Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Memorials in Berlin

There are so many memorials to the war and the wall in Berlin that it's difficult to know where to begin. My recent trip to Berlin was my first time there so I had no idea what to expect but it soon became clear that there are memorials of sorts all over the city, even if it's just seeing some of the bare, functional buildings from the former East. In a sense, even all the new building in what were bomb sites and the no-man's land either side of the wall act as reminders. The gleam of Potsdamer Platz and the shopping arcades are only there because the land was left empty and in rubble for so long.

The first memorial I saw was the one to the Holocaust victims or, as the sign says, 'Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe'. I saw it as the sun was setting an that made it strangely beautiful, gleaming gold as the sun shone on the clean stone.

At first I didn't really know what I was seeing - lots of almost coffin shaped stones in the ground. Then you notice that the ground undulates and the stones are different sizes, some almost up to ten feet tall creating a maze to walk though and get lost in. There was no graffiti anywhere, the stones were clean. They were also quite popular.

I wandered through the stones, touching some of them and kept walking. It's a large and spread out memorial. At the far end from the Tiergarten is an underground information centre that I didn't visit. And beyond that were the bars, cafes and restaurants and shops that you always find at tourist sites. I assume the information centre explains what the blocks of stone are meant to represent and why there are that amount of blocks on the land allocated to the memorial.

The cynic in me wondered how many times property developers have challenged the use of the land as a memorial - it's a prime site in the centre of Berlin and must be worth a pretty penny. It's use might not have been challenged but I suspect it will be one day and that's when the intent of Berlin and the German Government will come under scrutiny.

It's quite a touching place, relatively quiet once you're inside it and wondering how many stone blocks you have to walk past until you reach the other side.

Just over the road and in the Tiergarten is the memorial to homosexuals and lesbians. It immediately made me think of the Homomonument in Amsterdam, just round the corner from Anne Frank's House. This is less elegant and is simply a big block of concrete, slightly sinking into the ground on one side. There is no writing on it to explain what it is but there's a small indentation on one side with a window to look inside and see a film on loop of gay men and women kissing - men kissing men and women kissing women.

Just up from the path leading to the memorial is a plaque in German and English that explains the rationale for the memorial and the extreme discrimination homosexuals, particularly men, experienced under the nazi regime. Neither the memorial nor the plaque have any graffiti or other signs of vandalism - although the screen in the memorial is scratched - and I couldn't help but be impressed by that. No graffiti at the Jewish or gay memorials at all - I can't help but think that wouldn't be the same in this country or, indeed, in many others.

Of course, it wasn't long until I saw the wall for the first time. Walking round the side of the Tiergarten to Potsdamer Platz and there were the first slabs of wall I saw. along with text plaining what we were seeing. So, this was the wall?

After a lovely visit to the Gemaldegalerie I came face to face again with the nazis and the war. The nazis seemed to be referred to exclusively as the 'National Socialist Party' but a nazi is a nazi. This was the terribly compelling German Resistance Memorial Centre around the back of the Kulturforum.

The memorial Centre is actually based in one of the German military buildings used during the war and the location is especially powerful since some of the stories of resistance involve decisions made in that building. Including people sentenced to death for their activities against the nazis and the war.

In the courtyard is a statue to the dead and, on one side, is a wreath to the senior army officers who planned to assassinate Hitler in 1944 and who were shot in that courtyard. The exhibition inside the building includes the room where the death warrants were signed for those men and that made it particularly powerful. It was a very sobering experience to read about and witness this.

Inside, you walk up a sterile staircase with black and white photographs of mainly young people - those people who opposed the nazis at various stages. It's quite touching walking past these photographs and I couldn't help but wonder whether their children and grandchildren - and great-grandchildren by now - ever visit to see their grandparents in their youth and rebellion and principle?

I should think it's quite important for Germans to show that not everyone supported the nazis and their policies. Sadly, most did - or at least didn't actively oppose them - otherwise the horrors wouldn't have happened. I couldn't help but reflect on what's happening in post-Brexit UK and Trump's America and think that there's no point in quietly tutting, we all must stand up for what we believe in or evil will return. It's so easy.

Most of the exhibits are made up of photographs of individuals and a short narrative about who they were and what they did. There's something terribly humbling about reading what these ordinary people with a conscience did because they believed it was right, being arrested time and time again but still doing what they felt was right. Such a wide range of people as well, nuns and teachers, engineers and university lecturers, churchmen and army officers. They weren't all politically-driven, they were driven by what was right.

Something I was particularly surprised and pleased to see was the number of youth groups that opposed the Hitler youth in different ways. This was youth rebellion in true rebellion mode and particularly brave. Those who wore short-shorts and colourful scarves, those who insisted on listening to jazz music, those who dressed on overtly British and American styles - that's dangerous during a war but they did it anyway.

Good on ya youth cults, I'm proud of you!

Snd let's not forget Claus von Stauffenberg who tried to assassinate Hitler and who was shot in the courtyard I'd walked through to get into the building.

It didn't take long to get back to the wall in Potsdamer Platz and some colour. I assume the paintings were made after the fall of the wall but it's still nice to see.

It's that oddity that you're never sure when you're going to come across parts of the wall. In the centre there seems to be bits of the wall all over the place. It's here that I noticed for the first time that the path of the wall is indicated in public spaces by a double row of cobble-stones, across roads and across grass. There's a ga for the tram rails, but the cobbles continue at the other side.

I couldn't help but wonder what Berliners think of these reminders of pain, of the war and the wall, every time you turn a corner and bother to open your eyes. Do older people wonder what their parents did and do younger people even care? I don't know.

The oddity is that you don't know where or when these odd reminders of the past will occur. Even wandering through the Mall of Berlin, built in the rubble left around the wall, you know that you'll see a bronze plaque enshrining a quote from Ronald Reagan saying 'Tear down this wall!'. Do people under 30 even know who he was?

One of the most touching memorials was to the nazi book-burning in Bebelplatz. This was just a few minutes walk away from our hotel in the former East Germany and it's really quite stunning. 

I saw it after sunset so it was at it's most stunning, a shining light coming out of the cobble-stoned ground. It's a square of light in the ground above an empty room of empty white book-shelves. No books. Ever again. It's very noticeable that it's in front of a university building and in sight of the Cathedral of St Hedwig - academia and the Church condoning or at least not opposing - the burning of knowledge. That is shameful. But to the credit of modern Germans that they have created this memorial.

We went back the following morning to see what the memorial would look like in daylight and it's largely the same - a white light in an empty room - but it's surrounded by tour groups. Can't have it all I suppose!

On the pyre tourist side of things, there's always Checkpoint Charlie.

Halfway down Friedrichstrasse is the junction with Liepzigerstrasse and that's where we normally turn right to head to Potsdamer Platz. But we decided to head another 100m down Friedrichstrasse to visit Checkpoint Charlie - or at least where Checkpoint Charlie used to be. These days it's a tourist trap where you can have your photo taken with men (German? American?) in period American uniform.

Ignoring the charade I wanted to see what was inside the shop. What is actually sold at a shop about Checkpoint Charlie? The usual tourist tat, of course, plus chinks of concrete that claim to be from the wall.

I found this all really quite disturbing. People died here, the dreams of people died here, and yet here we are, invited to but a coffee cup about the wall to a tee shirt, a chunk of the (supposed) wall in a glass case, a baseball cap.  What is going on here? People died for this tat.

There was a really weird morbid fascination walking round the shop, looking at the tat and the stuff that claimed to be about the wall. Looking at the staff I'd say that, when I was there, no-one was over the age of 30 so wouldn't have remembered the wall or what it meant. This was all about making money from stupid tourists. I couldn't bear to buy anything there. I'd love to know who owned this shop - an American? A German? Maybe a Russian? Someone is obviously making a killing from history.

Turn right from here and along a side road you come to a long stretch of wall and, beside it, a history of the nazis in Germany. The wall is pretty obvious, and in what was, presumably, the basement of the previous building, i a series of panels that explain the rise of the nazis. their policies before the war, the war and the results after the war leading to the wall being erected. The thing that make sit most poignant is that this was, I think, the site of the former gestapo headquarters that has been levelled and left bare as a memorial, with just this covered walkway and a small museum at the other end.

It was a history too far for me. I didn't expect to find this memorial when I walked along a side street and it was too much. Learning about 'Jew-catchers' and entrapping homosexuals, propaganda initiatives, nazi-led protests to get the 'people' on their sides.... there's too much.

I stopped about a third of the way round the displays and just thought 'I can't'. This isn't what I was expecting, I don't want this to cloud my memories of Berlin. But it has. What do Berliners think of all this? Of seeing their grandparents and great grandparents photos all over the place, illustrating lessons from the war or the wall? Do they even notice any more? I don't know how I'd feel about it all.

My parents were alive during the war but too young to participate so, if they'd been German, could so easily have been featured in one of these illustrations. Thankfully they're not.

There's a lot more to Berlin than these memorials and it's that that I'll remember. I'll remember the glory of the Gemaldegalerie as my Berlin, and seeing Nefertiti and the 19th Century paintings in the Alte Nationalgalerie.

Now, of course, I wonder how German and French people see London. Is it a bastion of previous wars and monuments to our past colonialism? I'll probably never see that, at least not the way others might do. 

Degas at the National Gallery - 'Drawn in Colour from the Burrell'

Yesterday afternoon I went to a preview of a new exhibition at the National Gallery - 'Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell'. The 'Burrell' refers to the Burrell Collection in Glasgow that is currently closed for refurbishment. The National Gallery seems to have a policy of showing exhibitions in unusual locations at the moment and this exhibition is in the ground floor galleries near the Getty entrance, usually galleries B, C and D (I think). I like this approach that forces us to go to parts of the Gallery we might not normally visit.

The exhibition is made up of various works featuring dancers, horses, intimate moments with women after a bath and combing their hair and some of everyday life such as a pastel of laundry women and others looking at gem stones. My favourites were the dancers. Apparently, Degas attended 54 ballet performances in 1885, many at the Paris Opera. I've got a long way to go to catch up with that kind of record. I particularly liked 'The Rehearsal' with ballet dancers hidden by the spiral staircase and another cut in half by the edge of the paper. These are very specific compositional decisions to achieve the 'modern' effects he wanted.

Another work I really liked about dancers was 'The Red Ballet Skirts' featuring three dancers in their deep red costumes, limbering up and getting ready for a dress rehearsal or a performance. This is a later work and these are not lithe young women - look at the sturdiness of those legs with muscle and power. This is quite a startling work and really stands out in the room of dancers. It's the poster for the exhibition and rightly so.

In contrast see the more delicate and less monumental 'Dancers on a Bench' with the dancers almost like delicate birds fluttering and flapping on a tree branch. You can almost see the quick movements and hear the chatter as the dancers relax during a rehearsal and get ready for the next section of the dance. You just know that the girl sitting down with the fan is the ring-leader of the group, chattering away ten to the dozen.

In the next room are a few works showing women in intimate situations and positions and the most famous is one of the National Gallery's own works, 'After the Bath, Woman drying Herself'. It's always a fascinating work to see, pastel on several sheets of paper. That pose looks uncomfortable so is probably meant to show movement as the woman rocks forward for a moment. All we really see is a naked back with reds and blues of slight shadows as well as flesh tones. It does make me wonder how many towels the woman actually needs after a bath. It's a good job there are some laundresses pictured in the first room of the exhibition to take care of the towels.

It's a relatively small exhibition spread over three of the ground floor gallery rooms so doesn't take a long time to see it but it's good to see these works that rarely leave the Burrell Collection in Glasgow,

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

'Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael - About 1500' at the National Gallery

I was in the National gallery today so popped along to Room 20 to see the new mini-exhibition in one room, 'Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael - About 1500'. It's an opportunity for the National Gallery to show off it's collection of the triumvirate of masters of the High Renaissance and their works from around 1500 when they were all working. All the works on display are in the National Gallery's collection (other that the 'Taddei Tondo' which is on loan from the Royal Academy round the corner) so I've seen them all before (many times) but it's great to see them together.

Between both doors to Room 20 is Raphael's large 'Ansidei Madonna' with John the Baptist and Nicholas of Bari. I've never quite understood why the Virgin has to climb those steps to get to the throne - they look a bit steep to me, especially in a long frock. Nicholas is reading a bible while Mary seems to be reading to the Child. St John is gazing up at the cross he's holding and pointing to the Child in a rather obvious gesture showing the destiny of the baby in Mary's lap. It has Raphael's trademarked high-gloss finish without a brush-stroke in sight.

Also on show by Raphael are the 'Madonna of the Pinks' and 'Saint Catherine of Alexandria'.

The exhibition then moves on to Michelangelo and two paintings that shown in the recent exhibition about Michelangelo and Sebastiano, also a High Renaissance painter. Both 'The Entombment' and 'The Manchester Madonna' are on show and here's the Madonna. Both paintings are unfinished but I prefer the Madonna because of the two angels to the left where one has his arm round the other and hand resting on his shoulder - this always makes me think of David Bowie and Mick Ronson on 'Top of the Pops' in 1972 playing 'Starman'. I can't help it.

As ever, it's the detail you need to see and, in this painting, we see the Child reaching out for his mother's book without a care in the world while the babe St John, already clad in animal skins, looks off into the middle distance. He doesn't seem to be looking at anything in particular, perhaps he's just experiencing a passing moment of sadness since he sees his cousin's destiny.

Opposite the two Michelangelo paintings are two by Leonardo, 'The Virgin of the Rocks' and 'The Burlington House Cartoon'. There's a version of the 'Virgin of the Rocks' in the Louvre since Leonardo painted two very similar versions because he wasn't satisfied with the first version. I've never worked out why the Virgin is in a cave but that's Leonardo's business, not mine, and he was a lot cleverer than me (and had a bushier beard).

The light source comes from the left of the painting and uses Leonardo's pyramidal structure. There are strange plants flowering in the foreground and a distant sea peaking between the rocks of the cavern. What a strange landscape in which to place the holy family.

The final artwork on show is the 'Taddei Tondo' on the wall between the Michelangelo and Leonardo paintings, and opposite the Raphael altarpiece. The Tondo is on loan from the Royal Academy and is, I think, the only Michelangelo sculpture in this country. It's rather lovely.

The jury's out on whether the piece is actually finished or not, given how rough some of the parts are, but the baby Jesus seems to be complete and, let's face it, he's the main character in any Christian painting or other artwork. My eyes kept going to the hand of the baby John the Baptist who is holding a goldfinch out towards his cousin, a symbol of suffering. The Child is flinching away from it while acknowledging his destiny. It's the skill of Michelangelo that's wonderful here since he defines the trapped bird with just a few chisel strokes but beak and feathers are clearly there if you look closely. It's a wonderfully simple piece of carving.

It's lovely to see the works of these three masters together, with both Michelangelo and Raphael learning from Leonardo. If I was in charge of the National Gallery I think I'd show them off too. They're all in one room for a change so pop along and enjoy them while you can.

I have seen the tombs of all three masters. Michelangelo's huge tomb in Santa Croce in Florence that I suspect he'd hate, Raphael's modest plaque in the Pantheon in Rome and Leonardo who was buried in a chapel at Chateau d'Amboise in the Loire Valley in France. I've only seen the chateau from a  distance but I'd like to visit one day.  

Monday, 18 September 2017

Fra Angelico 9/12

It's the 18th of the month again, so, to celebrate Fra Angelico's feast day I'm posting pictures of Fra Angelico's paintings that I've seen. For September I've chosen the 'Virgin & Child' in the Sabauda Gallery collection in Turin that I saw the exhibition of the Fra's work at the Musee Jacquemart-Andre in Paris in 2011. This painting was the poster for the exhibition and also the cover of the catalogue.

It's a gorgeous painting and is very calm and still, almost a meditation piece. It draws you in when you're standing in front of it. Mary gazes down at her son who looks out towards the viewer.

This painting is a bit different to many of the Fra's other Virgin and Child paintings in that it has classical columns in the background rather than the often-used cloth of gold background - the cloth is still there, but this time as curtains. Also, there are no angels looking after the holy pair, just a mother and her baby. The baby clearly isn't just any baby, but looks to the future with the cross of the resurrection in his halo - he can't escape his destiny. If you look closely you can see the words 'Ave Maria' written in Mary's halo.

This painting always reminds me of that trip to Paris on a chilly November day, walking along Boulevard Haussmann to see the large queue outside to get into the exhibition. I'd already booked timed entry tickets so spent the waiting time in the cafe. 

Jean Fouquet at the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin

There's a lovely small exhibition at the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin that's just opened that features Jean Bouquet's famous diptych of the Virgin Mary and Donor, often referred to as the Melun Diptych although the two wings are in different museums. The Gemaldegalerie has reunited them for this exhibition, alongside other Fouquet portraits as well as those that influenced his work.

I was in the Gemaldegalerie on Wednesday last week when the exhibition was being photographed and, again, on Friday when it opened. It's in a small room near the entrance to the gallery with a big 'no photography' sign at the door and, like a good lad, I obeyed the sign.

This is really a portrait exhibition since one of the panels is all about the donor, Etienne Chevalier and his patron saint St Stephen, and the other is Agnes Sorel, mistress to Charles VII of France, as the Virgin Mary. The pale white of Mary's skin is really odd compared to the red and blue angels that surround her, especially with one breast exposed, but this was a very peculiar commission designed to curry favour with the king.

As a portraits exhibition it was lovely to see Van Eyck's 'Portrait of a Man' also shown. I'm very familiar with this man who is the husband in 'The Arnolfini Portrait' in the National Gallery in London. He's unmistakeable and I'm delighted to have seen him at last, after seeing the reproduction in books.

There are other small portraits and drawings to illuminate the main portraits, such as those by Robert Campina and another by Fouquet of an old man in need of a good shave. I don't know who this man is but I like him. He's obviously sharing a funny story in the local pub and anticipates being bought another drink at the end of it and I probably would.

There's also a page of drawings by Benozzo Gozzoli, a pupil of Fra Angelico, on display and another page attributed to his 'school'. This page is supposedly influential in the pose of St Stephen in the diptych. It might be and I love the link to Fra Angelico but it might also be someone going a bit too far in making links between artists and paintings.

It's a lovely exhibition that is well worth seeing if you're in the area. It's small but you've got the rest of the Gemaldegalerie to explore as well.

'Portraits by Cezanne' at Musee D'Orsay, Paris

On my recent trip to Paris I saw the 'Portraits by Cezanne' exhibition at Musee D'Orsay which opens at the National Portrait Gallery in London in October. That gives me another opportunity to see this excellent exhibition.

The exhibition starts off, as you'd expect, with early portraits as Cezanne found his own style. There were a few portraits of his uncle differentiated by wearing different hats, something he seems to do with his own later self-portraits, wearing hats of various shapes and colours. The consistent thing is the bushy beard, both for his uncle and himself. He's not the poster-boy for the exhibition however, that's reserved for 'Boy in the Red Waistcoat' which works really well with the splash of vivid red to liven up the colour palette.

To illustrate Cezanne's 'hats maketh the man' approach, I particularly liked his 'Self-portrait with a White Hat' with Cezanne looking straight out at the viewer wearing a white hat of sorts - or is it a bandanna tied around his head? Hair and beard are well kept and under control unlike in the self-portrait I'm more familiar with in the National Gallery in London. That painting is on loan to this exhibition and it was nice to see it again. I think I prefer the self-portrait with the white hat though, showing the artist in his prime, gazing out at the viewer in three-quarter pose, a man assured of himself and in control of his art.

As well as painting his own portrait, Cezanne painted his wife endlessly. There are half a dozen portraits of Madame Cezanne in the exhibition, the poor, long-suffering wife. I could well imagine her saying, 'ok, just another few minutes but I really need to make the dinner...' as Cezanne started yet another portrait.

Another portrait I particularly liked was 'Gustave Geffroy' from around 1896, with the good Monsieur Geffroy sitting in front of his book-case with books scattered on his desk. I suspect he's copying favourite passages into his notebook to keep them with him. The first thing I noticed were the orange-spines books in the book-case and wondered if Penguin paid Cezanne a royalty for inventing its trademark colour. That took me into the painting and could examine it with different eyes.

If you don't know the sitter or his/her history, then you need something to grab your attention to pull you into the painting, and those books did it for me. I assume the catalogue explains who he was and his relationship with Cezanne but, since the catalogue was in French then I have no idea. I look forward to reading about Gustave in the National Portrait Gallery catalogue.

Another portrait I loved was the one of Maggie Smith or, rather, 'Woman in Blue' to give the painting it's true title. As soon as I saw this one I thought of Maggie and still do. I can just see her sitting at a table waiting to be served a glass of sherry and sighing because of the wait. The slight downward glance and the angle of the hat, the plain blue jacket and dress against the colourful tablecloth all serve to give the painting a slight air of sadness, but I assume a momentary sadness. I'm sure she'll perk uo when the sherry is delivered.

It's a very simple portrait that cries out for a story to be draped around it and I hope the National Portrait Gallery version of the catalogue will do that. I want to know who she is and what was going on in her life at the time of the portrait.

One of the final portraits is another self-portrait by Monsieur Cezanne, this time as an old man whose beard has turned grey and he's gone all trendy by shaving it into a goatee beard. A large floppy beret tops off the portrait. The robust, beefy man of the earlier self-portraits has shrunk a bit with age but he's still using hats to cover his baldness. I looked at this portrait and thought old man and then wondered why he bothered to shave the sides of his beard? Was he still vain at that age? was it the fashion at the time? I don't know, but after all the earlier fully bearded portraits it did rather stand out for me.

I didn't realise that Cezanne was such a portraitist until this exhibition - I usually associate him in my head as a landscape artist because that's the genre I've mainly seen in his paintings. This exhibition shines a new light on him. That's always a good thing.

The exhibition opens at the National Portrait Gallery in London on 26 October and I'd certainly recommend it. I'll be going again to say 'bonjour' to Monsieur Cezanne.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Fra Angelico in the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin

The Gemaldegalerie (the paintings gallery) in Berlin includes a great 'Last Judgement' triptych by Fra Angelico. The Gemaldegalerie is part of the Kulturforum complex of museums and galleries just off Potsdamer Strasse (beyond Potsdamer Platz) behind the Philharmonic concert hall and that might explain why it wasn't terribly busy when we went. It's not on the beaten track and you need to know that it's there to find it. Luckily, I wanted to see the Fra Angelico painting so I knew where it was.

The 'Last Judgement' is a triptych of panels hung with three predella panels of the life of St Francis. I don't think there's any link between them other than they're all by Fra Angelico (who was a Dominican rather than a Franciscan).

I suspect linking the the two works is more about saving wall space than artistic merit since the 'Last Judgement' seems to focus on Dominican colours. The downside of hanging them together is that it means the 'Last Judgement' is hung higher than it would be normally and I'd rather it was lower to make sure I could see all of it properly. On the other hand, seeing all these panels together is pretty great! Mind you, it also pointed out that the 'Last Judgement' could do with a clean to free the colours compared to the predella scenes. More of that later.

The central panel shows Christ in Heaven surrounded by seraphim making his judgement, with apostles and angels on either side of him. Below, we see humanity being divided into those who merit heaven and those destined for hell.

The wings of the central panel show heaven and hell, with angels leading the blessed to heaven and demons punishing those destined for hell. If you look closely you can see that the Fra names the circles of hell, or possibly the sins of the sinners, in each of the small scenes set in hell. The devil sits in the centre eating humanity in a hell of our own creating - he's already eaten quite a few of us from his size. These scenes show different circles and punishments of hell, presumably based on Dante. I prefer the angels' stately dance towards heaven.

Something I really like about the central panel is the way that the angels cuddle and hug humanity and then direct them towards heaven. I'm a fan of the angel that dives down from heaven to save a mortal. All of the arms round each other is a  really nice touch and not one I've seen in paintings by other artists (but I might simply have missed it). That is something we should aim for - angels are welcoming the good into heaven and that's something we should aim for.  Isn't that how you'd want to be welcomed into heaven, with a cuddle?

This section of the painting really made me wish this triptych had been cleaned - just look at all those reds, pinks and blues, and imagine how vivid they'd be if they were cleaned. It would shine with colours and with the gold leaf in the background. One day it'll be this painting's turn to be cleaned and I'll be back on the plane to Berlin to see it.

Of course, as well as the path to heaven this painting includes the path to hell. The main panel shows people being divided into those who should go to heaven and those whose destination is hell and one of the panels shows hell.

We see a bloated satan and his devils inflicting pain on the damned. If you look closely you can see the names in Latin of the circles of hell or the names of the sin above each group of sinners. That's Fra Angelico's writing, that is. I suspect the circles of hell are named after Dante but I don't about that for sure. I'd rather be dancing with the angels with the angels that be naked and roasting in hell. The message works for me.

I mention that the panels would benefit from cleaning and the reason I say so is that a similar panel painting is in Rome and it has been cleaned and it looks so much more vibrant. I saw it earlier this year and here it is in all it's glory. Just imagine the glorious colours of the Berlin 'Last Judgement' if it was cleaned to this standard.

I'm not too sure what the predella panels are trying to show but we see Saints Francis and Dominic together, the death of St Francis and then St Francis speaking to his followers. This suggest there might be other predella scenes to fill in the gaps in the life of St Francis but it's interesting that a Dominican friar painted a life of their great rival of the Franciscans. I suspect there's a story behind this that I'm not aware of.

If you're lucky enough to be in the area then please make sure you visit the Gemaldegalerie since it has a great collection of paintings and is hung excellently.  Not just to see the Fra (although that is mandatory) but to see so many other great paintings, many of which you'll be familiar with but have never seen the original.