Wars stop everything. All art galleries and theaters in London closed due to the air raid of the German army during World War II. Back then, collections of the national gallery, which were often referred to as “an art gallery for everyone,” were moved to an underground mine in Wales until the war was over. But Titian’s painting “Christ and Mary Magdalene” was returned to the gallery for a solo exhibition during the war. Why was that?
It was artists in London who filled empty art galleries during the war. Musicians including Myra Hess held a “lunchtime concert” every day, and artists encouraged citizens by holding exhibitions. The director of the national gallery brought Titian’s painting from Wales and hung it on the wall, seeing through the power of art. It was an exhibition that had a single piece of art. The painting drawn by the master of Italian Renaissance art at a young age depicts a scene in the Bible where the resurrected Jesus Christ showed himself in front of Mary Magdalene. When she tries to touch him in surprise, Jesus Christ takes a step back saying not to touch him. It was because he did not want his followers to be obsessed with his physical body. The artist placed Christ and Magdalene in a vertical and horizontal composition. Mary Magdalene wearing a red dress symbolizes an ordinary human being who belongs to the world, while Jesus standing covering his body with a white robe symbolizes an immaterial being who belongs to the heavenly world. His body language and words seem to be keeping Mary Magdalene away, but his eyes and body leaning towards her show Jesus Christ’s promise of unchanging love and protection. The painting was a great comfort and hope for citizens in London who were terrified by the war.
The National Gallery in London continued the exhibition and concerts showcasing one piece of art every month until the end of the war. This tradition continues up to this day through the online exhibition “Picture of the month” and an art gallery concert Piano Day. War makes everything stop but it starts a new tradition and experiment at the same time.