27th July : Hugo van der Goes : The Gentle Painter
June 29th Sicily – a Mediterranean Jewel
Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean sits at the trading crossroads of the ancient world. The island was first settled 10,000 years ago, but we will start our exploration of the history of the island with the occupation by the classical civilisations in the 8th century BC and proceed through the succeeding occupations by the Romans, Arabs, Normans, the House of Hohenstaufen and the Spanish, up to the present day.
All of these nations have left evidence of their presence in surviving examples of art and architecture. The Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has glorious examples of Greek architecture with temples dedicated to Juno, Concordia, Aesclepius, Heracles, the twins – Castor & Pollux and not surprisingly considering the looming presence of the volcano Mt Etna, Haephestus – the blacksmith god whose forge was said to be contained within the volcano. Another Greek myth tells us that almighty Zeus confined the monster Typhon beneath Europe’s most active volcano. Below is the Temple of Hera at Selinunte, an ancient Greek city in the south-west of the island, that was destroyed by the Carthaginians as they retreated at the end of the first Punic War.
The arrival of the Arabs saw the introduction of the cultivation of lemons, rice and sugar cane. The Emirate was to last until the arrival of the Normans in the 11th century. Under the rule of King Roger II, the island saw a flourishing of the arts and peace. King Roger did not take part in the Crusades, but many Crusaders visited Sicily either on their way to, or returning from, the Holy Land. As a result of his non-participation, King Roger became the richest man in Europe and his lasting legacy seen in the surviving mosaics in Cefalu Cathedral erected in 1131. Roger’s Admiral, George of Antioch, founded the Martonara which contains a mosaic of King Roger being crowned by Christ (below left).
The Schatzkammer in Vienna still has the embroidered red silk coronation mantle of King Roger that dates from 1133-34 (below right)
As with all civilisations, there is a time when historians believe they can call a Golden Age and the relatively short time the Normans were present is what Sicilians believe was theirs.
The Normans were not run out of the island, but married into the imperial House of Hohenstaufen. Constance, the posthumous daughter of Roger II, was now queen of Sicily and married Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, and thus the island was absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire.
During the 14th century, the island came under Spanish rule and remained so until the unification of Italy in the 19th century. The artistic remnants of the baroque period are seen in the churches and secular buildings that have survived earthquakes and war.
In 1860, Garibaldi conquered Sicily with the audacious invasion known as the Expedition of the Thousand. The island then became part of the Kingdom of Naples and Sardinia and subsequently, part of a unified Italy. The 19th century also saw the rise of the notorious Mafia.
Sicily is an island of mystery and romance. The layers of history tempt the holiday maker to explore and when the day is over, what better than to relax and discuss your adventures over a meal of traditional Sicilian fare washed down by wine made from grapes on the slopes of Mt Etna. Being an island, the sea food is amazing and the island is the third largest producer of wine in Italy. Gosh – perhaps I should organise a tour!
The local magazine, the Ashtead & Leatherhead Local, shows the evening date of 29th June, but this time is full hence the additional date of Friday 6th July at 7.30 p.m.
01372 272235 to book. Numbers limited.
Talks from earlier this year.
May: The Dawn of Flemish genius: the lives and works of Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin & Rogier van der Weyden.
Last month my art lovers group looked at the work of the three Florentine artists who would influence architecture, art and sculpture up to the present day. This month we will look at the paintings of the three painters who still cause people to weep because of their ability to capture the human condition. Van Eyck, Campin and van der Weyden were contemporaries of the Florentines, but their painting was different. van Eyck used multi point perspective, Campin portrayed the Gospel stories as part of everyday 15th century life, and Rogier van der Weyden described such intense emotion it that anyone seeing his work cannot fail to be moved.
Who were they? What was life like in northern Europe? Were they so different from their Italian counterparts and if so, why?
Here’s the link to my art history group website. http://www.ashteadartlovers.co.uk/this-month-s-talk
£10 including coffee/tea, cake & biscuits. Tel 01372 272235 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book. Numbers limited.
You might be interested to read my article on the Blog page.
Brunelleschi, Donatello & Masaccio: The Florentine Masters of architecture, sculpture and painting.
Even a little knowledge of the work of these masters will help anyone to understand the leap of understanding of mathematics, perspective and portrayal religious scenes that happened in Florence in the early fifteenth century.
Donatello’s bronze David is the first bronze statue of the Italian Renaissance to be cast in a single pour.
His Mary Magdalen, carved in lime wood, has an emotional tension that is arresting when you first see it in the wood. These two pieces are intended to be viewed from the ground unlike his St Mark and St George, which are set above the crowd. Again, this requires an understanding of illusion that requires the use of single point perspective in order to create a figure that does not appear distorted and to the onlooker everything appears perfect.
March: Symbolism – an examination of how our perception of the content of paintings has changed over the centuries and how to decode a painting.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.