St. Werburgh Church, Wembury 

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September's Thought

Getting Life in the right perspective – a point of view.

If something ‘looks right’ that doesn’t always mean that it is right. If, however, something looks wrong, then that is usually because it is wrong. Of course, all this can vary depending on your point of view, or where you are viewing from. We view things from our own perspective.


 In terms of our opinions, or take on life, perspective can be defined as, ‘a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a self- orientated point of view. Probably this is best summed up as our own outlook or interpretation, our ‘take’ on things. And in terms of relationships, or personal circumstances, I suspect we all know what it is to have taken something, ‘out of perspective’, of allowing our own view point to wrongly interpret or wrongly respond to a situation.

In terms of art, technical diagrams or visual representation, perspective can best be defined as, ‘the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other’. Best summed up as making things look right. For an artist, be they Rembrandt or a local watercolour amateur, getting a painting’s perspective accurate is usually considered an essential.   

It was certainly an essential for the 15th century Italian Grand Master Filippino Lippi. Lippi, trained under Botticelli. He became renowned as a leading Florentine exponent of the tradition of great frescos and sacred paintings. Though, through the historical misfortune of being eclipsed by the next generation, in particular by Raphael and Michelangelo, Lippi’s name and work is not now as well-known as it deserves. We do have some of his paintings at the National Gallery in London. One such painting in particular, a Virgin and Child composition, entitled The Adoration of the Kings, has marred Lippi’s otherwise highly regarded reputation. Ever since it was acquired by the National Gallery in 1882 it has sparked comments that Lippi had a poor sense of perspective. The painting appears to be all out of balance. The hills in the background look like they are about to tip over. The people standing around Mary and the infant Jesus all seem to slightly lean forwards or backwards in unsettled poses. It is entitled ‘adoration’ yet the perceived direction of their gazes doesn’t just quite focus onto Jesus.

Most noticeable Is that, although Mary is herself looking down at the child, her head doesn’t seem to be tilted at quite the right angle, the trajectory of her gaze surely misses the child and disappears into the middle distance.  For over a hundred years visitors to the gallery have been unimpressed by this out of kilter composition. Leading art critics have slated Lippi for his lack of skill in perspective.

It was only comparatively recently that a leading art critic had the inspirational flash of understanding that Lippi had painted this intending that it was to be a sacred panel to be hung above the altar in the side chapel of a cathedral. It would be viewed by worshippers as they knelt and looked up. So, in Room 57 of the National Gallery, disregarding the stares of bemused tourists, the critic knelt down before it in a posture of prayer or of taking Holy Communion. As he then looked upwards the painting changed, suddenly it was in perfect perspective, everything came into perfect balance.

Perhaps we learn two things from this. One is that when someone or something doesn’t look or feel right to us, it may become more understandable if we take a look at it from their angle, their perspective. The second thing is that when things in life seems all out of perspective, kneeling down to pray can often bring things back into balance.

Wishing you every blessing, Martin

*If you have opportunity to visit the National Gallery or view the painting online, please note there are two Lippi paintings that almost have the identical title. There is ‘Adoration of the Kings’ – this was painted in conjunction with Botticelli.  It is the second Lippi painting’ The Adoration of the Kings’, that will appear out of perspective - unless of course you decide to kneel down!