Building the Picture explored the fertile architectural imaginary of the Italian Renaissance city-states. Rather than focusing on architectural projects in the usual sense, the exhibition examined the real and imaginary buildings, streets, and piazzas that are depicted in narrative and devotional paintings and in the preparatory drawings that artists made for these works. Located in the National Gallery’s Sunley Room, Building the Picture was small but substantial, making good use of the gallery’s permanent collection in combination with some well-chosen loans. It was ordered according to four themes that were taken to be fundamental: constructing the picture, entering the picture, place making, and architectural time.

The exhibition started from the premise that architecture, rather...

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