Ashtead Art Lovers Monthly Talks

All future talks are postponed until further notice due to Covid-19

As the pandemic continues those who come to my talks will have realised that the room is too small to be able to socially distance properly, so the talks are still off.

Until we meet again, stay safe.

Future Subjects


The themes of love, desire and death are illustrated through various scenes taken from Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses, allowing the artist to exploit these sensual themes in six paintings commissioned by Philip II of Spain in 1551, which are now scattered through various museums thoughout the world. This exhibition unites them for the first time and the exhibition runs from 16th March until 14th June.

The Goddess Diana & her maidens caught bathing by the hunter, Actaeon. c1556-58. National Galleries of Scotland.

The painting above captures the moment whwen the hunter, Actaeon bursts in on the Diana, virgin goddess of the hunt, and her maidens bathing. Furious at his intrusion, the goddess turns him into a stag and he is torn to shreds by his own hounds

Actaeom mauled by his hounds c 1560-70s. Titian. National Gallery, London.

If you are in London, then this September the National Gallery Sainsbury Wing is hosting the first exhibition given to a woman artist.

Artemisia Gentileschi (see Free Downloads for my essay on Gentileschi’s Susanna & the Elders series).

At last! The first solo exhibition of a Great Mistress of the art world. The National’s exhibition “Artemesia” features the work of Artemesia Ghentileschi (1593-1654(?)), the only Carravagista and for centuries hidden from the public eye because her work was being wrongly attributed to her father, Orazio.

Artemisia is one of my artistic heroines and the first I studied in any depth. Much has been made of her rape by her teacher of perspective, Agostino Tassi, and it has been argued that her paintings of the murder of the Assyrian general, Holofernes, by the Jewish heroine Judith is a way of her working through the emotional misery of that event. While the incredible savagery of her decapitation of Holofernes makes a modern audience catch their breath, the world at the beginning of the 17th century was a very brutual place. Artemesia has captured the horror of this deed. Far from being a personal therapeutic piece, her scene contrasts those of the other great male artists who were much more inclined to a fluffy concept of Judith, focusing on her beauty rather than the single mindedness of the heroine who, according to the story, braved entering the Assyrian camp, dined with the general and then chopped off his head when he had fallen into a drunken stupor. Below, Judith and her maid Abra pause as they put the general’s head into a bag. Have they heard someone outside the tent. Artemisesia’s use of chiarscuro heightens the drama, and instead of making Abra an old hag (as in the earlier Caravaggio version, In Artemisia’s version, the two women are of a similar age. Even though they are clearly from different strata of society, they are now complicit in the murder.

Judith & her maidservant, Abra. 1635. Artemisia Gentelischi (1594-1654?). Chicago Institute of Arts.

The National has recently acquired a self portrait of Artemesia, which featured in the exhibition together with various other self portraits, other paintings and various recently discovered works.

I did not go to the exhibition so was unable to renew my acquaintance with the Burghley House version of one of her renditions of Susannah and the Elders (below).

Susannah & The Elders c1630s. Artemisia Gentelisci (1594-1654?), Burghley House Collection.

In this later version of her rendition of this subject, the hapless Susannah, caught at her ablutions by the two rapacious old men, is on the verge of tears and a teardrop trembles on the edge of her eye. You cannot see this on screen, but the pathos of this painting when seen in the flesh is mesmerising. When I saw it at the National’s Beyond Caravaggio exhibition of 2016-17, I sat in front of it for 30 minutes full expecting the tear to fall. Yes, I admit it – I am a total geek!

Pieter Coeke van Aelst

The life and works of Antwerp Mannerist, Pieter Coeke van Aelst, painter, designer of tapestries, pieces to be made up by goldsmiths, stained glass, architect, wood cut engravings and writer. In other words, a master of many disciplines.

Pieter Coeke van Aelst. Engraving by Johannes Wierix (?). Rijkmuseum.
From ‘Pictorum Aliquot Celebrium Praecipuae Germaniae Inferioris Effigies’
published by Volcxken Dierix in Antwerp in 1572

Son of the deputy mayor of Aalst situated in Eastern Flanders, Pieter Coeke van Aelst was trained either by Bernard van Orley (c1481/94 – 1541) in Brussels, or by his father-in-law Jan Mertens van Dornicke. Pieter became a member of the Antwerp Gild of St Luke in 1527 which is the same year he married Anna van Dornicke. He took over his father-in-law’s workshop on the latter’s death, also in 1527. Widowed sometime in the 1530s, Coeke van Aelst married a second time c1538-39. This time it was to a fellow artist, Mayken Verhulst (1519-1599), a painter of miniatures. They had two daughters and a son and their daughter Maria married Pieter Breughel the Elder. Karel van Mander tells us that Mayken probably trained her grandsons, Pieter Breughel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder.

In addition to receiving commissions from the Antwerp authorities, Pieter went on to become dean of the Guild of St Luke, in Antwerp. He designed tapestries for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Grand Duke Cosimo I of Tuscany (head of the Medici family),and Henry VIII as well as paintings, sculpture and stained glass commissioned by the Emperor and eventually was appointed court painter to the imperial court.

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