March 2020 – On-line lecture: Raphael – a master in the making
By Sian Walters
| Our March lecture couldn’t happen due to restrictions because of the Corona virus. However, Sian Walters was determined to give us the lecture which was to mark 500 years since Raphael died tragically at only 37, so David Triggs our chair and Nick Lister our chair of governors combined together all their technical expertise to provide us and members of Leamington Arts Society with the lecture on Zoom.|
Sian explored how this modest artist, who took initial commissions in his home town of Urbino, became one of the leading artists at the court of Pope Julius 11. He had a natural talent, he promoted himself well and he was willing to develop, learn and assimilate characteristics and techniques from other artists which resulted in him developing and growing into his own style.
In 1504 he travelled to Florence with letters promoting himself and he became Perugino’s apprentice where he began painting frescoes and altar pieces. The influence of Perugino can be seen in The Mond Crucifixion which is symmetrical, has dancing angels, shows the sun and the moon and has a landscape and spindly trees. This is similar in many ways to Perugino’s Tezi Altar piece in the Galleria Nazionale dell ‘Umbria of Perugia, Italy. Sian added that Perugino wanted his students to copy him so that they could finish his commissioned paintings for him!
Raphael travelled onto Rome where again he promoted himself well with letters of introduction and began work for Julius 11 together with Bernadino di Betto and Perugino on frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. By this time Raphael had learnt from Michelangelo, who was annoyed that he had been copied. This influence can be seen in The Entombment of 1507 commissioned by Atalanta Baglioni, a member of a brutal Italian family, in memory of her murdered son.
Another influence was Leonardo Da Vinci whose drawing of Leda and the Swan inspired Raphael to produce a similar piece of the same name. The twisting of the body is the same in Raphael’s. This was used as a source for the figure in The Triumph of Galatea, a fresco completed in 1514 for the Villa Farnesia in Rome which was owned by a very rich banker. Raphael loved painting beautiful ladies and one of the great female portraits is his portrait of La Donna Velata, who Sian suggested was Raphael’s mistress. Her features are reproduced in The Sistine Madonna which was commissioned by Pope Julius 11 for a church in Piacenza. Raphael was commissioned to paint Pope Julius himself and the background is in a vivid green which influenced Titian and Velasquez later. Raphael painted the private rooms of the Pope and they were all promoting Julius himself by showing his symbols of the acorns and oak trees.
Sian ended her Zoom lecture by promoting the Raphael exhibition of his works at The National Gallery from 3rd October 2020 to January 2021.
February 2020 – Embroidery from Opus Anglicanum to 18th Century Gentlemen’s Suits
By Susan Kay-Williams
Susan Kay –Williams explored some amazing pieces of embroidery from the 10th to 18th century and focused on English embroidery known as Opus Anglicanum which was prized by Popes. It was of outstanding quality and each figure sewn was individual.
During the 10th and 11th centuries embroidery was commissioned for church dignitaries such as St. Cuthbert’s stole which was found in his Durham tomb. It had survived because of the metal thread used, which shimmered in the candle light. The Bayeux Tapestry was not a tapestry but embroidery in wool. It was sewn onto linen so that the background could be left unworked, allowing fascinating stitches to show up. There was a limited colour palette as dyeing at this time was not as easy as paints to make colour.
By the 12th -15th centuries, embroidery was increasingly used far more in the church in the form of altar cloths as well as vestments. Royalty demanded embroidered articles such as Edward III for his saddle cloth of red and gold. People in those days were often illiterate so they learnt through pictures such as those seen in niches on a cope, which featured embroidered panels containing images of saints. Each had a symbol sewn into the picture so that worshippers knew who the saints were.
By the 16th century, men were often embroiderers as were high born women such as Princess Elizabeth, who embroidered a book cover. In the 17th century, men were wearing embroidered garments including hats with a pea pod motif! This was a period of exploration so ideas for embroidery filtered through from places like India, with themes such as the tree of life. New fashions arrived and men’s’ suits were heavily embroidered on the collar and cuffs.
New explorers brought Botanic art during the 18th century and thus men’s embroidered waistcoats with these motifs were highly prized. Samplers were common at this time. Colours such as puce, yellow and pink became popular. Ladies of fashion chose embroidered dresses and accessories. Then the fashion changed!
January 2020 – Damnation Memoriae: Punishing Statues
Legless, headless, bodyless and handless were some of the images of statues mentioned in Dr. Tom Flynn’s wide ranging lecture. It covered statues sculpted in Classical times through to Madame Tussaud’s and modern day sculptors such as Liane Lang.
After showing us an image of a sculpture which, in interacting with a living human being, seemed to nurture humans and an enormous 2008 bronze sculpture in Woking depicting a woman shopping, with a child, Tom’s lecture explored sculptures and politics and how society seems to punish statues for the crimes of the figures they represent.
Madame Tussaud’s started with seven revolutionaries’ heads on sticks! Monochrome statues made of brass or marble became popular and during times of recent unrest they have been defaced or demolished as was Saddam Hussein’s gigantic statue in Iraq which was pulled down during the Iraq war. Most totalitarian state statues are destroyed but some statues can be reinvented and we were shown photographs by Lian Lang who reassembled mannequin figurines on existing large statues which had been moved to Budapest Park. Tom showed us one of a giant boot crushing a synthetic mannequin in this park.
Political figures sometimes commissioned statues of themselves such as the last Shah of Iran whose pair of wellington boots is all that remains of a giant statue of him after the 1979 revolution.
Statues are not only vandalised in times of unrest as was shown by one in New Zealand which the Maoris took exception to and so the head was constantly destroyed! The fate of public statues can symbolise stability and Tom argued that, as the U.K. is stable, its statues are not attacked. However, during the 2000 anti capitalist riots a statue by Ivor R. Jones of Churchill was given a Mohican hair cut and this was then copied in paint by Banksy and then also made into a silver statue. Tom felt this was an example of society working with statues to add weight to a political protest.
December 2019 – “A Dickens of a Christmas and God Bless us Everyone.”
Bertie Pearce delivered a hilarious lecture when he revealed a Dickensian Christmas with readings, biographical details and conjuring tricks. Dickens celebrated Christmas in numerous works but the spirit of Christmas cheer is immortalised in his masterpiece “A Christmas Carol”.
Influences from his early life can be seen in Dickens’ writing when, as a boy, he had to work at 30, Hungerford Steps – a shoe blacking factory – after his father had been incarcerated in the Marshalsea for debt. He was hungry and worked long hours and an illustration by Fred Bernard of Dickens at work there showed us the despair he felt. Such early experiences led him to become a great social reformer and he later made a speech to the Athenaeum called “Ignorance” about children in poverty. This was used in “A Christmas Carol”, with the boy and girl called Ignorance and Want which give the novel its pathos. Many of the 200 characters he created are portrayed by Robert William Buss in his portrait of Dickens at his desk in Gads Hill Place called “Dickens’s Dream”.
Dickens loved theatre and we were shown a painting by Sickert of one such theatre he attended. The scenes he creates in his novels are theatrical ones. He depicted an ideal Christmas in “A Christmas Carol” and Bertie illustrated Dickens’ depiction of the games, food and dancing at Christmas by looking at pictures of characters like the Fezziwigs. Games such as Blind Man’s Bluff are found in Pickwick Papers. A huge effort was made to give the poor food at Christmas and the lecturer treated us to a reading of scenes such as Mrs. Cratchitt’s Christmas.
Towards the end of his life Dickens would repeatedly talk of 30, Hungerford Place as it had made such an awful impression on him with its rat infested work rooms. When he died, such was his fame that a cockney barrow-girl said “Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?” A Christmas Carol has a heart warming ending, with Scrooge becoming a second father to Tiny Tim who proclaims “God Bless Us Everyone!”
November 2019 – Following in the Steps of Delacroix in North Africa
Jacqueline Cockburn took us on an amazing journey to The Orient. We saw the Orient Imagined and the Orient Experienced, through the art of the colourist Eugene Delacroix.
People in the late 18th century and 19th century imagined the Orient as full of wild, savage, frightening and dangerous people where the women were often naked. Delacroix’s imagination and his recognition of the effectiveness of Chevreuil’s colour circle resulted in paintings such as Dante’s Inferno and made him a popular artist. Delacroix’s ability to represent the naked human figure is remarkable as shown in Death of Sardanapalus.
However, by the time Delacroix travelled to the Orient in 1832, as part of a diplomatic mission, his paintings become realistic. He wrote diaries and sketched and later incorporated the sketches into paintings. On this mission were two people who became important to him and invited him into their homes: Abraham Ben Chimoi a Jewish man and Benn Abbou a Muslim. He snatched sketches of them so, for example, he depicted Chimoi’s daughter who was about to be married. Everyone was clothed! He went to the wedding in Morocco and painted that too. Ben Abbu took him to Arab cemeteries which he drew and in his painting The Convulsionists of Tangier can be seen the harmony of orange, yellow and green.
October 2019 – Shimmering Splendour: Silk in South East Asia.
In October, Denise Heywood took members of Stradfas on a journey back in time to the origins and ancient uses of Silk. In 700 BC Lady Xi Ling was supposedly sitting under a mulberry tree when a silk cocoon dropped into her tea and the silk then unravelled from the cocoon! This may have been the start of silk being found first of all in China but the craft of producing it quickly spread to places such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
In Thailand, weaving silk was regarded as a gift from the gods and we were shown one image of two Thai women weaving silk wearing silk sarongs themselves as a mural in one of the temples. Another showed the weaver as a god which emphasised the sacred act of weaving. In Hinduism, the universe is envisioned as a fabric woven by the gods and so silk is seen as a fabric of knowledge woven and then handed down to subsequent generations. It can incorporate various symbols such as a river flowing indicating the flow of knowledge and life. The textile is used for ceremonies such as weddings or by dancers performing for other religious celebrations. The shimmering silks give the dancers themselves an ethereal look, inferring divinity.
When war spread to Laos, the people were so impoverished that they had to sell the secrets of making this ancient textile to travellers so the art was lost for a while. Fortunately, a man called Jim Thompson had parachuted into Thailand in 1940 and seen all the silks there so he returned to learn about the processes of producing it and revived the craft. In the film “The King and I “ Yul Brynner wears costumes made of Jim Thompson silk and this set a new trend in fashion and interior design where silk is used. It is still a fabric symbolising wealth and is worn by kings, queens and princes all over the world.
September 2019 Faber & Faber: 90 years of cover design
Toby Faber, the grandson of the founder of the only remaining independent publishing house Faber and Faber, enthralled us with anecdotes and personal amusing insights during his lecture on the history of the designs of Faber and Faber book covers since its foundation in 1925. After telling us about Board members such as T.S. Eliot and Richard De La Mare he took us on a journey through the changing design covers from the muted colours on Siegfried Sassoon’s “Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man” through to Damien Hirst’s cover on Gordon Burn’s “Happy Like Murderers”, depicting a smiley face on a layer of earth.
In the early years, the Ariel poems were an innovation as one was published by Faber and Faber annually with its own envelope so it could be sent as a Christmas card. Eventually, all were put together in a book displaying the skills of Sylvia Plath who, at one point, became a more popular writer than her husband Ted Hughes who was also retained by the company. In the 1930’s interesting art work on book covers by Barnet Freedman, such as Siegfried Sassoon’s “Memoirs of an Infantry Officer” helped launch the poet’s career. Rex Whistler was another artist who drew book covers and he always put the author’s picture on it such as can be seen on the front on the first edition of P.G. Wodehouse’s “Louder and Funnier”. Drake Bradshaw’s woodcuts were used for some book covers and his illustrations can still be seen on the London Underground posters. A member of the East London group, Phyllis Bray, designed for the covers of children’s books such as Alice Utley’s “A Traveller in Time”.
T.S. Eliot designed his own cover for his original book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”, which he wrote for his god children. Working at Faber and Faber allowed him more time to devote to his own writing. Unfortunately for the company, he rejected Animal Farm as he thought it was too rude about Russia, Britain’s war-time ally, so they never published any of George Orwell’s novels! However, the collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber on his musical “Cats” based around Eliot’s poetry book has proved financially advantageous to the firm! Charles Monteith, a board member in 1953, recognised the genius of William Golding when he accepted “Lord of The Flies”, and he was also responsible for promoting Seamus Heaney’s work.
The war inevitably brought changes to publishing and this was when Berthold Wolpe joined Faber and Faber as the art director and a designer. He was brilliant and developed the Albertus typeface which can still be seen on London street signs and this typeface is known as the Faber typeface. Typography was used for cover design. By the 1980’s, the firm started an association with Pentagram who are responsible for the “ff” logo which has become synonymous with the publishing firm. Photoshop is used nowadays for cover designs.