One of the most frustrating things about studying Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century frescos is rarely being able to get really close-up. I am usually straining my neck to look at something ten metres above me. ‘Art History Neck’ is a real affliction. Today I had the wonderful experience of seeing a fresco as the artist would have seen it as he worked on it. The accidental accumulations of subsequent building projects have meant that floor level now in this early sixteenth century confraternity room in Perugia is probably just about at the height the artist would have had his scaffold to paint this serene and harmonious crucifixion. What a treat to be able to come face to face with this Magdalene. To appreciate, and to wonder, just how the artist was able to reproduce the folds of her white linen undershirt as they gather along the neckline so carefully that now, after five hundred years and a lot of damp and decay notwithstanding, they are as clear to me as if she was standing here. Which of course she almost certainly never was, because the speed required of the fresco painter meant that this wall must have been completed in a matter of days, rather than months. Studies for the figures must have been completed beforehand and were ready for transfer to the surface before the artist* got on the scaffold to start work.
And just to continue my rant about Why Art History was never intended to be just for posh people; this was painted for a confraternity whose members ranged from shoemakers to wool merchants, and shopkeepers to stonemasons. Art for everyone.
*The identity of the artist is still the subject of debate.