog post – Bohem Ragtime Jazz in Oxford

A spark of a dream was struck in me for a gallery of the arts – a place where I could self-curate a collection of places, sounds, pictures and artefacts. In that dreamy moment, it would be a real building with rooms – perhaps a book shop and bustling café too – and surrounded by landscaped gardens like the most beautiful I’d seen in Italy.

#4 Galleria Laura 2014 blog post – Ashmolean’s Eye of the Needle

A short introductory course at Oxford University, during a weekend earlier this year, threw me in to what momentarily felt like the blogging deep end.  The purpose of going along to the course was simply to find out more about what blogging is – I arrived there unarmed in terms of ideas and plans.

Not long after getting to the class there was a brief and basic introduction to blogging. It involved listening and taking a few notes.  Good, that’s what I expected.  Then everyone in the class, of around 35 people, was asked to move to a nearby computer and get ready to set up a site. There and then.

What? No more theory?
Can’t you show us first?
Err, I haven’t decided I want one yet. 

I’m sure many of us there felt as if we’d barely had time to sit down comfortably. Murmurs around me were of ‘What? A real one?’ ‘Now?’ ‘Will it be live?’.

In the available seconds before being led at a pace to the next steps – my response to the request of ‘just think of a name for your site’ was of course Galleria Laura.

#5 Galleria Laura 2014 blog post – Myths, Maps and Maritime Missions

Thank you to everyone who has visited Galleria Laura in 2014, a virtual self-curated gallery of the arts, and to all those places and people who have found themselves blogged about!

For all recent posts see: Galleria Laura

© Laura Claire H 2014

* Top 5 viewed posts during 2014 based on WordPress statistics