Culture

Manchester New Year’s Eve 2015

Tuesday 5 January 2016

New Year reveller reclines on bitumen reaching for a beer3000

Mr Jonathan Jones, referring to your article: ‘Sistine perfection or pissed-up Manchester street scene? Let’s put things in perspective’ (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2016/jan/04/manchester-street-scene-perspective-sistine-photo-new-year-renaissance-painting), I have to say I completely disagree with you. I would say the image captures perfectly the essence of Renaissance art. The best art – art that lasts – Renaissance or not, is that which, with an element of mystery, tells us something about ourselves and the society in which it was created. They also challenge us and ask questions of us. This image does this and more. It sings to the joy of Dionysus and Bacchus whilst simultaneously warning of the grim realities of overindulgence. The mystery is captured brilliantly in the reclining man and lady crossing the road addressing us directly, along with figures further in the distance. They give nothing away. “What do you see?” they are asking. “Do you see yourself?” The lady in the fur coat, who is remonstrating with the officers who are wishing, and being wished, Happy New Year by the man who is tired and having a rest on the ground in the foreground, what is she saying? Is she remonstrating and pleading innocence, or is she condemning some heinous personal affront? There’s humour too. All sense of vanity and strong inhibitions of social convention have left the reclining man – he is completely free. He is liberated. As free as a bird. He is a king too. The taxi with its wheel quietly having been turned, readying itself to edge slowly around the man unnoticed is no longer king of the road. And where did this great modern Bacchanalian scene unfold before us. Why ‘Well Street’ of course, where else?

Hail to the King! It’s a scene Caravaggio would instantly recognise and would no doubt raise a smile and a glass to. Cheers!

The image could don a frame next to a Titian and a Hogarth where it would hold its own and our attention in equal measure. And to think, this beautiful image, and all it reveals, probably only existed for a millisecond. I love the shadows and the lighting and the blues. They’re transfixing. Makes me want to have a drink while I look at it. It should be on the wall of a gallery… “Yes, so that’s human life. What time does it open?”

Kenneth Clarkson.
Art Historian and T.V. celebrity.

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