As one of the greatest collections of western art in the world, the National Gallery is a wonderful repository of stories from the magical to the everyday, from the epic to the tale, from the imaginary to the factual. On our journey we will hear the stories of the Greek and Roman Gods, such as Mars, the god of war and Venus, the goddess of love as well as the fate of Ariadne, deserted on an island by her lover, Theseus, and discovered by the god of wine, Bacchus. Perhaps we will also learn of events that take place in Homer's epic poems, such as the Trojan Wars as recounted in the Illiad and Odysseus' long journey home to Ithaca in the Odyssey.
We will see how artists interpreted the stories of the Holy Books and meet the Queen of Sheba, on her journey to test the wisdom of King Solomon with gifts of gold or perhaps we will find out the secret of Samson's superhuman strength and who betrayed his secret. We will also meet some of the many saints depicted in the gallery, such as John the Baptist, who baptised Christ and Catherine of Alexandria who was executed for her Christian belief. We may also hear the stories of people, perhaps why the Nine Days Queen Lady Jane Grey was beheaded in the Tower of London in 1554 or maybe the life of Vincent Van Gogh and the story behind his famous Sunflowers. As we explore we will also decipher the signs and symbols which give us clues to the meaning of the works, conventions which are often repeated in many different works which saint holds the arrow, or the ring, or is dressed in animal skins? Who is the figure who holds the golden apple? What does the hour-glass symbolise? What does a dog, or a dove, or a horse represent in a painting?
On our walk we will learn how artists over the centuries have translated the great literary and oral narratives from words to paint, we will hear and see these stories, we may look at how different artists have treated the same stories, and we will learn to read the visual clues, the signs and symbols, that help us interpret a painting. The west has a rich culture of storytelling and has inspired countless retellings, as we will discover on our journey around the National Gallery.
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