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The Two Faces of Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Rossetti's Portraits -- well, up to a point. There are some gorgeous paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti of his favourite sitters and his muses that are the star attractions of this show about the Pre-Raphaelite at the Holburne Museum in Bath.  But amid all the big hair and the pouting red lips, just how many really are portraits, giving you an insight into the characters of the women he's depicted? And how many are those idealised visions of enigmatic women Rossetti seemed to specialise in, those ladies of the town with the kiss of a snake that LS Lowry found so attractive.  For example, here's Alexa Wilding, one of Rossetti's most frequent models, though, for once, apparently not one of his love interests. She's posed as  Monna Vanna , the vain woman, a painting originally entitled Venus Veneta , representing the Venetian ideal of female beauty. Staring into the distance, resplendent in a billowing, ornate gown and fingering her fantastic fan and her coral neckl

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Opening and Closing in October

October's another big month for new exhibitions, with Titian, Rembrandt and Goya among the artists on the agenda in mainland Europe. In London, though, the Royal Academy is staying British with a look at the final 12 years of the career of John Constable, from 1825 to 1837. Late Constable is characterised by expressive brushwork and features paintings and sketches of the British countryside and studies of the weather, in locations such as Hampstead Heath and Brighton seafront. On from October 30 to February 13.  At the National Gallery, Poussin and the Dance is intended to show the French painter in a new light, illustrating how he tackled the challenges of capturing movement and bodily expression. Running from October 9 to January 2, it includes not only the Wallace Collection's A Dance to the Music of Time  but also more than 20 paintings and drawings from public and private collections around Europe and the US. The show moves to the Getty Center in Los Angeles in February

Nero: Nasty or Nice?

Nero has had a bad press for 2000 years. Roman writers trashed his reputation as cruel and debauched after his early death, and as you enter Nero: The Man Behind the Myth at the British Museum in London, that impression is conveyed by a big blow-up shot of Peter Ustinov portraying the Roman Emperor in the 1951 movie Quo Vadis ,   looking more than a bit unhinged. (The curators, alas, don't reference the Christopher Biggins interpretation, neither from the 1970s BBC series I, Claudius  nor the  Heineken lager commercial .)  It wasn't like that at the beginning of his reign, though. The fifth Roman Emperor, Nero came to power in 54 AD aged just 16 amid high hopes of a new golden age for Rome following the death of the elderly Claudius. Official portraits emphasised his youth and vigour, with a simple, bold new hairstyle. The show takes you through Nero's story over the 14 years of his rule and leaves you to make up your own mind about his achievements -- seemingly quite cons

Five Meet Up at the National Gallery

You've bought a new painting, but it's actually one of a set of five. Nice idea to borrow the other four for a few months so you can admire them all together, as they were originally meant to be seen. And let the public in for free. That's what the National Gallery in London has done to mark the acquisition of  The Fortress of Königstein from the North by Bernardo Bellotto. If you're in central London, take 20 minutes out of your day to transport yourself to 18th-century Saxony for Bellotto: The Königstein Views Reunited .  If you follow the River Elbe upstream from Dresden towards the Czech border, you'll eventually come to the fortress on the right-hand side. It's in an area known as Saxon Switzerland, not Swiss in the sense of towering mountain peaks, but distinguished rather by rocky outcrops such as the one the fortification sits on.  Bellotto (1722-80), the nephew of Canaletto, was court painter to August III, the Elector of Saxony, and painted around 30

Opening and Closing in September

There are lots and lots of new exhibitions starting in September right across Europe. The big offering on our radar in London is at the Wallace Collection in the shape of Frans Hals: The Male Portrait . The Wallace's own  The Laughing Cavalier  will be joined by over a dozen of the Dutch painter's works from galleries in Britain, Europe and the US in the first ever show to focus on Hals's depictions of solo male sitters. On from September 22 to January 30.  One of the world's most recognisable artworks,  The Great Wave , by Katsushika Hokusai, will of course be part of an exhibition of work by this Japanese artist and printmaker starting on September 30 at the British Museum, but for once it's not the focus.  Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything , which is on until January 30, puts on display for the first time ever 103 drawings he made in the early 19th century for an encyclopedia that was never published. The works were recently acquired by the museum aft

Great Art, not a Great Exhibition

There are some stunning paintings to behold in Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace at the Queen's Gallery in London, particularly from the Dutch Golden Age. They've taken 65 works off the walls of the Picture Gallery next door in Buck House, which in normal times is only accessible to the public during the summer opening of the palace and is in any case currently being " reserviced ".  Instead of being hung in two rows, some above settees and fireplaces, the paintings are all at eye level for you to examine and admire close up. The curators invite you to linger and to consider what actually makes a masterpiece.  There's Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, Van Dyck and Canaletto. Some great art from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries from one of the world's greatest art collections, so we'll talk about the paintings first. Later on, we'll tell you why, in spite of the masterpieces on show, we found it a somewhat underwhelming exhibition, given the high standard

Up Close with Grinling Gibbons

Grinling Gibbons: indisputably Britain's most outstanding woodcarver. Petworth House in West Sussex has one of the greatest examples of his work in its Carved Room , but while that's a breathtaking ensemble of wall decorations and elaborate picture frames, it's not necessarily always so easy to pick out the fine detail of a carving several feet above your head in the subdued lighting of a National Trust stately home.  That's the reason why Centuries in the Making at Bonhams in London is such an eye-opener. Here you encounter Gibbons' extraordinary skills up really close, the intricacies and the subtleties of the carving highlighted and spotlit. This exhibition, part of a year of events to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Gibbons' death, is only on in the West End free of charge for a few weeks this August, but it will be heading to Compton Verney in Warwickshire in the autumn for an extended run. This is one of the smallest objects in this exhibition, but