On 17 May, London’s museums and art galleries bravely reopened to the public with both Tates, the National Galleries, and the British Museum joining the city’s smaller independent venues that reopened a bit earlier. Whether you plan to venture out or not, we aim at least to take you on a “virtual visit” to these galleries’ and museums’ exhibitions, that is, one narrated and illustrated through the ether by Nicholas Friend. In a summer series of ZOOM lectures Inscape will explore the principal themes of a selection of fascinating exhibitions as well as examine the stunning works of art that have been brought together.
We have chosen to highlight six exhibitions: ‘Becket: the Making of a Saint’ and ‘Nero: The Man Behind the Myth’ at the British Museum; ‘Copernicus: Conversations with God’ at the National Gallery; ‘Turner’s Modern World’ in Tate Britain; ‘Epic Iran’ at the V&A and ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’ in the V&A. For each exhibition we offer two interlinked sessions covering the contexts and contents of this summer’s splendid, and long-awaited, exhibitions.
Marking the 850th anniversary of one of the most powerful figures of his times, this special exhibition at the British Museum presents Becket’s tumultuous journey from a merchant’s son to an archbishop, and from a revered saint in death to a “traitor” in the eyes of Henry Vlll more than 350 years later. The archbishop’s slaying and martyrdom transfixed the medieval world – and inspired some magnificently murderous art and artefacts that are still shocking today. The aim of the exhibit seems to be to get up close to the man, the murder and the legend through an array of objects associated with Becket such as illuminated manuscripts, some of which contain eye-witness accounts of the murder, jewellery and sacred reliquaries. Its centrepiece is a stained-glass window from Canterbury Cathedral, on loan for the first time, portraying the scene of the priest’s brutal murder by four knights loyal to King Henry II in 1170. The 6-metre-high window, originally one of 12 ‘miracle’ windows created in the early 1200s, has never before left the cathedral nor been seen at eye level by the public. Some objects are rare loans from institutions across the UK and Europe and are being brought together for the first time.
SESSION I The Life, Times and Death of Thomas Becket
Tuesday 13 July 4pm or Wednesday 14 July 11 am or Thursday 15 July 11 am
SESSION II The Making of a Saint: Reliquaries and Shrines
Tuesday 20 July 4pm or Wednesday 21 July 11 am or Thursday 22 July 11 am
Never before has a painting by a Polish painter- let alone one by the national painter of Poland- been exhibited in the National Gallery! This splendid painting by Jan Matejko is of Copernicus, the Polish genius who changed the world by demonstrating that the earth rotates around the sun rather than the other way about. Our understanding of our place in the universe was changed by Copernicus. Never thereafter did intelligent human beings gaze into the night sky in quite the same way. Prior to that, Ptolemy’s theory (proposed in his Almagest c. 150 CE) that the Earth was the stationary centre of the universe, underpinned the entirety of the medieval Judeo-Christian world view. In Ptolemy’s view the human inhabitants of the earth were seen as favoured by God who had placed humankind at the centre of a fixed and finite universe. The notion that the earth might move, and the universe be almost infinite, was seen as little short of blasphemous. We study this remarkable painting in the context of other portraits of Copernicus, and look at his extraordinary influence on Galileo, Newton, modern astronomy, and beyond into 21c technology.
SESSION l Copernicus: the Man, His Contemporaries and His Times
Tuesday 27 July 4pm or Wednesday 28 July 11 am or Thursday 29 July 11 am
SESSION ll Overturning the World: the Influence of Copernicus
Tuesday 3 August 4 pm or Wednesday 4 August 11 am or Thursday 5 August 11 am
One of Britain’s greatest artists, J.M.W. Turner lived and worked at the peak of the industrial revolution. Steam replaced sail; machine-power replaced manpower; political and social reforms transformed society. Though many artists ignored these changes, Turner met these new challenges with full-on expressive works of art. This exhibition will show how he transformed the way he painted, the to better capture this new world. Bringing to London works seldom or never seen by the general public, the show investigates Turner as one who bore witness to a time of enormous technological change in the early – mid 19c, a time to match our own dizzying experience of computers in the 21c. He communicates his very subjective response to smoke-filled skies from belching factories with swirling, quivering slashes of paint, to make what Jonathan Jones of the Guardian has written is ‘a roaring, wondrous whirlpool of a show: from the most devastating depiction of the slave trade ever to an erotically-charged shipwreck, JMW Turner’s heart-stopping maelstroms of sea and steam and smoke made him a true visionary of his age’.
SESSION l Art and the Machine: the Industrial Revolution and Social Realism
Tuesday 10 August 4pm or Wednesday 11 August 11 am or Thursday 12 August 11 am
SESSION ll Turner: A Man Ahead of His Times
Tuesday 17 August 4pm or Wednesday 18 August 11 am or Thursday 19 August 11 am
The ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, describes what the Persian empire looked like to outsiders and how the Greeks defined themselves, and hence “the West”, against it. This exhibition at the V & A aims to give us the opposite view – from inside. Set within an immersive design that transports visitors to an ancient Persian city, complete with gatehouse, gardens, a palace, and a library, Epic Iran explores the monumental artistic achievements of Persia, one of the greatest civilisations of the world. Spanning 5000 years of art, design, and cultures – from the earliest known writing through to the 1979 Revolution and beyond – the works in this exhibition reflect a rich continuum of a refined culture. A pride in history, such as that shown in The Shahnameh, The Book of Kings, written at the start of the 11th century CE by the poet Ferdowsi, preserved traditions across the millennia. We will see how Iran’s unique geographical situation served as a land bridge between east and west permitting influences from China, Mesopotamia, Greece, the Mongols. Epic Iranreveals a stunning cultural history that connects the country- as it is today- with the people who lived there five millennia ago.
SESSION I Persia, The Ancient Middle Eastern Empire
Tuesday 24 August 4pm, or Wednesday 25 August 11 am, or Thursday 26 August 11 am
SESSION ll The Cultural Legacy under Threat
Tuesday 31 August 4pm or Wednesday 1 September 11 am or Thursday 2 September 11 am
The last male descendant of the emperor Augustus, Nero succeeded to the throne in AD 54 aged 16 and died a violent death at 30. One of the most notorious Roman emperors of them all- famous through the ages for his cruelty, debauchery and madness- Nero murdered his mother and two wives, ruthlessly persecuted early Christians, including Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and even set fire to Rome itself – famously fiddling amid the flames – to make room to build himself a vast, luxurious palace. Or did he? That is the question posed by an exhibition at the British Museum which seeks, if not to rehabilitate Nero’s reputation, at least to challenge some of history’s assumptions about him. Assembled in “nail-biting” fashion during Europe’s latest lockdown, and launching just days after the museum itself reopened its doors, ‘Nero: The Man Behind The Myth’ will bring together more than 200 artefacts that, say its curators, present a more complex picture of a figure long reviled in popular culture. We discover that the reign of Nero produced some of the greatest art of the Roman Empire, including the ‘Golden House’, hugely influential on the Renaissance of Raphael and Michelangelo.
SESSION I The Empire of Nero, Myth and Reality
Tuesday 7 September 4pm, or Wednesday 8 September 11 am, or Thursday 9 September 11 am
SESSION II The Golden House of Nero
Tuesday 14 September 4pm, or Wednesday 15 September 11 am, or Thursday 16 September 11 am
On a boat excursion some years ago, Inscapers had a glorious day on the Thames recreating Lewis Carroll’s inspirational river journey with Alice Liddell. As rich as our day was in celebration of that seminal event, we did not undertake a deconstruction of the text, nor could we engage directly with Sir John Tenniel’s unforgettable illustrations. As trusting children, we fell with Alice and the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole, finding ourselves in an edgy subterranean dream world rich with vaguely familiar creatures and settings, but all askew – mundane little blue medicine bottles contained not a cough syrup but a medicine that could transform our size to that of a rabbit and back again! Caterpillars smoked hookahs (to this day do we really know for sure what weed was being smoked?), pathetic long-necked flamingoes were employed as croquet mallets, and a huge cat perched on a tree branch delightedly grinning with malice. As adults, we now find ourselves learning about another dimension of Wonderland from Carroll’s fascination with questions of time, and of space constancy, from his explorations into the nature of being and not being, from the importance in the narrative of identity and its instability, and we see though Alice’s eyes a view of the absurdities of adult power plays, especially their rigid rules and regulations. There is much to look into here- for example, why is there a Hatter, and why is he portrayed as mad?
SESSION I : The Genius of Lewis Carroll
Tuesday 21 September 4pm or Wednesday 22 September 11 am or Thursday 23 September 11 am
SESSION ll Illustrating Alice : Sir John Tenniel’s Brilliant Imagination
Tuesday 28 September 4pm or Wednesday 29 September 11 am or Thursday 30 September 11 am
This course begins on Tuesday 13 July 4 pm, repeating on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11 am until Thursday 30 September.
You may choose to attend all Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays, or any mixture of these, subject to availability. You may also choose to attend individual sessions. If you would like to attend but cannot manage a particular date, then we will be sending recordings of every session to all participants. Each session meets from 20 minutes before the advertised time of the lecture, and each lecture lasts roughly one hour, with around 15 minutes discussion.
Cost: £420 members or £480 non-members for the course of 12 sessions or £40 members or £45 non-members per individual session. All sessions are limited to 23 participants to permit discussion.
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