I wish I could remember when I first fell in love with Uccello’s painting, The Hunt In The Forest. It must have been some time ago, but since the babies came along, my brain seems to have developed sieve-like habits. So, you’ll just have to take it from me, I’ve liked that painting for quite a long time.
Anyway, having been lucky enough to go to Paris a couple of times in the last two years, I’ve rather got back into the habit of visiting galleries – it’s just something that wasn’t easy with two small children in tow – so it had been a few years coming.
By the way, a handy tip here if you do end up in the National Gallery with a bored eight year old – tell them to go round and count the number of naked bottoms they can find – worked a treat for me! Oh, and just so you don’t think I’m too weird, my children have now progressed to counting horses (horse mad children), but I’m sure you could adapt the principle to suit.
Having been to The Louvre, The Musee D’Orsay and various others, I was feeling well and truly cultured-up again, and then one of my favourite bloggers, Stephanie Redfern, mentioned in her blog that she’d recently seen the Uccello – The Hunt at The Ashmolean, in Oxford. Now, as we live less than an hours drive from Oxford, I was pretty stunned to find out that it was so close and I’d never realised.
So, anyway, that’s the background – this weekend, I finally got my trip to The Ashmolean and yes, there it is, on the second floor – wonderful.
Now I know it probably isn’t to everyone’s taste. In a way, although it is hailed as a great and very early example of the use of perspective, it can look almost two-dimensional – even a bit cartoon like with some of the figures, especially if you only look at it from close range. But for some reason, this matters not a jot to me. The picture simply has ‘something special’ that makes me tingle.
What I hadn’t realised before, is that it was actually designed to be displayed at eye level. Having had a very good look at the picture close too, I then walked back a little and adjusted my height, to give me that eye level perspective, and guess what – suddenly, you’re drawn straight in to the darkness where the vanishing point is. And with your sight, goes your imagination.
Why are they hunting in the dark? What exactly are they hunting? Why has the man on the right suddenly pulled up his horse? Why is there a straight river on the right hand side?
I could go on, but I think perhaps that’s the beauty of the work, it triggers my imagination. I think the thing that most excites me, is imagining a fourteenth/fifteenth century painter, sitting in his studio, deciding that what he most wants to paint now, is a hunt scene in the dark. You have to admit, there aren’t that many of them around.
I bought an interesting little book by Catherine Whistler about the picture. It’s very informative, but ultimately, I think it still leaves the viewer pondering their own response and I think that’s something Uccello might have approved.