‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’
– L.P. Hartley, The Go-between
The Courtauld’s expert scholars have been leading art history Study Tours to destinations around Britain and mainland Europe since the 1950s.
As our world has changed so much, and physical travel is currently fraught with uncertainty, discomfort and danger, we have rethought what it means to take a Study Tour with us. It is not a question of replacing the physical experience of being ‘there’ – whether that is an Italian piazza, a museum in Brussels, or a Bavarian castle – with an online recreation ‘here’, as in the virtual tours sometimes offered under the notion of ‘armchair travel.’
Rather what we intend to do is to visit the ‘unvisitable’. In future programmes, this will include, among others, the exploration of regions with enormous historical and cultural wealth, but which are currently ravaged by war and have become inaccessible, such as the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Damascus. This year, it means visiting the past, – that other “foreign country” in L. P. Hartley’s famous opening lines, where people “do things differently”. Our distinguished art historians will take us back in time to fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Mantua, to Belle-Époque Brussels, and to early twentieth-century Munich, and will be our guides to a fuller understanding of these past cultures.
Together, we shall explore how patrons, artists, theorists and critics operated and inter-acted and what these places and the works of art they produced meant to their original audiences. In our lectures and discussions, we shall focus on the major works of art and architecture, and on the urban spaces that draw us to these cities, but they will be embedded in enriching contexts of literature and music, of court cultures and artistic milieux, of politics and society in a way not easy to do when one is ‘on location’, in busy and often outdoors settings.
Travelling back in time in this way will give us a deep educational experience that does not seek to replace, but that enhances the physical journeys we shall take when we can freely visit Britain’s and Europe’s wonderful sites again.