Monthly Talks

All talks £10 inc refreshments (not changed since 2007) Places are limited so book early.

Fridays  11 a.m. & 7.30 p.m.  Tel 01372 272235 or email to book

Programme for 2018
Friday 28th September 11 a.m. and also 7.30 p.m: 

Andrea Mantegna & Giovanni Bellini.

The National Gallery Sainsbury Wing opens its doors to this exhibition of the work of these brothers-in-law and rivals on 1st October 2018.  This is the first time anyone has explored the rivalry of these two masters of late 15th century Italy.  

Andrea Mantegna (c1430/31-1506), the son of a carpenter, was born in the Venetian Republic. Apprenticed to the Paduan artist, Francesco Squarcione (1395-c1468). It was probably Squarcione who lit the fuse to Mantegna's interest in ancient Roman remains. Squarcione's Paduan school was famous and attracted many other would be artists from other parts of the Italian peninsula. Mantegna's early works were often collaborations such as the decoration of the Ovetari Chapel in the 13th century Paduan Church of the Erimatmi. Despite this commission supposedly being a collaborative one, Mantegna completed most of the frescoes on his own. Unfortunately the Allied bombing in 1944 destroyed most of the frescoes.  Mantegna's work is better known through his role as court artist to the Mantuan court of Marquis Ludovico Gonzaga Mantuan court, which he joined in 1460.  His Camera degli Sposi (translates as the wedding chamber) with its wonderful trompe l'oeil frescoes on the walls and ceilings has survived. The image is of the painted oculus where cherubs and people alike lean over a balustrade to take note of what is happening within the chamber.
Mantegna's images are rich with embellishments, and innovative decorations.  He was a keen engraver, and we are lucky enough to have his original Triumph of Caesar in the Orangery at Hampton Court Palace. Mantegna created engravings of this enormous work and many other works of his, and these became very popular. Many of you may have seen the newly restored originals of the Triumph of Caesar in the recent exhibition of the collection of works collected by Charles I 
at the Royal Academicy, London. Charles I bought the whole of the Mantuan collection in 1628.  

In 1453 Mantegna married Nicolisia, the daughter of fellow Venetian artist, Jacopo Bellini and sister of Giovanni (c1429-1516) and Gentile (1430-1507). It is thought that Giovanni was the older of the two brothers, but if so, then it is only by a year.  Unlike Mantegna, who worked in Verona and Rome as well as Mantua, Giovanni Bellini remained in Venice. At the time his brother, Gentile, was considered the greater of the two but that opinion has now since reversed. The National Gallery is lucky enough to have quite a few paintings that are by Bellini himself, or from his workshop. These include an Agony in the Garden, which shows influence of Mantegna and the portrait of Doge Loredan (right).
Even though Giovanni remained in Venice, he trained two of the greatest 16th century artists, Giorgione and Titian.

Clearly there has been influence back and forth between these artists, and coming from the Venetian Republic they were open to many influences coming through the city from the trade with other parts of the globe.  In particular we shall look at an altarpiece by Mantegna that demonstrates this.  We shall look at their works and their lives and just how they influenced each other and a wider range of artists.

I shall also be giving a study day on The Rise of the Venetian Republic on Saturday 6th October, details of which are shown below. This study day will examine how the Venetian Republic rose to dominate the trade of the eastern Mediterranean and how it re-invented itself after the opening up of the sea route to the spice islands by the Portuguese at the end of the 15th century.

01372 272235 or email: to book. Spaces limited.
£10 inc refreshments (same price since 2007).

Study Days 2018

Saturday: 6th October : The Rise of the Venetian Republic. 

This study day will explore the history of the Venetian Republic from the fall of Rome to 1500, when the Venetian republic began a long decline after the discovery of the sea route to the Spice Islands.

How and why did the city of Venice rise from a salty lagoon to dominate the trade of the eastern Mediterranean? So the legend goes, the families who first hid in the lagoon were the survivor of ancient Roman families, determined to survive the raids of the Goths and the Visigoths.  We will track the rise of these founding families, how the government of Venice developed and most importantly, how the republic came to be fabulously rich through trade.

The most famous trader is Marco Polo, who reached the fabled lands of Cathay and was gone for 25 years. Were there others, and if so, where did they get to?

This is an illumination from the early 15th century illuminated French manuscript of Marco Polo's travels  (BnF 12148) now held in the Biblioteque Nationale de France. The vellum is so fine the illuminated margin shows through.  The book was a best seller. 

From 1000AD onwards Venice spread its influence. The sons of merchant families had a training in the specialist areas of trade of their various families, and the art of negotiation. There were Venetian enclaves throughout various countries and merchants were often away for months, if not years, at a time. When Marco Polo returned after his 25 year absence, it is said he was not recognised because of his strange clothes and the fact that he had left as a young lad and returned as a mature man. Certainly his stories were never believed and on his deathbed he was asked to confess that he had been lying all these years.  However, his response is said to have been that he had not told half of the marvels he had seen.

There are other stories of strange travels.  The Zen brothers are alleged to have travelled to the far north, possibly the Faroe Islands, but this has been a disputed story for over a century. 

The boat building skills of the Republic were vital to the success of the Crusades, and the Arsenale was said to have been able to produce a boat in a single day because of their production process.  

However, the recapture of the Holy Land by the Christians was not to last and in 1453 Constantinople fell to the Mehmet II, inhibiting the trading of the Republic. Only a few decades later Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope, opening up the sea route to the Far East and the Spice Islands, thus causing the Republic much alarm as this route meant the exotic goods from this part of the world would become much cheaper.

Not daunted by this prospect, Venice reinvented itself as a cultural and artistic centre. Titian, trained by Giovanni Bellini, became court artist to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V and his son Philip II of Spain. Murano was still the centre for exquisite glass making and Venice became a centre for book publishing.

We shall look at all of these things and hopefully share our experiences of all things Venetian.

Study days are limited to 8 people. The cost includes lunch and unlimited tea, coffee & biscuits. £27.50/head. email or ring 01372 272235 to book.

Saturday: 24th November : Illuminated Manuscripts Fit for a King

Illuminated manuscripts were expensive luxury items. Originally created in religious scriptoria, the first were illuminated religious books.  Soon centres of excellence for illumination and transcribing books other than devotional texts emerged. We are extremely lucky in that our British Library holds a superb collection of illuminated manuscripts that were produced for kings, princes, nobles and those aspiring to the gentry.  Owning an illuminated book was one way of showing your wealth and status.

In this study day we will look at all types of illuminated manuscripts. Many give us a glimpse of the artist, but most are by anonymous painters who go by the soubriquet "The Master of ...".  This particular image (left) is from a book of instruction for a prince written by Henry VII's keeper of the royal library, Quentin Poulet.  Here a knight is introduced to a man without chivalry by Lady Imagination. Clearly the unchivalrous man will always be easily recognised by the space between his elbows and his shoulders!  The artist has included a visual pun on Poulet's name in the margin at the bottom of the page.

Not only who collected these will be examined, but why. Some books came into the royal library because they were the spoils of war; others because they were gifts.  Some were handed down through families and include personal notes in the calendars giving us a close connection with the owner and the world around them.  

The golden age of illumination was from the mid 15th - mid 16th centuries and centred on three workshops, the David, the Horenbout and the Bening. By the 1540s Simon Bening was the last man standing and is considered the last of the great illuminators. We shall be looking at some manuscripts that came from these workshops so you can see for yourselves their beauty and the symbolism contained in both the large pages and also the margins. By the end of the day you will be able to recognise some of the symbols that were more than just pretty decoration and will add to your appreciation of the work of all the illuminators over the centuries.

I will also be giving this study day on Saturday 8th December at West House, Pinner, HA5 1EA. Contact for details of this particular study day.

Study days are limited to 8 people. The cost includes lunch and unlimited tea, coffee & biscuits. £27.50/head. email or ring 01372 272235 to book.