Troy: Myth, History and Archaeology
Dr Steve Kershaw
It has been said that there probably isn’t any place in all the stories ever told that is as famous as Troy. This talk focused on the mythology of the Trojan war, which gave rise to some of the finest Ancient Greek literature and art, and then turned to the fascinating tale of the discovery and excavation of the ‘topless towers of Ilion’ at the site of Hisarlik in Turkey by Heinrich Schliemann and others. Using slides and video we explored some splendid archaeological finds, such as the ‘Jewels of Helen’, and finally, via encounters with Greeks, Trojans, Hittites and others, we turned to the burning issue of whether Homer’s Trojan War really happened.
Gender and the Body — Kept Behind Curtains: The Story of the Nude
The nude is still seen in our modern age, and indeed has been seen for quite some time as the pinnacle of creative artistic perfection, but throughout the course of art history the notion of the perfect body and consequently gender has been constantly reshaped and redefined. This lecture looked at the continuing fascination with representation of the body in sculpture and in painting across the ages, with sculpture from the 4th century BC, painting from the Renaissance, and through to the modern age with paintings from the Impressionists. This lecture included iconic works by Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, Bernini, Degas, Renoir and Velazquez, to name but a few. Moreover this lecture looked at the reasons that lay behind the commissioning of such images. What were their purposes, who were the patrons behind these images, and what, if any, hidden riddles; signs and symbols are hidden within these seemingly enigmatic and flawless images of perfection. As this lecture charted the ever changing attitude towards the nude as a subject we looked at the treatment of nudes by collectors and museums in the 19th century, finally asking ourselves, ‘if this is art’, how did it become so and why?
Fine Art Forgery: Craftsmanship or Conjuring Trick?
Fake scientific and documentary evidence can play as big a role in forgery scandals as clever fabrication of the artwork itself, as we discovered in a ‘ripping yarns’ survey featuring the familiar Tom Keating and Van Meegeren amongst a supporting cast of exotic rogues. We came right up to date with the Greenhalghs of Bolton.
Houses and Gardens of Normandy
This lecture discussed a wide range of architecture: the 15th century fortified chateau d’Harcourt, 16th century half timbered and moated manorhouses, 17th century chateaux with their steeply pitched roofs and symmetrical facades (Balleroy, Brecy, Beaumesnil and Miromesnil), an 18th century stud farm built by Colbert for Louis XIV to promote horse breeding in France, quirky seaside villas in Deauville and Trouville built for the rich under the Second Empire, and an Arts and Crafts house at Varengeville (Le Bois des Moutiers) built by Lutyens with a garden by Jekyll. Other gardens included formal parterres, avenues of beech and lime, potagers laid out with fruit, vegetables and flowers, rose gardens, Monet’s Giverny and two contemporary gardens which showed with real French flair how you can create dramatic effect through the simplest of means. It evoked the Normandy immortalised by painters and writers alike — the rich greens of field and forest, the whites of apple blossom and chalk cliffs, the blues of the sea and of fields of flax. The houses and gardens reflected France’s history and culture and revealed the links with our own medieval past.
The World of Jane Austen
In this talk, Rupert looked beyond the well-rehearsed biographical details to examine Jane Austen’s physical surroundings, her family life and that of their country neighbours, from squires like William Chute of the Vyne to peasants like the Littleworths of Steventon, one of whom was nanny to the Austen children. He described the appalling state of the roads and the complications of travel. He contrasted the distinctive Hampshire dialect with the educated speech – hardly less peculiar – of the Austens themselves. He elaborated on the peasant’s smock and the gentleman’s knee breeches and wig – and there was a word about Jane’s schooldays in Reading.
Christian and Islamic Art and Architecture
In the Iberian Peninsula the Christian and Islamic traditions met to intermingle and influence each other. This melting pot of cultures produced examples of art and architecture to be found nowhere else in Europe. In 711 AD, the Arabs conquered the peninsula of Spain and for the next eight hundred years the two traditions coexisted or fought until the Arabs were finally driven from Spain. The Islamic legacy, particularly in the south, has left marvellous examples of their artistic culture in places like Seville, Cordoba and Granada as well as further north in Seville and Toledo.
Out of the Blue: the Story of Blue in Art
Have you ever wondered where the Blue in medieval illuminated manuscripts came from, or how the glaziers of our Gothic cathedrals made their blue glass? The Ancient Britons tattooed their bodies in a blue dye, and, two thousand years later in a Parisian art gallery, Yves Kline in a public performance painted his nude models blue and dragged them across his canvasses. Why doesn’t the Virgin Mary wear green, and why is Krishna painted blue? These are some of the questions that this lecture addressed. The story of blue took us to the lapis lazuli mines in Afghanistan, the indigo dyers in Africa, and the studios of Titian, Vermeer and Chagall. As a professional artist herself, Lexa Drysdale paid special attention to contemporary artists who use blue, such as James Turrell’s ‘Skyspaces’ in an inactive volcano, Bill Viola’s videos in Durham Cathedral, and Ann Hamilton’s Blue Jeans installation. We all enjoyed an hour of true blue sky thinking!
In 1964 Terence Conran opened the first Habitat shop in London’s Chelsea. Habitat’s colour and quirky take on contemporary design chimed with Swinging London. He revolutionized British retailing. From the beginning Conran spread the word of this now classic lifestyle look though the Habitat catalogues: copies are now collected by a new generation of decorators and designers. In the early 70’s, then a design journalist, Caroline MacDonald-Haig worked for Terence Conran copy-writing and editing the Habitat Catalogue. Crazy, demanding and inspiring times, full of tension and humour, working with some of the best designers, art directors and photographers in the UK, this is an insider’s view of how Terence Conran’s vision and determination changed the way we lived then, and the way we live now.
English and European Porcelains of the 18th and 19th Centuries
For centuries, the key to the manufacture of fine translucent white porcelain was known only to Chinese potters, who had discovered the secret in the 7th century AD. After years of experiment under the patronage and enthusiasm of Augustus ‘the Strong’ of Saxony, the secret was unlocked by scientists at Meissen, close to Dresden by 1710. Success in Saxony was followed by many different enterprises operating under noble patronage, from Vienna and on to Venice, Berlin and St Petersburg. The French royal factory of Vincennes/Sevres created elegant and technically superb porcelains, copied at Chelsea in London. The lecture followed developments in Britain, from blue and white tea-wares in the Chinese style and on to 19th Century porcelains from Derby, Coalport, Worcester and Swansea, including wares painted by master artists Thomas Baxter, William Billingsley and William ‘Quaker’ Pegg. Our tour of this golden age of ceramic production concluded with 19th century porcelain wares from the kilns of Stoke-on-Trent, including Minton and Ridgway.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
The celebration of the period following Christmas can be traced back several millennia, and to at least two cultures – neither of them Christian. One of them is the southern Roman feast of Kalends on the 1st January, and the other, the northern Nordic festivals of Yuletide surrounding the celebrations of the Winter solstice. However, it was Pope Julius I who decided to subvert the gluttony, drunkenness and sun worship to Christian purpose, and by choosing the 25th December to celebrate the birth of Christ, he neatly bridged these cultures and paved the way for future Christmas festivities. And so it is that many of our modern Christmas customs and carols bear references to traditions that have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Nonetheless, each year, Christ’s birthday on 25th December signifies the beginning of twelve festive days of celebrations and music making. In this lecture-recital Peter Medhurst explored the wealth of Christmas music, traditions and curious legends that are connected with them. Music performed included: Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly, The Coventry Carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, The Wassail Song, The Three Kings – Cornelius.