I know I promised more posts about children’s books this week – and for a taster, see Karen’s post today on Cornflower Books, which might well spill over here later – but I realised that I still hadn’t written about the Fabiola exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It’s open until 20th September, so if you’re in London and have any chance to get to it, I really recommend that you do.

I saw this advertised in The Week magazine, and was hooked by the idea. The artist, Francis Alys, has collected homemade images of the 4th-century Saint Fabiola (patron saint of abused women, I believe) from around the world. They are from flea markets, antique shops, and private collections – and are all of the same image. The original painting – which portrays Fabiola’s head and headwear, facing left, in profile – was a nineteenth century work, and has been lost. The image is replicated in all of the 300+ pieces in this exhibition – paintings, embroideries, miniatures, jewellery, even one crafted from seeds.

But, of course, this is not replication. Each version is unique – varying in period, style, talent, resources. It is simply stunning, seeing this image in all the works, but different in each. You can see disparate visions of what beauty is, or what sainthood should look like. It is, quite simply, the best, most affecting, and most striking exhibition I’ve ever seen. Unforgettable. And think of all the time Alys must have spent on this – and the triumph and excitement she must have felt when coming across another find in a flea market! Read more about it here, and do beg, steal or borrow to get to London to see it. Oh, and it’s free!

Has anyone else seen this exhibition? It’s been in a few places around the world, before the National Portrait Gallery. I don’t know if all the sites for it have used the same turquoise colour on the walls, but it was a stroke of brilliance to do so – the contrast with the orangey-reds of the works is the final touch to a fascinating exhibition.

7 thoughts on “Fabiola

  • July 22, 2009 at 7:21 am

    I wrote about children's books yesterday and am planning more posts on that theme soon…

    But that exhibition looks interesting!

  • July 22, 2009 at 8:50 am

    I'll call in sometime next week.

  • July 22, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Looks amazing, thanks for bringing it to our attention. The colours and repetition are a real treat for the eyes. I'm planning on seeing the Waterhouse exhibition at the RA on Saturday so I'll visit the National Portrait Gallery while I'm at it. It'll be a nice bit of artistic contrast for me.

  • July 22, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    This is so beautiful! How lucky you are to be in London.

  • July 23, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    I'm due to meet my mother at The National Portrait Gallery for liunch tomorrow so this was perfectly timed for me! Thanks Simon

  • July 23, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Ooh, awesome. I'll drop in next time I'm around – that looks really good. I like a good exhibition, especially when they're free…

  • July 24, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Yes, I was at the National Portrait Gallery a few weeks ago and I was so busy looking for the Jane Austen miniature I almost missed this, but I'm glad I didn't! It was stunning and I'm so glad to see it on your blog.

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