Talks & Events



Saturday March 10th: Study Day  at St. Andrew’s Church, Denton Way, Woking, GU21 3LG Telephone 01483 766175 to book.

The Rise of the Venetian Republic to the 16th century . 
Exploring how Venice came to be the trading powerhouse of the eastern Mediterranean.
From the fall of the Roman empire until the fall of Byzantine Constantinople to the Seljuk Turks in 1453, Venice dominated trade between the rest of Europe and imports from the various Arab nations.  
We will explore how the republic came about, how ancient families survived by hiding in the marshes of the lagoon and went on to create the amazing city we know as Venice.  These families become wealthy beyond the dreams of most, but not without much investment in time and effort in developing trust with Arab merchants and middle men in Palestine, various ports in the Black Sea and in Constantinople. 
The imports were not only goods brought via the land and maritime silk routes, but also cultural exchanges.  The art and architecture of Venice reflects the power and status of the dominant families and their links with their trading partners.  The dazzling mosaics of St Mark’s Basilica and the design of the basilica itself is more eastern than European.
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St Mark’s Basilica, Venice. (Source Wikipedia)

 We see similar mosaics of a similar high standard in the Hagia St Sophia in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul).

The bronze horses brought by Enrico Dandolo from the sack of Constantinople that stand on the top of the portico of the basilica were made by the lost wax method (below).

The original quadriga brought from Constantinople in 1204. Copies are outside.

Today the debate is whether the method of casting came from Greece, or possibly from farther afield.

The making of the Venetian ships was the first production line in the Western world.  Instead of the ship moving down the line, groups of craftsmen moved along the line from ship to ship.  During the fourth crusade, it was this method of building that ensured the crusaders were able to get to Palestine to continue their war against the Saracens, but it nearly bankrupted Venice.

Seige of Constantinople from a ms of 1330
Illumination showing the Crusaders attacking Constantinople from the Venetian manuscript of Geoffreoy de Villehardouin’s history, c. 1330. Ref: Bodleian MS Laud Misc f587r.
In 1204 the crusaders laid siege to Constantinople and in July of that year sacked the city over a period of three days during which the crusaders defiled, despoiled and stole huge amounts, raping and murdering many of the citizens.  Few of the crusaders made it to their intended destination.
The Byzantine emperor is deposed and the empire is divided along these lines.  

Trade was the lifeblood of the Republic and its most famous son is Marco Polo, who spent 25 years in the Far East. On his return, he was not recognised nor his stories believed.  Even on his deathbed his confessor asked if he wanted to admit that his stories were all fantasies and so save his soul from thousands of years in purgatory.  Polo’s answer was that he had not described even a tenth of the wonders he had seen! But were the Polo family the only explorers?  There were also the Zen brothers. Whether they made it to Iceland is hotly disputed, but it is possible.
During our day we will explore how the original Venetians came to live in the lagoon, how they established buildings on the high points of the marsh, developed into a vast trading empire that extended all the way to the court of the Great Khan in Peking and how and why the republic eventually fell from influence and had to turn its focus in order to survive .   
£25 including coffee/tea breaks and a light lunch. Where: St. Andrew’s Church, Denton Way, Woking, GU21 3LG
To book email or phone 01483 766175 

Friday 23rd: Symbolism – an examination of how our perception of the content of paintings has changed over the centuries.

Before 1500 most art was devotional. The audiences then would have recognised many symbols that we look at and wonder why they have been included.  Many manuscripts have jewelled margins, and each of the precious stones have meanings.  Diamonds for constancy, rubies for sacrifice, emeralds – hope, sapphires – the colour of the Virgin’s robe.  The use of these precious gems bestow status on the image, and also on the owner of any manuscript. 

MS M 399 da Costa Hours Morgan
The da Costa Hours in the Morgan Library, New York. MS M399 f113v

On this page we see St Luke, the patron saint of artists, writing his gospel, but if we look closer we see through the door that he is seated in his studio painting an image of the Virgin who stands before him surrounded by a golden light.  The margin contains bejewelled treasures that appear in many of the margins created by this workshop, and also a predominance of pearls, which symbolise purity.  

The margins often became a place where the artist could add a touch of humour, such as this harp playing monkey, or a mermaid playing the viol. My particular favourite is this little chap – who or what he is, I have no idea! 

Da Costa Hrs Ms M.307 f133v
Da Costa Hours Ms M 307 f 133. Morgan Library, New York.

Often meanings have become changed over the centuries and some have even been attributed to having been used in medieval documents despite them coming from the New World.  Since Señor Columbus did not cross the Atlantic until 1492, the sunflower was never a medieval symbol! This is the Burne-Jones window of St Frideswide in Christ Church College chapel, Oxford. 

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St Frideswide

However, the humble European marigold was long known for its heliotropic properties and therefore because it followed the sun (i.e. the light) became associated with the divine. One of its local names is Mary’s Gold, and because of its properties was used in ointments and salves to soothe skin irritations. 

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Field marigold.


Colours, gems, flowers, birds and beasts all had meanings.  We will look at images and artefacts from medieval times to the 20th century to see how meanings have become changed, remained the same or even lost completely.  Finally we will attempt to decode a painting as to the allegorical meaning it carried.

Friday  11 a.m. & 7.30 p.m.  £10 including coffee/tea, cake & biscuits. Tel 01372 272235 or email to book. Numbers limited.