Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Kenneth Broad, Paolo Uccello & others

I have no doubt that sooner or later someone with a Pinterest page will come along and swipe Kenneth's Broad's The harbour, Brittany for their little scrap-book. I suppose I don't mind all that much but it is galling to see prints taken from the blog and stuck there for no other reason than they look decorative. But meaningless, also, because, although The harbour, Brittany is decorative, there is more to Broad than that and, in the end, people who come along and nab stuff for Pinterest hardly do the artists themselves any justice. So, I thought I would do a pin-up page of my own and try and suggest appropriate images to place along side Broad's work, pictures that he would have known and I believe he had in mind when he came to make some of his prints, a pin-up page of the imagination, if you like.

You only have to look at the raised lances and the colour scheme of Paolo Uccello's Battle of San Romano from the Louvre to see what I mean. Some readers may remember the post where I first talked about Broad and the painting by Uccello of the same name in the National Gallery, London. (There is a third painting in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.) I think it was hardly any coincidence that Broad included part of the facade of the Gallery in his view of St Martins in the Fields. We are fortunate in Britain to have three works by Uccello in the country and for anyone who isn't familiar with him, he was a C15th Italian artist who became famous for his innovations - principally, a very thorough-going use of perspective. Rather eccentric-looking today, yes, and Uccello may not have been a great master, but he was master of draughtsmanship and colour as the superb drawing of the central horse and the black-plumed knights on the left make clear.
Broad was not a true master, not like Uccello who was, but his very best prints are masterly. His primary skill was architecture and this is partly what he has in common with Uccello whose work was designed for large architectural spaces and have the same concerns with volume and line that architects have to have. Notice how Uccello uses a dramatic three-quarter profile for his self-portrait and looks up while Broad turns on the opposite direction and looks down.

Of course, it wasn't until I saw The harbour, Brittany that I realised that Broad appeared to have made use of Uccello's work more than once. He had already depicted the red and white poles from Mitcham Fair in 1925 and I was already pretty certain that he had been looking carefully at the Uccello in the National Gallery, London. But I have to say it was almost by chance that I founbd other intriguing and striking similarities. I may of course by wrong but it's still worth saying simply because I think an artist/architect like Broad had a very wide range of references and interests and I think it shows.

In 1401, Lorenzo Ghiberti won a major competition to produce a pair of bronze doors for the Baptistery at Florence. The commission was so large, he set up a workshop and took on other artists that sound like a roll-call of all that was original and decorative in early C15th Florence. The painters Antonio Pollaiuolo and Masolino, the sculptor, Donatello, and also Uccello were all amongst them. I don't think it's known how the individual artists worked on different panels, but going by the evidence of the one below with its crowds of people, tents and trees, I think Broad must have known them. He was first and foremost an architect with a classical bent, but he was also an enquiring and original printmaker who had learned to look and copy and adapt and I like the way he took his modern and witty and quirky look at the quattrocento, and I think it was well-worth doing. And put all of that on Pinterest, if you dare.





  1. A brave attempt, nice examples. It's always a treat to try and follow some ones thoughts and considerations concerning the interpretations and reflections by a trusted writer on a work of art. I particularly liked the comparison between the two portraits. I some how seem to have missed this posting and was pointed to it by an American reader. Hope I made up.

  2. Likewise it is rewarding to discover the kind of work an artist might have been looking at and the way it can work its way through that artist's imagination.

    But thanks for the encouragement. I have a Bernard Rice up my sleeve as well.