In Review

Strange Beauty – reviews of German Renaissance art show

The good, the bad and the ugly - National Gallery show highlights troubled history of German Renaissance art

What you need to know

The National Gallery's new exhibition, Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance has opened to mixed reviews with some critics calling it "riveting", others "disappointing". In fact, the show explores the evolution of British attitudes to German Renaissance art, which was long considered an ugly, inferior version of Italian art, and fell further into disfavour during the two World Wars.

The exhibition features paintings, drawings and prints by the best-known German artists of the late 15th and 16th centuries including Hans Holbein the Younger, Albrecht Durer and Lucas Cranach the Elder. Runs until 11 May.

What the critics like

"Anyone interested in German art will want to see this show," says Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times. The mix of clinical precision and detachment with the drama of "interiority" is what makes the portraits at the heart of the show so mesmerising, though there are many other arresting works here too.

German Renaissance art has long been out of favour but this "riveting" exhibition finally gives it a star turn, says Laura Cumming in The Observer. The art is certainly strange, with starved bodies, broken limbs and a sheer starkness of emotion compared with the gorgeous Italian portraits of the era, but there are some fantastic pictures by Cranach and Holbein in this show.

The "undisputed German master of the portrait" is Holbein, says Alastair Sooke in the Daily Telegraph. Holbein's Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling, for example, has a delightfulness that warms the icy brilliance of its execution and a subtlety that is breathtaking.

What they don't like

The trouble is this show "highlights a weakness in the collection" overall, says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. It's a disappointment that feels more like an excuse to pull seldom-shown pieces out of the store cupboards and make them enticing by plonking a handful of famous masterworks among them.

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