Previous Lectures Sep 2022 – June 2023

Previous Lectures Sep 2020 – June 2021

Previous Lectures Sep 2021 – June 2022

Previous Lectures Sep 2023 – June 2024

21 June 2023
Music in Art
by Sophie Matthews

Sophie delighted us with her lecture about the development and the status of a certain type of wind instrument since the time of Chaucer. She showed slides of paintings in which a type of bagpipe was illustrated such as The Miller’s Tale from the Canterbury Tales. She also included a slide of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch amongst several others. Interspersed with humour and detailed explanations about the mechanisms of various wind instruments through the ages Sophie explored paintings in a unique way. She played the instruments with such precision and concluded with a piece by Purcell which she performed on a baroque oboe which she had made herself.

18 May 2023

King and Collector – The Art of Henry by Siobhan Clarke

Siobhan regaled us with examples of art collected by Henry VIII which started The Royal Collection that now comprises over 3000 paintings.
After Henry VII died, Henry VIII commissioned the renowned Renaissance sculptor Pietro Torrigiano to design and build his parent’s tomb. This magnificent tomb was placed in Westminster Abbey, but it has an inscription on it exalting Henry VIII himself! Slides of paintings by the Harenbout family, Holbein, VanCleve and others were used to show just how Henry glorified himself either in battle or as the head of the new religion when he split from Rome. The Field of the Cloth of Gold painting illustrated the magnificence of the materials Henry used for the tents, their furnishings and other structures emphasising his wealth and power.
His greatest show of wealth was the completion of magnificent tapestries to celebrate the birth of his son. These are on show at Hampton Court Palace and are the second most valued part of the Royal Collection behind the Crown jewels.

20 April 2023

Queens, Consorts and Courtiers: Female Art Patrons in Late Stuart England by Dr Amy Lim

Catherine of Braganza was one of several women who have been found to be responsible for commissioning art in may forms during the Stuart period in order to carve out their position in society. After finding herself married into a court of loose morals Catherine had to find her own identity which she did through art. Her partnership with the artist Jacob Huysmans who painted her and other court ladies resulted in a trend for portrait painting. Also in this court of King Charles was Barbara Villiers, his mistress and she formed a partnership with Sir Peter Lily the official Court Painter and developed a trend for painting ladies in sumptuous dresses and fertility symbols. She was mocking Catherine who did not produce an heir, but Barbara did give birth to the King’s children. Mary of Modena commissioned Catholic art by Gennarri for her oratory at St. James’s Palace. Queen Anne encouraged architecture as she became involved in the completion of St. Paul’s Cathedral by commissioning murals for the dome. Anne also gave her own money towards the funding of The Painted Hall at Greenwich.

Courtiers such as Sarah Churchill tried to regain her husband’s, the Duke of Marlborough’s reputation by building a London mansion which was plain and simple with large transparent windows to show transparency in her husband’s use of money.

The Duchess of Somerset used her great wealth to encourage not only fine art but many crafts such as furniture making. She bought gold and silver from the Huguenots for jewellery making. There are many types of female patronages which have come about through religious beliefs, status and working with a husband so as the definition of patronage is  broadened more stories of women patrons will emerge.

16 March 2022.

Fashion, Fury and Feathers by Tessa Boase

A dramatic presentation accompanied by many beautiful slides combined to ensure an entertaining lecture about three pioneering women who played important roles in the founding of the RSPB. Etta Smith, Emily Williamson and Eliza Phillips lived in different parts of the country at the same time, but all campaigned passionately against the use of birds and bird feathers for decorating hats. Tessa took us on her own fascinating investigative journey of discovery into the origins of this society which was formed in 1889.

Etta from Blackheath in London wrote to all the church members who wore hats with feathers in and admonished them for being “Murderous women!”. At the same time, Emily Williamson from Didsbury put pressure on the British Ornithologists for help to combat the wide use of whole birds and their feathers for adorning hats.

When they refused to help, she commandeered all her friends to go out into the community and spread the word and ask women to pledge to never wear feathers.

These two ladies eventually combined with Eliza Phillips in Croydon to campaign against importing dead birds for plumage. With the help of Nancy Astor, The Plumage Importation Act was passed in 1921.

Many other fascinating facts were given about the social history of the time and Tessa’s own eventual triumph when she achieved recognition for the contribution made to the formation of the RSPB by these women. She gifted their portraits to be hung at the society’s headquarters which had for so long been dominated and run by men!

16 February 2023

Heaven on Earth – a Roadtrip Through Medieval Burgundy by Caroline Shenton

We were taken on an inspiring and informative road trip through Burgundy stopping at various Benedictine and Cistercian buildings to admire the architecture and sculptures in places such as Autun, Vezaley and Cluny. The Romanesque style was shown to bring light and harmony to all the constructions. The thick walls, curved arches, columns and intricately decorated capitals at the top of these columns were illustrated with beautiful slides. Scenes such as the story of Adam and Eve and the tale of Noah’s Ark were explored in depth to show us something of the life, tools and appearance of the people of the time the sculptures were made.

As the Benedictine  monks became more wealthy and acquired land they developed this land to produce wine which they eventually sold to those outside the monasteries. We were treated to a brief exploration of the various wines in the Burgundy district with some advice on the best cheeses to accompany them!

19 January 2023

The Art of the Cartoonist by Harry Venning

As the cartoonist for The Guardian for twenty five years Harry Venning enjoyed considerable success with his “Clare in the Community” strip cartoons and is now enjoying the fruits of his stories about Hamlet. With humour  throughout,  Harry  interspersed cartoons around the famous “To be or not to be” line from Hamlet with fascinating facts and drawings about cartoons, their origins and their influence on society. His slides varied from the example of a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci in the National Gallery to a Punch cartoon emphasising the real need of the poverty stricken to receive government aid.

Examples of cartoons by John Leech and his illustrations of Christmas Carole, John Gilray and his satire of Napoleon and Schultz Peanuts were shown as well as modern day female cartoonists. He also showed us just how effective the addition of a line or curve can be in changing a picture so that it tells a completely different story.

8 December 2022

No Ordinary Christmas by Ghislaine Howard

Ghislaine Howard treated us all to her personal introduction to art depicting Christmas, starting with the beautifully lit Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano painted in 1423. Here we were introduced for the first time to the frequently depicted exhausted Joseph. Much rarer are paintings showing the pregnant Virgin Mary, one of a few exceptions being in 1490, The Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca. 

From Breugel’s Census at Bethlehem painted in 1549 we were led to the very unusual Gaugin Nativity set in Tahiti from 1900. With contrasting styles James Tissot in 1890 showed the three Magi in filmic reality; Holman Hunt in anatomical detail, and back to Bruegel painting in contemporary clothes of 1560. More recent works were by Evelyn Williams, Jyoti Sahi and Brian Fell the steel sculptor. 

The paintings were interspersed with Ghislaine’s reading of evocative poetry; The Journey of the Magi by TS Eliot and The Oxen by Thomas Hardy. Another personal innovation was the inclusion of Ghislaine’s own delightful paintings; self portraits when she was pregnant and as a young mother, inserted between the great masters.

17 November 2022

Lord Fitzwilliam and his Bequest to Cambridge by Sarah Burles

Lord Fitzwilliam’s background was one which encouraged his love of the arts. His mother, Catherine Decker, was painted by van Meer with her three sisters. His grandfather, Matthew Decker, with whom Lord Fitzwilliam lived in his house in Richmond, was a patron of the arts. Matthew particularly liked Dutch Golden Age paintings. Lord Fitzwilliam attended Trinity Hall Cambridge when he was sixteen and it was there that he honed his musical skills, later travelling to Paris to study the harpsichord. It is whilst he was there that he began a collection of musical scores. He frequented the Duke of Orleans art collection at the Palais Royale between 1760 and 1780 and this really influenced him as he not only admired the individual paintings, but he coveted the collection as a whole.

In 1789 the French Revolution resulted in many of the art collections being split up and sold and Fitzwilliam tried to buy the whole of the Duke of Orleans Collection but he was unsuccessful. However, he managed to acquire some key pieces such as Titian’s Venus and Cupid with a lute player, linking the ideas of music and art and Veronese’s Hermes, Herse and Aglaurus .

There are many Dutch paintings in his collection such as those of Gerrit Dou and Rembrandt. He also collected Illuminated manuscripts and prints. He never married so, as he had been so happy when he was at Cambridge, he bequeathed his whole collection to the university together with an amount of money to build a museum for it. He felt London was not a safe enough place for it as he wanted as many people as possible to have access to all of his artefacts so the museum was to be built in Cambridge. He did not want his collection dispersed. It was finally housed in the magnificent building in 1848, thirty-two years after his death.

20 October 2022

Regency Revelations: The Lost Diary of a Dandy

By Mark Hill

Mark Hill’s talk about the journal was full of everyday life details; his observations show a parallel with our lives now as there was political unrest due to the passing of the 1832 Reform Act and the outbreak of cholera restricted travel abroad. It is a literal literary time capsule which records his life. It begins with a description of his childhood in the late 1790’s at Offington Hall where he enjoyed an idyllic time observing nature and experiencing the wonder of summer evenings. His home inspired Jane Austen to write Sanditon. The whole tone of the diary changes when he is sent to Harrow at 9 years old. Once there he became friendly with Lord Byron.

His time at Trinity College Cambridge is recorded in melancholy tones as he “suffered privations” and the only diversions which seemed to please him were when he was able “to swim in muddy ponds.” At one point he was exiled to Spain after a trial, supposedly for libel, where he met and spent time with, a much younger man who could neither read nor write and called himself “the Marques.”Throughout the lecture, we viewed colourful slides of important places or objects of the time, such as the Victorian obsession with Botany and the beginnings of industrialisation. Margesson gives an account of his love of gardens and flowers and comments on the mechanisation of an omnibus!

The whole talk was interspersed with actual extracts from the journal read with such aplomb by Mark that overall he built up an image of a man who was dissatisfied with life, had chilling family relationships and, until he went abroad, never travelled far from his home in Jermyn Street in London unless it was to watch males bathing in Hyde Park or linger at the Gloucester Coffee house. The climax of the lecture came when Mark asked us what we thought “the revelation” of the title might be!

15 September 2022

Shaken by an Earthquake:Stravinskyand the Rites of Spring with The Ballets Russes.

By Sandy Burnett.

 Sandy Burnett delivered a fascinating and very entertaining lecture which recounted the events which led up to the riot which ensued after the first performance of The Rites of Spring in 1913 in Paris. The story of a Russian virgin being sacrificed to the god of spring was going to be a difficult spectacle to perform anyway but Diaghilev put together a ballet with Stravinsky and Diaghilev which included innovative dancing and dissonant music and resulted in the unexpected nature of the overall production.

The idea for the composition came to Stravinsky in a dream and it begins with a remarkable bassoon solo which he composed in a very high register which is totally out of its usual range. This sets the atmosphere for the whole piece which orchestrally reflects Russian folk music with its primitive elements of Russian peasant culture.  Diaghilev found Nijinsky to choreograph the ballet for The Ballets Russes and he had deliberately given the dancers ugly movement and the male dancers had painted faces.  The atmosphere of that first night was captured when Sandy showed us a portrait of Nijinsky by John Singer Sargent and played us numerous sections of very intricate music which he explained in terms of colours. This most untraditional performance was played in front of a very traditional audience which consisted of ballet lovers who had just seen performances such as Les Sylphides with Anna Pavlova and enjoyed concerts by composers such as Chopin. Painters, poets, journalists, musicians and even Rodin were in the audience as was Valentine Gross who knew that the new ballet would be unconventional but said “I was expecting neither such a great work of art, nor a scandal. The theatre seemed to be shaken by an earthquake.” The audience were so outraged that they shouted and became so unmanageable that the police had to be called! Diaghilev commented that it was “exactly what I wanted.”