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David Hockney will be in the spotlight at London’s National Gallery this autumn in a small-scale display featuring two of his works depicting Piero della Francesca’s The Baptism of Christ (around 1437–45). Hockney’s pieces—My Parents (1977) and Looking at Pictures on a Screen (1977)— will go on display at the gallery alongside the original 15th-century painting by Piero from 8 August.

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ (around 1437-45)

Piero della Francesca’s work depicts Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan as angels watch on, setting the scene in his hometown, Sansepolcro, in Tuscany. The painting is anchored by a line of symmetry which, according to a film shown on the National Gallery’s YouTube channel, “leads our eyes to heaven”. Piero, who was also a mathematical theorist, was the first artist to write a treatise on perspective De prospectiva pingendi (from a painting perspective, around 1474) which discussed, among other technical topics, creating an illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface. It also discusses techniques for painting faces.

David Hockney, My Parents, 1977

In Hockney’s My Parents, a reproduction of Piero’s The Baptism of Christ is reflected in a mirror on a trolley behind the artist’s parents, Kenneth and Laura Hockney. In 2014 the work was voted the UK’s favourite work of art in a poll for a scheme called Art Everywhere, which was backed by the Art Fund charity. Looking at Pictures on a Screen shows Hockney’s close friend Henry Geldzahler—the late Belgian-born US curator of 20th-century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—looking at a folding screen in the artist’s studio. Four posters of celebrated National Gallery works, including The Baptism of Christ, are affixed to the screen.

David Hockney, Looking at Pictures on a Screen, 1977, private collection

Susanna Avery-Quash, the project’s lead curator, says in a statement: “As part of the [National Gallery’s] bicentenary celebrations [NG200], this focus display draws attention to the powerful if hidden story of the National Gallery as a catalyst in the creative life of the nation through its encouragement of contemporary artists to draw inspiration from its collection.”

The planned Hockney initiative follows the critically acclaimed two-hander display dedicated to Caravaggio which features The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula (1610) and Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist (1609-10), until 21 July.

  • Hockney and Piero: A Longer Look, National Gallery, London, 8 August-27 October 2024

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