Terry Jones & Michael Palin with Tim Marlow
He may be a writer, a director, an actor, an historian, and, of course, a former member of Monty Python, yet rather than being a Renaissance man, Terry Jones is clearly a mediaevalist at heart. We know this not only because he has written well-received books on Chaucer and medieval history, but an amiable half hour spent in his company at the National Gallery shows us just where his sensibilities lie. He was the first guest in a series inviting celebs to talk about their favourite artworks and Tim Marlow, whose televisual style is so effortlessly smooth and mellow that you might mistake him for a brand of instant (decaff) coffee were it not for his serious, but never heavily worn erudition, proved to be the perfect host: unlike more excitable presenters in the genre of television arts, he never upstages his guests.
Indeed, so at ease is this impeccably understated presenter at conducting well-modulated conversations in front of the camera, that you end up rather feeling like an eavesdropper. Not because you’re ever in danger of catching any ear-burning titbits, mind, but because he isn’t given to grand gesticulations in front of masterpieces (he describes himself as an art historian rather than a critic, so perhaps the scholarly art historian in him has less of a need to show off). So what did we get in this new series of Tim Marlow Meets….? (Marlow will have further conversations with celebs that will include crime writer Ian Rankin, fellow Python Michael Palin, and Pop artist Peter Blake). A nice, breezy, bite-sized amble round a gallery, that’s what. Just two gentlemanly chaps having a polite, amiable chat, not about football, or work, or politics, or market shares, but about art. Lovely.
Jones himself came across as a man who has, in recent years, spent far too long in the deepest, airless recesses of the British Library. In other words, he has assumed a slightly stuttering, donnish air. You feel that, on occasion, he might exaggerate this for comic effect, peering too closely at a canvas like a newly born mouse, say, or relishing some obscurely referenced historical point. Or perhaps he assumed it so long ago that he now wears it like a well-fitting mask. At any rate, he looks as at home at the National Gallery – ie not like a tourist – as he does at the British Library. And, obviously, he likes paintings, too, as one who is cultured naturally does.
'Jones himself came across as a man who has, in recent years, spent far too long in the deepest, airless recesses of the British Library'
But does he "get" them in a painterly, art critical sort of way? Well, he doesn’t give a hoot about the application of a brush stoke, that’s for sure; like your typical bookish type he likes a good story, and, delightfully, he knew rather a lot about the backstories connected to his chosen pieces: the 14th century Wilton Diptych for instance, featuring one of his favourite historical characters, Richard II. Like a cut-out doll against a sea of gold leaf, the ethereally pallid, red-headed Richard kneels solemly in the presence of the Christ Child. We learn that this portable alterpiece painting is, in fact, the only artefact that exists from Richard II’s court, since Henry Bolingbroke destroyed all of his predecessor’s riches but one.
Jones’ is also a fan of Bruegel the Elder, and picked The Adoration of the Kings, which looks a bit medieval but was actually painted in the latter half of the 16th century. He likes it because it’s "a painting of ordinary things and ordinary people,” though perhaps, and I say this not unkindly, there is also a hint of recognition in those puggish, heavy features of Bruegel’s peasant characters. Yes, just stick him in a colourful, medieval suit and stockings and you’ll see what I mean.
And so we proceeded, spending just a few minutes on each of Jones’ favourite works at the National Gallery: a scene of peaceful domesticity in Pieter de Hooch’s The Courtyard of a House in Delft; and Turner’s radical Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, which seems more vapour than paint.
Jones didn’t really have an awful lot to say about these last two, possibly because they’re not medieval. But if you were ever to dream about what a polite conversation between two well-appointed gentleman talking about art might sound like, than you might conjure up this one.
By the way: Jonesy looks great!
Link to Michael video 1: Michael Palin talks about how keeping a diary has helped him deal with his sister’s suicide (OMG! i don´t know that!)
Link to Michael video 2: British legend, Michael Palin, talks about his Sheffield childhood in relation to one his favourite paintings, Joseph Wright’s Iron
Link for the news: http://www.theartsdesk.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1797:tim...