Previous Lectures: March 2018 – June 2019


Josiah Wedgwood and the Age of Enlightenment –

Gaye Blake-Roberts

This lecture  by Gaye Blake-Roberts, the Curator of The Wedgwood Museum was packed with information about Josiah Wedgwood.

The Enlightenment was one of the most exciting times which embraced the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions and into this era in 1736, Josiah Wedgwood was born. His family developed pottery at Burslem where the coal seams there could fire up the kilns. He had a damaged right knee from contracting smallpox when only 9 so could not use kick wheels and thus began his experiments with clay. He turned to the Industrial Revolution for ceramic manufacturing. He was also a pioneer of marketing, a prominent slavery abolitionist and a major backer for the development of the Trent and Mersey canal.

He studied chemistry so that he could develop better clays and glazes. By 1763, after collaborating with Thomas Whieldon and Joseph Priestley, he was supplying china to Queen Charlotte and he named the pottery he had made for her as Queen’s Ware which was cream in colour. It was in demand all over the world and is still popular today. He advertised in the main London evening newspaper and replaced any pieces which were damaged during free delivery in carriages.

He realised that tastes change and so used different patterns such as botanical images, bag pipers or patterns from dress fabrics. He introduced the idea of pattern books so that ladies in London could browse and give their orders through a number sequence which was duplicated by an identical pattern book in the factory. He developed Jasper Ware from the black basalt of local clay combined with manganese. He was influenced by Michelangelo and Italian art.

As a prominent slavery abolitionist he mass produced, and gave away free of charge, cameos depicting the seal for the Society Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade which became a popular and celebrated image in 18th century art.

He realised that the canal system was easier for transportation and so, with the help of Thomas Bentley, his long term business partner, and Erasmus Darwin he purchased land on The Ridge House Estate so that the canal would run through it. He built a new factory there. Wedgwood was an important figure in The Enlightenment  because of his accomplishments as an individual, his skills and his taste – he even had his own portrait with his family painted by George Stubbs.

The Borgias, the most infamous family in History? – Sarah Dunant

Sarah Dunant argued that the Borgias were victims of rumour, intrigue and jealousy, and do not deserve the negative views we have of them. In the 1490’s, when Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI, Christianity was dominant and Sarah likened the Pope to the C.E.O of a multinational corporation who came to power through bribery, as was common practice at the time. He had been a cardinal for 30 years and ran the treasury so was a shrewd businessman and put huge amounts of Church money into art in the Vatican. He was an excellent judge, wise, cunning and he liked and respected women, who also liked him. He built a new tower in The Vatican and was responsible for decorating the walls with paintings and put himself into them such as in the representations of the Resurrection and the Annunciation. The level of colour in The Vatican apartments stretches from the ceiling to the floor which is covered in brilliant blue Spanish tiles.

Rodrigo Borgia was a Spaniard so he had to consolidate his power against the fragmented states of Italy and a common way of doing this was through marriage.  His daughter Lucrezia married three times by the time she was twenty as Rodrigo used her to keep his power. She is shown in one painting as St. Katherine with long, chestnut curly hair and seemed delicate and pretty. Her first marriage to Giovanni Sforza was annulled by Pope Alexander as power shifted in Italy and he needed her alliance with Alfonso D’Aragon. Giovanni was so angry that he wrote that this was done because the Pope wanted his daughter for himself. There is no historic evidence of this possibility. Gossip took over and she became vulnerable to sexual slurs. Her second marriage ended when Alfonso was killed so she married Alfonso D’Este who was so powerful that she was safe from her family and ran the state doing a lot of good works. She was well loved by the people of Ferrara but paintings of her still showed her not, as originally, Flora at 21 with a bright cross pendant holding flowers but wearing a snake pendant and holding a dagger.  Paintings were shown depicting some of Rodrigo’s other children such as Cesare including a series of drawings of him by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Art of the River – Alexandra Epps

Paintings by artists as different as Canaletto and David Hockney were shown when she explored how the River Thames has inspired artists for over three hundred years.

18th century London was depicted in an idealised way and made to look like Venice in Canaletto’s 1746 painting of the River Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day. Amongst other events which have been painted were the funeral procession of Lord Nelson on the Thames in 1806, the opening of Tower Bridge in 1894 by Wylie, Boat Race Day in 1862 by Walter Greaves showing an overcrowded Hammersmith Bridge and John Constable’s The Opening of Waterloo Bridge in 1832. The Great Fire of London by Waggoner is painted in an all encompassing, overpowering red, was shown followed by a depiction of a second fire as a result of the blitz of WW2. In contrast A Frost Fair at Temple Stairs by Abraham Hondius in 1684 illustrates the Thames when it froze over and stalls were set up on the ice for everyone to enjoy fun and games. Alexandra suggested that the ice was a metaphor for reality as it could so easily crack.

Work on the river has been represented in various ways such as oyster fishing, as in The First Days of Oyster by Edward Duncan and trade as seen in Fresh Wharf, London Bridge in 1762 by William Marlow. In this picture, merchants, barrels, horses and bales  are shown with London Bridge being the only crossing into the city. Wylie’s painting entitled Toil, Glitter, Grime and Wealth on a Flowing Tide shows working life on the Thames when London was the world’s largest and busiest port.  Leisure on the Thames was represented by Tissot’s The Last Evening in 1873 with the figures in beautiful clothes and sitting close together suggesting relationships of some sort.

The river and pollution has even been painted as in Turner’s The Thames above Waterloo Bridge. Death on the river is shown by G.F. Watts in Found Drowned. Rain and the river have been variously shown as depicted In David Hockney’s End of the Regatta in 2012.

Historic Gardens of the Italian lakes – Steven Desmond

There are many illustrious gardens on the shores of Lakes Como and Maggiore in the mountainous far north of Italy. In this lecture we learn about many different gardens such as Villa Cicogna Mozzoni with its 16th century parterre and water staircase, Isola Bella,a baroque extravaganza on an island in the middle of an alpine lake and Villa San Remigio, a garden created by two Edwardian lovers. Wordsworth, Shelley, Liszt and Bellini found inspiration from this scenery.

The Queen of Instruments: The Lute Within Old Master Paintings – Adam Busiakiewicz

Adam not only entertained us with his humour and  vast knowledge of paintings depicting the lute through the ages but interspersed his talk with some wonderful lute playing of his own.

The lute came to Europe at the beginning of the 13th century form the Middle East known in Arabic as an Oud which was made of wood. It was adapted with 11 strings. It became associated with religion as it can be seen in stained glass windows in Norfolk and by 15th century it was included in religious paintings. Music has the ability to move us and artists have tried to show this through paintings. Adam likes to imagine how a painting sounds and in one picture the angel lutanist seems to be listening to his own playing. During the Italian Renaissance the lute represented celestial harmony.

Many artists were also musicians and Vasari claimed that Leonardo Da Vinci arrived at the court of Milan initially as a lutanist. By the 16th century artists such as Holbein showed the lute as being a pastime of educated courtiers such as depicted in The Ambassadors. The lute here is shown on a shelf but it has a broken string, possibly suggesting discord caused by Henry VIII’s Reformation in Europe. Titian uses the lute to try to melt the heart of Venus in his painting Venus and the Lute player.

Throughout the seventeenth century, artists such as Jan Steen showed the lute as synonymous with pleasure in intimate interior scenes as is seen in his painting A Woman at her Toilet in 1663.By the side of the lute is a skull reminding us of the inevitability of death. Brueghel in his painting The Triumph of Death has depicted a lutanist wooing a lady whilst death, as a skeleton, looks on.

Adam played beautiful excerpts from John Dowland’s lute music and then explained that because the sound of the lute was too soft it died out as a popular instrument.

Love, Power and Scandal – Susan Rumfitt

This talk explored the variety of symbols which Royal jewels stood for ranging from the time of Henry Vlll to the present day.

Jewels symbolising power were shown in a portrait of Henry Vlll in The National Portrait Gallery which displays some of his splendid jewellery collection. He is wearing rubies, gold and black diamonds. Gold is painted with gold leaf and gold itself is considered a metal which displays power. On one of the chains is the letter H and there are huge precious stones adorning him; the implication being the larger the stone, the more powerful Henry was. To reinforce this message of his power he adorned all his wives with magnificent jewellery .Three pearls which feature on much of their significant jewellery symbolises The Holy Trinity, yet another sign of power.

Elizabeth l loved pearls as is shown in The Armada Portrait. She bought and sold jewellery and granted loans against the jewellery of foreign powers! Her rows of pearls in the portrait were designed to show that she could sell them to raise money for armies to defend England so the people should feel safe with her as queen.

However, jewellery could also symbolise love and Elizabeth l had a ring containing a miniature of herself and her mother, Anne Boleyn, to show her love for her. Jewellery can be used to show other types of love such as Caroline of Brunswick’s rings which she gave to a group of ladies who supported her through her unhappy marriage to George lV and had engraved on them “Britain’s Injured Queen.”

Queen Victoria was given jewellery by Prince Albert to show his love for her such as an exquisite bow motif brooch , a love knot which could be easily broken  but could equally easily  be tied tight. Queen Victoria was also more interested in sentimental jewellery rather than jewellery of power and she had locks of Albert’s  hair put into pendants she wore so he was with her at all times. Edward Vlll gave Wallis Simpson stunning jewellery which he had specially commissioned.

It featured nature and animals which showed her softer side. Susan ended this fascinating lecture by bringing it right up to date with the history of tiaras worn recently by the young Royals.

Please note that Susan stepped in to replace the originally planned lecturer Mary Alexander. Mary will present her lecture in June 2020.

The Art of Political Intrigue in 13th century English Cathedrals –

Jonathan Foyle

Our December meeting for STRADFAS was a riveting talk by the charismatic lecturer Dr. Jonathan Foyle who explored how churches and great cathedrals represented the political ideas of the thirteenth century. He interspersed these ideas with amusing cartoons and jokes about society today which made the discussion centring on the power struggle between the kings, bishops and papacy more accessible. He referenced Lincoln Cathedral as an example of The Norman Conquest bringing a church of imperial scale to this country. Bishop Remigius had helped fund the invasion and travelled to Rome where he saw the Arch of Constantine and the tower of St. Mary at the Vatican. He combined these Roman models in the west front of Lincoln Cathedral. This represented Norman Imperialism and established Mary as a saintly protectress popular with castle builders, whilst also guarding against a raid by Hereward’s rebels who had recently sacked Peterborough Abbey’s treasures. Through such politics, great churches arrived at various designs.

The first principle of the Magna Carta asserted the right of the English church to protect its liberties and make decisions free from royal interference so there was a massive investment in ecclesiastical arts bringing screen fronts like at Wells Cathedral with embedded choristers singing behind galleries of painted saints for the Palm Sunday procession.

When King John died in 1216 his young son Henry lll had to deal with the English ecclesiasts. He visited his brother-in-law, Louis lX of France, and took inspiration from his building of the beautiful Saint-Chapelle in Paris as a private chapel. It contained relics of Christ to emphasise his own piety. As a result of this visit Henry built Westminster Abbey where English monarchs are crowned and buried amongst saintly relics of Edward the Confessor.

Jonathan talked about his research into Peterborough Cathedral’s beautiful painted nave ceiling. It derives from John of Salisbury’s text to demonstrate the superior wisdom of bishops over tyrannical kings. A gesture of reconciliation between the king and church is suggested in the painting of Henry lll as it is a flattering portrait of him. However, the battle for authority continued for three hundred years.

Leonardo’s Women – Shirley Smith

In this lecture Shirley Smith covered Leonardo’s techniques in his portraits of women, with constant reference to his notebooks. Ladies had been painted in profile as it was considered indecorous to paint them in any other way. In his first portrait, painted in Florence when he was only 22, of   Ginevra de Benci, she is seen facing the front. In his notebook he comments that a portrait is only well done if it portrays the sitter’s state of mind. He was a pupil of Andrea Del Verrochio, a sculptor as well as a painter who painted women with small almond eyes, straight nose and thin lips drawn together. Verrochio’s influence can be seen in Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait. He painted with oil on wood.

In 1482 he moved to work for Ludovico Sforza the ruler of Milan where he painted beautiful women of the court such as Cecilia Gallerani who is shown looking to one side and her body is turning the other way to give her more life. This may have been influenced by Verrocchio’s bust sculptures. He places her against a dark background emphasising the beauty of her face; again with the almond eyes, straight nose and thin lips. The light shines on the ermine she is holding; ermine is a symbol of purity. He considered the eyes to be the window of the soul and used the sfumato technique which produced a softer outline, to enhance the eyes.

By 1500 Leonardo da Vinci was in Milan where he painted the Mona Lisa with her famous smile. In this portrait Leonardo moves away from the hard dark background as he shows her as part of nature as she is the ideal perfection of nature. Da Vinci again shows ideal beauty in his drawings of female heads which he produced with smudged charcoal or chalk. In  The Madonna with a Flower he goes further and shows a rapport between the Madonna and child –she is smiling at him and he is trying to make her look at the flower.

In his notebooks he comments that “the work of a painter survives in nobler form than that of nature,” but in the whole 5000 words of his notebooks he never mentions particular women.

Alchemy and Adventure: A History of Exotic Colours and Poisonous Plants.
Speaker: Lynne Gibson

This lecture explored how colours used in our most beautiful and valuable paintings were often poisonous and derived from alchemy. The colour red has been the most desirable through history. Pliny, the Roman, was said to have made the colour from the blood of two monsters; the elephant and a basilisk which was a mythical snake like dragon. The blood of both was supposed to have been combined together to form a red colour pigment ground into small particles and mixed with water to make paint.

Crimson was made from the parasitic insects on an Indian oak tree called kermes which were boiled and this gave off an acid. It was used to dye wool and silk. In Pompeii a bright orange red was used in mosaics which was made from Cinnabar; a costly and toxic mineral combining mercury and sulphur. Red lead was used in medieval manuscripts for the red lettering under an illustration. This was important lettering, usually a title, and thus the phrase “red letter day” came into being.

Roger Van der Weyde also used Cinnabar to paint St.Jerome’s cloak and this colour became known as vermilion. When mixed with oil, the pigment is protected from the atmosphere. The Virgin wears a bluey red cloak made from Cotswold wool. The cloth itself is called scarlet!

Van Eyck’s Arnolfini portrait shows the lady wearing a dress in scarlet green blue dye from Toulouse which was very expensive to produce so this colour is showing wealth. Raphael painted Pope Julius 11 wearing a silk cloak dyed in Kermes and this colour became known as Cardinal’s purple .The original recipe for this was lost so  whelks from Tyre were used, boiled with stale urine to make Tyrian Purple! The Romans were passionate about purple as it was so expensive to make and laws were passed proclaiming only the highest senators or imperial families could wear it. Cochineal was a better paint than Kermes but extremely expensive as it was made from the Coccus cacti insect found in Mexico and it required 2000 insects to make a gram of dye.

Blue became an expensive dye for cloth and was represented on canvas by ultramarine made from lapis lazuli. This was ground up, mixed with wax and then flushed with water. Ground up gold leaf was used by Duccio as a background for the Virgin Mary’s cloak. The nearest cheaper pigment to gold was Orpiment but it had a high arsenic content in it so it destroyed the actual colour and any other colour near it. Turner and Vermeer used yellow ochre which was derived from the droppings of cattle fed mango leaves mixed with mud!

Fortunately modern paints will be made from modern chemical dyes!

As Good as Gold – Alexandra Epps

In celebration of the Golden Anniversary, Alexandra Epps delivered to Stradfas members a stunning lecture exploring the story of gold and its significance and symbolism within the history of art. The sun and gold are forever linked together, with the colour itself seen as the physical sweat of the sun.  In Christianity, there have been golden icons and halos such as seen during the early Renaissance in Giotto’s “Adoration of the Kings” where sacred people are depicted with halos.

A three dimensional image is created with the introduction of blue from lapis lazuli. In The Wilton Diptych, illustrating the adoration of kings, where Richard ll is presented to the Madonna and Child, the gold paint is layered and sculpted so it appears as if the viewer is looking at jewels. In the Annunciation of Fra Angelica, golden rays are portrayed in which can be seen the dove as an expression of the Holy Spirit.

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus has many gold details such as in the angel wings, the roses and the cloak.   At the time it was believed that if you can worship physical beauty you are on your way to realising spiritual beauty.  Gold coins have been depicted in paintings by varied artists such as Titian and Dutch artists as in The Moneylender and his Wife.

The Kiss by Klimt from 1906 uses gold leaf depicting rain feeding the flowers whilst the couple seem surrounded by a gold cosmos. Vienna was going through changes and there was unease at the time. Klimt’s portrait of Adele Block- Bauer has so much gold in it that the lady seems secondary so it is all about the glitter rather than the person. In the 1960’s many artists separated gold from the idea of religion; Yves Klein felt gold symbolised infinity.  A modern use of gold was seen where golden sweets were used for an artistic display so the viewer takes a sweet and becomes part of the painting. The sweets are replaced thus giving the idea of regeneration. She ended with a modern interpretation of the sun in The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson who, in 2003, created a large sun to enhance the viewer’s experience.

Let There Be Light! – Alexandra Drysdale

Alexandra Drysdale’s lecture was packed  with information about how light is used by great painters from the Ancient Greeks to David Hockney. Her arguments aimed at enlightening us about how artists have painted temporal and spiritual art through the ages.

Light has been used to represent God, redemption and the spiritual aspects of life as seen in icons. With the Roman Empire art was influenced by two different styles; the East  in the style of the Egyptians and the West pursuing a path of realism as seen in the paintings of Giotto where he depicts light falling on human bodies to give a sense of roundness.

Artists in Bruges then started to create photographic paintings by using oil paints for luminosity which heightens the sense of realism and can build a scale of dark to light not possible with earlier frescoes. Van Eyck painted mirrors to show realism and to manipulate light as seen in The Anrnolfini portrait where a marriage is being celebrated. Reflected in the shining mirror in the painting a figure can be seen who could be Van Eyck himself! The pursuit of realism peaked with Caravaggio and his dramatic paintings with a background of darkness and spotlights on shiny surfaces. Eastern Christian tradition such as paintings by  El Greco depicted a supernatural, cold light, fused with the style of Venetian painters such as Titian where the light shown represents spiritual ecstasy.

Hollywood stars today use Rembrandt’s flattering lighting as shown in his self portraits where strong light focuses on one cheek surrounded by darkness. Turner masters light in his water colours. Alexandra enthusiastically showed us many more slides of famous artists and their use of light such as Vermeer and the light on a shiny pearl ear ring. Monet depicted moving light and modern artists such as Michael Andrews depicted light through ideas of his view of the ego.

King George III: Patron of the arts, art collector, friend of America and family man
Speaker: Oliver Everett

Oliver Everett treated members of STRADFAS to an, at times, hilarious but very informative lecture about George III.  He argued that George III has been unjustly remembered as having been mad and losing the American colonies. He did, in his last years, suffer from a blood disorder called porphyria but for most of his life he was a discerning art collector as well as a patron of the arts, an architect, a family man and a friend of America.

George III was greatly influenced by Lord Bute who became his advisor and tutor when he was only 12. George was crowned king at 22 and The Coronation Portrait by Sir Alan Ramsey was the first family painting we were shown to be part of The Royal Collection which George III commissioned. He also had many beautiful paintings of his wife displayed.  He was responsible for the construction of the Golden Coach which is used for the coronation. It has stunning paintings on the side of it by Giovanni Cipriani. He bought Buckingham House which later became The Palace and employed William Chambers and Robert Adam to decorate rooms such as The Saloon.

He adorned the walls of the building with paintings by, among others, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Zoffany, Gainsborough and Rubens.In 1767 Samuel Johnson met George III in the library where George had amassed thousands of books and concluded he was well read and intelligent!

He was the first patron of The Royal Academy of Art and supported Benjamin West; a history painter from the colonies, so much that West became the second president of the R.A. It was not George III who caused our final break with America as the Prime Minister, Lord North, did that. George wrote an essay after the battle of Yorktown about the loss of the American colonies and  observed that  they had cost Great Britain a lot to maintain but as independence was granted we could engage in trade with them.

Let the Games Begin! – Dominic  Riley

We were treated to an enthralling lecture in April by Dominic Riley about the conservation and restoration of a book called Annalia Dubrensia which celebrated the achievement of Robert Dover who was credited with inventing the modern Olympic Games in England in 1612.

The frontispiece has drawings of silly games on it such as hare coursing, fencing with two short swords each and acrobatics.

The book itself is an acknowledgement of the achievements of the fun loving Robert Dover in creating the Shuttlebuck Games by people such as Ben Johnson and Thomas Heywood.  These acknowledgements took various forms such as an acrostic, a panegyrick or an anagram.

Dominic took us through the fascinating techniques which he used to restore this book which had been found in a library in Gloucester and was sold to The Robert Dover Society for £12,000.  We saw slides of the original spine of the book and then details of how it was taken apart and put back together in sections called quires. He sourced Japanese paper to replace pages as it is so thin.

Each original page had a code on it, such as a letter of the alphabet as no pages had numbers at this time. At the end of each page is written the first word or words of the next page on it so bookbinders can match the pages correctly. This word is called the Catchword or Catchphrase. He took us through the aging of the leather and the research for the appropriate lettering for the book title on the spine. He showed us so many interesting techniques that we were mesmerised by the slides. This beautiful completed book eventually went to the V and A for safe keeping.

The games which the book celebrates are still held on the first Friday after the May Bank Holiday in Chipping Campden.

Report on the March Lecture

On March 15 members of STRADFAS were treated to a lecture on Titian which was packed with information and insight by Dr. Nicholas Watkins. He argued that although the first art historian, Vasari, had placed Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci ahead of Titian in terms of achievements, Titian in fact transformed Venetian painting and European art. He came from lowly origins but by the end of his career Charles 5 had granted him nobility in honour of his great paintings.

His repertoire was vast; ranging from religious paintings to portraits, group pictures and pictures of children. His use of colour was ground breaking at the time as he did not just illustrate light and dark as in the style of Leonardo but represented the colour that existed between the two which showed form. He produced evocative mood paintings based on literary texts which he wanted to be felt rather than decoded. His inspiring Sacred and Profane Love painted in 1515 was commissioned to commemorate the marriage of Niccolia Aurelio to a young widow and shows a sunset and a poetic landscape reinforcing the symbolism of the figures.

He used colours that appeared alive and natural and from afar they appear perfect. They convey feeling and seduction. His depiction of the beautiful Venetian courtesan in The Venus of Urbino, who is clutching red roses for love, inspired many nudes such as in Toilet of Venus by Velasquez and Goya’s Maya Desmuda. Titian’s Danae inspired Rembrandt to produce his own interpretation which can be seen in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. He pioneered a new type of painting when a history painting commemorates a specific moment such as in The Allocution of The Marquis del Vasto, to his troops in 1540. Titian used architecture in his paintings such as in the Pesaro Altarpiece in The Friari in Venice which influenced Van Dyck using a column slightly off centre. His Man with a Quilted Sleeve created new conventions of three quarter length portraits. His portrayal of the richness of black, the furs and textures displayed grandeur but in an informal way such as in Frederico 11 Gonzaga. He could portray tenderness and charm in his child portraits as well as icons of power such as Charles 5 on horseback. Later in life his style developed into one showing agony when illustrating a terrifying subject. This can be seen in The Flaying of Marsyas. His final painting called The Pieta shows light shining through, symbolising hope which he  wanted on his grave.