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Zoom Art History Lectures

Autumn 2020 lecture series


5th October      Introduction and art quiz

This session will give us a chance to ensure all will run smoothly for the lectures. It is also an enjoyable introduction to some of the themes we will meet this autumn.

The quiz is just for fun - no grades awarded! All you need are the old-fashioned tools of a pencil and sheet of paper to jot down answers.


12th October     DOUBLE DUTCH: Symbols, Emblems and 'Double-entendre' in Dutch Genre Painting

The merchants of seventeenth century Holland filled their town houses with paintings. A favourite subject was scenes of everyday life: depicting behaviour both good ... and bad.

But these upright Calvinist citizens rejected Catholic Baroque melodrama. They wanted nothing to alarm the in-laws or corrupt the children. Innocent objects hint at adult themes: lutes and virginals, lap dogs and pet cats, foot warmers and bed warmers.

This is a world of subtle hints, spoken through a language of symbols, emblems and motifs. Join me to explore the hidden meanings in everyday scenes and become a fluent reader of 'Double Dutch'! 


19th October      DOUBLE DUTCH: The Secret Language of Dutch Still Life

Merchants of the Dutch Golden Age filled their town houses with paintings. Still Lifes reflect the prosperity and self-esteem of the new Republic. The detailed realism of these paintings is compelling but is there more to Dutch art than meets the eye?

Banketje (banquets) and ontbijtjes (breakfasts) celebrate an abundance of foods. But could the curl of lemon peel, platter of oysters, or kraakware bowl of bruised fruit warn of pleasures of the flesh?

Vanitas, 'pronkstilleven' and 'blompots' display treasured possessions. However, the pocket-watch, fading bloom or human skull, might hint that consciences are troubled by such ostentation.

Join me to explore a secret symbolic language and become a fluent reader of 'Double Dutch'!


26th October       TRICKS OF THE LIGHT: The Illusion of Light and Shade in Western Art

The modern fashion for colour has left us all rather 'tone blind'. But from antiquity through to the nineteenth century tone was often the most important property of a painting.

Leonardo invented sfumato. Caravaggio embraced chiaroscuro. The Tenebrists depicted a world of shadows. A favourite device used by Constable and Corot was a small black convex mirror.

Shading, together with perspective, can offer a convincing illusion of solidity and space. But how can the artist create this illusion? And why was the invention of oil paint so vital to the creation of realistic light effects?

We explore a wide range of paintings and optical illusions to discover fascinating tricks of the light.


2nd November      ALCHEMY AND ADVENTURE: A History of Exotic Colours and Poisonous Pigments

In our modern world it's easy to take colour for granted. Yet before organic chemistry the most desirable pigments were often exotic or poisonous.

Merchants supplied pungent yellow purree nuggets from India, cochineal grana from the holds of Spanish galleons, lapis rock carried by camel train from the mountains of Badakhshan.

Alchemists prepared deadly King's Yellow and Ruby of Arsenic. Moorish Gold was concocted, according to a 12th century monk, from basilisk powder ground with human blood!

Small wonder artists kept their paint recipes closely guarded in Books of Secrets.

This lecture tells the stories of alchemy and adventure behind some our most beautiful and colourful paintings.


9th November       MODERN PAINTS: A Sticky Story of Modern Paint Media

One of the principle requirements of a painting medium is that it is invisible. No wonder it often is overlooked! We are familiar with paintings being described as oils on canvas or tempera on panel, but since the late nineteenth century there has been a quiet revolution in paint media.

Although invisible, it has had a surprising impact on developments in modern art.

Without industrial manufacturing processes Impressionism would never have existed. Jackson Pollock could not have 'splashed and dripped' without enamel car paints, Bridget Riley could not have produced her flat Op Art designs without PVA and acrylics.

By examining some key works from the past 150 years we will discover the important role materials and their techniques play in our understanding and enjoyment of Art.


16th November      WOMEN IN ART: Modern Mistresses

The term 'Old Masters' describes the canon of great European painters and sculptors from the Renaissance until about 1800: a period when art was a male-dominated profession.

History of Art was formally acknowledged as a discipline in the mid nineteenth century, a time when universities were exclusively male institutions.

However, in the second half of the century a significant number of women became successful artists, taking advantage of the Modern Art revolution. This period was also one of unprecedented female progress: educational and employment opportunities, property rights, the vote.

Second Wave feminism in the 1970's saw artists confront gender stereotypes and historians rewrite the all-male canon. Third and Fourth Wave feminists have addressed issues of identity and diversity.

Now, in the twenty-first century, has the battle for equality been won? We will explore the challenges and successes of the talented and ambitious 'Modern Mistresses'.


23rd November      WOMEN IN ART: Virgin, Venus or 'Vamp'?

Traditional Art History has regarded the painted female as an object. She is to be gazed at, admired and owned.

This could be explained: most artists have been men, most collectors of Art have been men, and the academic subject of Art History has been dominated by men. An unbalanced view is hardly surprising!

In the early 1970's feminist historians began to explore how Fine Art has reflected, and even contributed to, a patriarchal ideology. Art and Art History have undergone massive changes.

We will explore some ideals of womanhood: the Virgin, the pure wife and loving mother. Also some warnings: Venus, Eve and the 'fallen' woman.

This lecture will ask how we can re-interpret a wide range of images of women from the Renaissance through to the present century.


30th November      CUBISM: "Bizarreries Cubiques"

In 1907 Georges Braque visited Pablo Picasso's studio in Montmartre to see his painting: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. He was shocked! However, the two soon embarked on a period of intense experimentation.

The art critic Louis Vauxcelles, on viewing Braque's paintings in a gallery, described them as 'bizarreries cubiques' and inadvertently named the new movement.

Each man brought different ideas. Braque was inspired by Paul Cezanne's landscapes, Picasso by Iberian and African sculptures. Both were responding to the Avant Garde mood of the day in Paris.

However few Parisians were aware of Picasso or Braque. To the general public, Cubism was the style of the so-called 'Salon Cubists': Henri Le Fauconnier, Juan Gris, Jean Metzinger and Fernand L├ęger.

This lecture will explore a fascinating and highly influential Modern Art movement.


7th December      CULTURE AND KITSCH: Art and Taste

Damien Hirst pickles fish, Jeff Koons designs giant floral puppies and Tracey Emin displays her dirty knickers. What has happened to Art? Surely Raphael, Rembrandt and Reynolds would be turning in their graves!

How did ideas about 'good taste' develop? Is there such a thing as 'bad taste'? Or is taste simply a matter of personal preference?

Is high-brow culture 'dumbing down' or is art becoming truly democratic; embracing consumerism, the mass media and kitsch? Or, perhaps, art is now a game of sophisticated irony for the chattering classes.

If you were just about to strew the house with tinsel and paper chains, pour yourself a glass of sweet sherry and sit down to watch this lecture! Join me to explore the delicate subject of Culture, Fine Art and Taste.