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 among 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. There may be the opportunity of a visit to a mosaic workshop to give us first-hand insight into the processes of making.
For over 200 years, merchants from the small Tuscan city of Lucca dominated the production and sale of sumptuous silks and phenomenally expensive gold and silver brocades. These clothed the palaces, churches and courts of Europe and can still be admired in innumerable paintings and manuscript illuminations, perhaps most famously in the Wilton Diptych in London’s National Gallery. Exceptionally well-informed and cosmopolitan patrons, they commissioned some of the most famous yet enigmatic masterpieces of the early Renaissance, including Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Double Portrait, Jacopo della Quercia’s Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, and The Boucicaut Master’s Trenta Missal.
This course focuses on these and other great works of the period associated with Lucca and its merchant colonies across Europe. It explores connections between the business and art of silk manufacture and purveying, and the Lucchese’s influential role as agents of artistic and cultural exchange across Europe, notably at the courts of France, Burgundy and England. Visits will include the National Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum and The Tower of London.
During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, some of the most sophisticated courts of Europe were concentrated in a few small towns in north-eastern Italy. The most significant were at Ferrara, Mantua, Rimini and Urbino, each dominated by a ruling dynasty, respectively the Este, Gonzaga, Malatesta and Montefeltro.
From these families emerged some of the most magnificent patrons of the Renaissance in the visual arts, music, literature and humanist learning: Isabella d’Este and her brother Alfonso, Lodovico Gonzaga and his pleasure- loving descendent Federico, Sigismondo Malatesta and his arch-rival Federico of Montefeltro. Their reputations have been immortalised by Piero della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna, Leonbattista Alberti, Leonardo da Vinci and Titian.
How did these rulers attract such major figures to work for them? What motivated them to spend so much on the arts? How could they compete with much larger, more powerful, and richer states in the patronage of sophisticated culture? How did their refined taste come to be adopted elsewhere in Italy and then influence much of European culture? Visits will include the National Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the British Library to examine first-hand some of the finest products of these splendid courts.
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.
This course will explore a fascinating aspect of British art history, the parallel careers of John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. Between them, these giants of landscape painting revolutionised the status of their genre, transforming the depiction of place through empirical experience and emotive response. However, their approaches were very different. Turner roamed throughout Britain and the Continent in search of inspirational scenery, combining observation of nature with literary and historical references. By contrast, Constable nurtured his vision at home, rooting himself in the familiar and the everyday. As well as comparing differences and similarities within their works, we shall examine the wider cultural contexts pertinent to their careers: the reproductive print market, the nineteenth-century experience of travel, and particularly the role of the Royal Academy in London, the arena where their robust professional rivalry was played out. We shall also look closely at their materials and techniques, particularly their innovations with oil paint, watercolour and their use of sketchbooks. The course culminates with a discussion of their respective artistic legacies and their changing reputations through the twentieth century and beyond. The week will include visits to Tate Britain and the National Gallery, as well as sessions in London print rooms.
For the French art historian and critic Louis Gonse, “Manet [was] a point of departure, the symptomatic precursor of a revolution”. For Picasso, “Cézanne was like the father of us all”. But Manet himself stated that he had “no intention of overthrowing old methods of painting, or creating new ones”, and Cézanne’s later period as a recluse in Provence removed him from direct engagement with the younger generation. This course explores the almost mythic quality with which artists and critics viewed Manet and Cézanne. It teases out points of continuity and innovation, addressing central topics of landscape, still life, materiality, and representation, as well as less obvious connections, for example the musical soirées of the society Le Petit Bayreuth. The course takes full advantage of the significant works by Manet, and Cézanne in London, especially the RA exhibition Cézanne: The Rock and Quarry Paintings. The course ends with an examination of the legacies of both Manet and Cézanne, paying critical attention to Clement Greenberg’s famous description of Cézanne as “the gateway to contemporary painting”.
This course is now full.
For reasons beyond our control, this course has now been cancelled.
Symbolism – a cultural movement that encompassed literature, the visual arts, and music – sought to peel away external realities and search for deeper meaning by exploring the imagination, the emotions and states of mind. Fixed boundaries between art forms were eroded as its proponents sought to create a new form, the Gesamtkunstwerk or ‘total work of art’. It can also be considered the first truly international artistic movement. However, because the first attempt to articulate a Symbolist aesthetic programme was made by the French poet Jean Moréas, it was long regarded as a French movement with a few foreign imitators.
This course looks at Symbolism in a truly international context, situating well-known figures such as Paul Gauguin, Odilon Redon, the Nabis (Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard and Maurice Denis), Edward Burne-Jones, Aubrey Beardsley, Edvard Munch, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Fernand Khnopff and Gustav Klimt within a vital and complex network of international exchange, be it through exhibitions, patronage, publications or personal contacts. The course will prioritise close visual analysis, and the group will visit collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Britain, and the National Gallery to discuss works in detail.
This course will explore British art from the 1940s to the 1970s, an era of ground-breaking creativity and controversy, when artists often confronted societal taboos and raised awareness of gender and sexual inequality, challenging the stereotypical British ‘stiff upper lip’. We shall focus on a range of artists, landmark exhibitions and historical moments, including the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 and the development of women’s liberation. Beginning with British Surrealism in the 1940s, the course will examine the movement and its legacy for feminist art practice, including work by Ithell Colquhoun and Penny Slinger. We shall consider changing attitudes to male homosexuality through art produced in the 1950s and 1960s. A focus will be Francis Bacon’s paintings, from his 1955 London solo exhibition that prompted a police visit, through to the queer themes of his 1970s shows. We shall also look at British Pop from a feminist and queer perspective, through works by David Hockney, Pauline Boty and Margaret Harrison considering their negotiations of the male gaze and consumer culture. Towards the end of the course, we shall explore photography, collaboration and performance. This will include Gilbert & George and the collective COUM Transmissions, particularly the latter’s notorious 1976 exhibition ‘Prostitution’. Course visits will include Tate Britain; other destinations will be announced in the spring.