FULL Course 17:
A World in Pieces: Medieval Mosaics
Professor Liz James and George Bartlett
Mosaics are the largest and most spectacular works of art from the medieval world, used to create some of the most sumptuous and spectacular celebrations of religious and secular power. They are also amongst the most beautiful. Next to a wall mosaic, a Renaissance altarpiece is like a postage stamp. This course is about why mosaics matter in understanding and thinking about medieval art, so we shall consider what messages they were intended to convey to the observer. But we shall concern ourselves with how they were made and the breath-taking range of skills that putting a mosaic together involved. Our focus will be with wall mosaics, from the Byzantine churches of Constantinople and Greece to the mosaics of Ravenna, Rome, Norman Sicily and Venice. We shall visit Westminster Cathedral to see the splendid mosaics there, heavily influenced by the mosaics of Byzantium and Italy, as well as the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Sophia in Bayswater. A visit to a mosaic workshop will give us first-hand insight into the processes of making. The course is co-taught by Professor James and her PhD student George Bartlett who brings to the subject his research interest in Byzantine depictions of Christ and naming inscriptions.
New Course 18:
‘Rebels of the Baroque’: Painting Dissent in Seventeenth-century Rome
Dr Giulia Martina Weston
The visual culture of seventeenth-century Rome was dominated by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who turned the Eternal City into an urban theatre, and deployed the persuasiveness of Baroque art to celebrate the papacy and its Counter-reformation propaganda. In the secular sphere of private commissions, however, patrons and painters favoured artistic expressions that were openly at odds with the official culture and its dogma. Focusing on a diverse group of artists which includes Salvator Rosa, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Pier Francesco Mola, Nicolas Poussin, and Pietro Testa, this course will explore the first depiction of dissent in the history of Western art.
We shall investigate these artists’ novel subject-matter and imageries to determine in what ways they departed from Baroque norms and forms. To decipher the meaning of the dissenters’ highly original paintings and graphic works, we shall pay attention to their self-promotional strategies, ambitions and socio-economic status.
A close reading of seventeenth-century art criticism will reveal what these ‘rebels’ meant to contemporaries, while their after-lives will be explored by looking at the appeal of their works to British eighteenth- and nineteenth-century painters, arbiters of taste and collectors. Visits will include the National Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and Dulwich Picture Gallery.
True to Nature? Picturing Landscapes, Animals and Plants in Northern Europe, 1550-1750
Dr Thomas Balfe
From the verdant forests of Dürer and Jan Brueghel the Elder to the elegant gardens in which Rubens portrayed himself alongside his family, the natural world is a vital presence in northern European art. ‘Truth to nature’ was a fundamental principle governing artistic practice before the advent of Modernism. Yet, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, nature increasingly yielded diverse (and sometimes conflicting) forms of truth. Empirical accuracy is a key concern in the exquisite insect miniatures by Joris Hoefnagel and Robert Hooke, which span the modern categories of art and science. Landscapes by Rembrandt, Gillis van Coninxloo and Jan van Goyen, with their focus on authentically Dutch topographical features, express a political consciousness about land which had only recently been reclaimed from foreign rule. Hunting scenes and images of Louis XIV’s Versailles menagerie proclaim the truth – widely accepted at this time – that human beings have the right to dominate, possess and study animals. This course explores the interwoven empirical, political and symbolic truths conveyed by images of nature. It does so via case studies which focus on representations of gardens, seascapes, landscapes, foods, animals and insects in a variety of media. It will include study visits to several London collections.
Cabinets of Wonder: A History of Museums in Britain
Dr Jerzy Kierkuc-Bielinski
Museums are not, and never were, simple repositories of objects or histories. They are not neutral spaces, but play a central role in how we define ourselves as individuals, cultures and as nations. From the objects that they exhibit, to their often extraordinary architecture, their formation, function and purpose have always been influenced by economic, political and social forces. This course will look at the historical development of the modern museum or art gallery. This history will take us from the formation of cabinets of curiosities in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, to the magnificent royal collections of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the great public institutions of the modern world we are familiar with today.
Using specific, historical museums as case studies, and through a series of site visits, we shall examine how the architecture of the museum, and the methods of display, as much as the extraordinary objects they showcase, create a rich network of aesthetic and historical meanings. The course includes visits to Sir John Soane’s Museum, the British Museum, Tate Modern, and a day-trip to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
‘Modern Painters’: British Art and Modernity, 1848-1900
Dr Katherine Faulkner
1848 was a year of violent reaction across the globe, of revolutions from France to Brazil, the publication of the Communist Manifesto and Chartist riots in Britain. Amid these waves of protest, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in London. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais started their own rebellion against the traditions of the Royal Academy and strove for new means of artistic expression that were relevant to modern life.
Traditionally, Paris has been seen as the centre of the avant-garde in the nineteenth century, but this course will explore how the Pre-Raphaelites were pushing artistic boundaries in Britain and internationally. Later on in the century, artists and designers such as Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris were producing beautiful objects that embodied radical politics, while the poet Algernon Swinburne and painters such as James McNeill Whistler made daring claims for the autonomy of art.
The scope of the course will reflect current research into British nineteenth-century art, focusing on themes such as modernity, gender, and class and incorporating the global context of the British Empire. Possible visits include the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Britain, The Guildhall Art Gallery, The Red House and Leighton House.
Bright Lights and Dark Visions: Nordic Art from the Danish Golden Age to Edvard Munch
The call for political independence and defined national identities marked the development of visual, literary and musical cultures in the Nordic countries during the long nineteenth century. Artists sought to articulate unique national characteristics, as in the work of painters of the so-called Danish ‘Golden Age’, but were also confronted with constant challenges from international movements – from Naturalism to Symbolism, Expressionism and early Abstraction. This course considers how the national voices both proclaimed their specific visual identities and accommodated themselves to foreign visual manifestations as artists sought to capture the northern light and the region’s expansive terrains of untrammelled nature, complementing the music of Grieg and Sibelius and the writings of Ibsen. Sometimes, this accommodation reinforced the potency of artists’ distinct national visual languages, as seen in Peder Balke’s ghostly visions of snow-covered, mist wrapped landscapes or Carl Larsson’s scenes of quintessential Swedish domestic life. In others, it elicited powerful individual syntheses, as in the work of Vilhelm Hammershøi, Nikolai Astrup, August Strindberg and Edvard Munch. All, however, were aware of the Nordic region’s peculiar qualities of the brilliant clarity and haunting beauty of the light and the brooding darkness not just of winter but also of the individual soul.
Course visits will include the National Gallery and the British Museum print room.
Idealists, Realists and the Avant-garde: The Battle for Nineteenth-Century French Painting
Dr Lois Oliver
In a cartoon published in 1855, Honoré Daumier imagined a battle between two rival aesthetic schools in France: ‘Idealism’ appears as an ageing neoclassical nude, wearing an antique helmet, with his palette as a shield, heroically raising his mahlstick as a spear, to defend himself against ‘Realism’, a scruffy figure in rustic clogs, brandishing a small square palette and clumsy paintbrush. The image perfectly encapsulates the artistic and political differences between these two entrenched aesthetic positions, but the real joke is that neither of these veteran combatants is as vigorous as he used to be: both would be vulnerable to a new avant-garde challenger. The French art world witnessed a series of battles as traditionalists grappled with the successive challenges presented by Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Symbolism. This course explores the reasons behind the profound innovations in subject matter and technique that characterised the age, and the obstacles faced by avant-garde artists in getting their work exhibited and accepted. We shall explore the work of Ingres, Delacroix, Delaroche, Courbet, Millet, Rousseau, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cassatt, Morisot, Seurat, Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, and visit the National Gallery, the Wallace Collection, the Royal Academy exhibitions Félix Vallotton and Helene Schjerfbeck and the Tate exhibition Van Gogh and Britain.
New Course 24:
Fashion, Culture and Nation: Brazil 1920-1945
Dr Elizabeth Kutesko
This course examines the intersections between Brazilian fashion, culture and national identity, looking at a fascinating set of case studies that include Oswald de Andrade’s ‘Cannibalist Manifesto’ (1928), Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras (1930) and Genevieve Naylor’s Brazil Photographs (1940-42). Brazil encapsulates many of the tensions between the ‘Western’ and the ‘non-Western’, the ‘European’ and the so-called ‘foreign’. In the words of anthropologist Roberto DaMatta, Brazilian culture constitutes ‘a unique site in which Western culture has mixed and mingled with non-Western cultures for centuries’.
This course examines Brazilian culture at a crucial point in history, using it as a starting point to explore global preoccupations with modernity, self-fashioning, image-making and nation building. As a major player within Latin America, Brazil casts doubt upon simplistic assertions of US cultural imperialism, and complicates geographical distinctions between the West and ‘the rest’. Brazilian culture has often refashioned European art, ideas and goods to suit national needs. Brazil therefore provides an extremely useful model for thinking about the characteristics of a contemporary multicultural society.
This course includes trips to the Royal Anthropological Society, the Wellcome Collection, and the Victoria & Albert Museum’s print room.