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Zoom Art History Lectures

Spring 2021 lecture series

11th January      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 spring term.

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.


18th January     2B or not 2B: An Illustrated Story of Drawing

Why is Leonardo's famous cartoon in the National Gallery no joke? Why did Raphael pounce on paper? How much lead is there in a pencil? What is pitch black made from? Why do artists 'square up'? And can you spot bracelet shading, hatching or stippling?

Drawing is something most artists do. The techniques are quick and immediate. Drawing is a type of brain-storming: a way of working out ideas. But it can be also planning a composition, presenting an idea for large project to a client, or purely as a finished product in its own right.

In this talk we will discover the drawing techniques, tools and materials of the Great Masters.


25th January    'His Dark Materials': Black Pigments, Paints and Dyes

Black is the most contradictory of colours, or- is it - tones? The colour of mourning and LBDs, of the servant classes and authority, of spirituality and deepest evil, of the cheapest pigments yet amongst the costliest of dyes. In light it is the absence of colour; in dye and paint it is the combination of all.

Manet loved it, yet the Impressionists banned it from their palettes.

Soot, oak-gall, logwood, aniline, indanthrone - and, now, the discombobulating and unearthly Vantablack - have a fascinating, and colourful, story to tell.

In this talk we will shed some light on the fascinating history of dark materials and paints.


1st February        Beautiful or Deadly? Modern Pigments from Scheele's Green to Hot Pink

In the nineteenth century Scheele's green took Europe by storm. Such a verdant, healthy colour! It was used for wallpaper, jellies, and children's toys: but proved so toxic that by the 1930s it was being employed to poison the sewer rats of Paris.

In 1856 a chemistry student, Henry Perkins, accidentally discovered a new purple dye whilst working on a school project to make synthetic quinine. Even Queen Victoria wore 'must have' mauve dresses!

Mauveine, the first aniline dye, was a forerunner for hundreds of synthetic dyes and pigments. We can add metals: cadmiums and titaniums. Many appear in your grocery shopping basket, home décor and clothing, as well as the painter's palette.

Join me for a mouth-watering feast of beautiful and, occasionally, deadly modern colour.


8th February      The Art of Seduction

Seduction has been one of the enduring themes of art since Eve offered Adam an apple.

Courtly love blossomed in miniatures of the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance offered painters an Olympian cast of amorous gods and goddesses. Puritanical Dutch and prudish Victorians tutted over the loose morals of fallen women whilst admiring painted fantasies of illicit passions.

Marriage for ambitious Georgians was a serious business of social climbing, Rococo artists revelled in the fun of Fêtes Galantes and 'Gay Paree' flaunted the Femme Fatale.

But in our permissive society has the 'Battle of the Sexes' killed the spirit of romance? I do hope not and that your Valentine's day will be one of love and romance!


15th February      The Georgian Monarchy: in Satirical Print

The reign of George III was a golden age of graphic satire and caricature. The great print artists of the day: James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank amongst them, took delight in lampooning the rich, powerful and pompous.

No-one was exempt from their biting wit, not even the monarchy. Printmakers mocked the king, portraying him as a buffoon, and attacked his sons for their decadent and self-indulgent lifestyles. The entire dysfunctional royal family provided rich pickings.

Many of the prints seem shockingly audacious to us today. The best are also skilfully crafted, hugely inventive, and extremely amusing. Join me for a satirical history of the Georgian royals.


22nd February      Every Picture Tells a Story: Tales from Shakespeare

From bible stories to classical mythology, poetry, drama and novels, artists long have found inspiration in narrative. History painting was considered the highest subject matter under the academy genre system. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Shakespeare's plays became popular subjects for art.

But, even if we know the plays well, we have lost some of the ability to decipher the iconography. We can - quite literally- be missing the plot!

Join me on a detective trail to uncover hidden symbols and meanings and to enjoy the imaginative response to Shakespearean comedy, drama and tragedy.

Every picture tells a story - and we will become fluent readers!


1st March      Every Picture Tells a Story: Tales from the Romantic Poets

During the nineteenth century artists, in particular the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and followers, found a rich source of imagery in the work of the romantic poets.

But now few of us learn poetry by heart and we have lost some of the ability to decipher the iconography. We can - quite literally- be missing the plot!

Join me on a detective trail to uncover hidden symbols and meanings. We also will explore artists' responses to favourite tales from the romantic poets: amongst them, Lord Byron, John Keats, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Every picture tells a story - and we will become fluent readers!


8th March      La Serenissima, City of Colour and Light: The Great Venetian Artists

I am writing this on a chilly autumn day and dreaming of holidays in Venice!

By the mid-1400s The Republic of Venice had become a formidable power: a key player in the lucrative Eastern spice trade. Along with pepper, ginger, and cinnamon, came beautiful pigments.

Colour-sellers, 'vendecolori', plied their trade from the end of the fifteenth century - decades earlier than in any other Italian city. The addition of ground glass made colours even more luminous.

Venice was a city on many cross roads and well placed to learn the new medium of oils from Northern European artists. We will explore the use of colour in paintings by the Italian Great Masters including Giovanni Bellini, Titian and Paolo Veronese.


15th March      Pop! Art of the Swinging Sixties

Pop burst onto the art scene in an explosion of cola bottles and soup cans.

But not every-one was popping their corks. Modernist critics, who had championed abstraction, were horrified by the 'low' subject matter. Fine Art, once a bastion against mass culture, was now embracing it. But Pop was popular. Its witty, sexy, youthful, look captured the swinging sixties.

The big names are well-known: Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg. But did it start in New York or rather closer to home? Was Pop Art a critique of contemporary consumerism or a celebration of kitsch?

In this talk we will trace the development of Pop Art and enjoy some of its most iconic images.