On Tuesday April 6, 1520, probably sometime during the course of his 37th birthday meal, Raphael fell ill and died. Whether we believe this version of his death or not is irrelevant, one fact is heartbreakingly clear. He died at just 37 years old or thereabouts, altering the direction, if not the development of art history. We have no idea what heights his work could have reached. His command of anatomy coupled with his eye-to-hand control matched that of Michelangelo’s. Their ‘competitive’ dance together in later life, each man outdoing the other with good-humoured exuberance might just have spurred them both on to even greater heights!

To see a Raphael sketch of a flying angel is electrifying; he has not only imagined a mythical being, he has imagined it flying, but there could not have been a flesh and blood model flying through the studio! He was breathtakingly skilled as far as rendering human anatomy is concerned, and could imagine and draw any being, human or angelic, in any position or environment. His ‘Virgin and Child’ paintings should similarly not be taken for granted. Those toddlers did not sit still for days, peaceably settled on their mothers’ lap, occasionally reaching for carnations or goldfinches. His portraits meanwhile seem to reach the essence, not only of their sitters, but of a particular instance of their conscious experience. His most grand compositions, the ‘School of Athens’ in the Vatican, are so energetically composed, they command one’s intellect, and, soften one’s heart. They stray so far from the academically cold that they repay endless looking. This exhibition at the National Gallery gives us an opportunity to lift Raphael away from the tedium of his reputation as the founder of academic art, if not as the founder of academic art history. His preciously small number of paintings still thrill as well as give us the momentary comfort of a balanced and beautiful view of a particular theme. In this “Armchair” Exhibition Lecture we rediscover why Raphael was often regarded as ‘Divine’!

Sickert became so equated with grey nudes stretched out on rusted iron bedsteads that he darkly teased his critics by saying that he was ‘Jack the Ripper.’ Clearly, they were not looking with the eyes we will use to engage in his work on this day! Sickert produced thrilling effects of light – stabs and flashes of lights, sufficient to illumine even the most unlikely of settings. Even in those unfortunate bedrooms, he finds beauty in the light filtering through raggedy muslin curtains – on the tawdry remains of gold gilding on music hall balconies, he finds the riches of reflections – and on the most worn shopfronts of Dieppe, he sees the glow of the setting sun. As an artist with extra-sensory perception, he fully understands that it is lighting- not just plot or voice – that stirs us in theatre. He sees, and is no doubt thrilled by the vibrancy of the actress’s red dress as illumined from above. Sickert’s body of work invites us to see beyond the obvious, that is, beyond what our minds think is obvious. Perhaps, for him, with his degree of sensitivity to visual phenomena, there are dimensions visible to him that ellude others. This Lecture will celebrate his refusal to pass bone-chilling judgement on that which is but one-dimensional, that which is a conventional, limited response.

Feminine strength has been so feared by men since the most ancient of times that in most world religions the principal godhead is designated as male. The whole of the male attitude towards women is suffused with contradiction. Eve is blamed for giving the apple to Adam, rather than the other way around, though it is the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Helen’s beauty is blamed for the Trojan Wars even though the fighting was initiated in response to her brutal rape by Paris. We could go on and on until present time presenting instances of upside down, even malicious, assertions of male perogative.

Using this highly-regarded infinitely rich exhibition as a springboard, we explore the paradoxes of the male view of goddesses: how in ancient Egypt the Goddess Nut was seen to give birth to the sun-god Ra in the morning only to consume him in the evening and give him new birth the following day; how the first-ever statue of Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility, had the capacity, even as a statue, to turn men mad and encourage them to throw themselves off cliffs; how worship of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, reveals how her destructive capacity is venerated with equal weight to her astounding ability to create; how the terrifying Hindu goddess Kali, depicted in art carrying a severed head and bloodied sword, is paradoxically honoured as the Great Mother and liberator from fear and ignorance! This inexplicable, non-rational dichotomy between fear and adoration serves to globalize insecurity and ambivalence, destroying much more than it creates. The recent school massacre in the USA, and the endless war in the Ukraine, and are perfect examples of toxic male energy run riot with ten year old children at their desks, and pregnant women and infants the lethal targets of catastrophic male confusion.

Booking Information:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

This short online course via Zoom will be presented by Nicholas Friend, Founding Director of Inscape. It begins on Tuesday 21 June 2022 at 11 am, repeating on Thursdays at 4 pm. It ends on Thursday 7 July 2022.

You may choose to attend all Tuesdays or all 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 be assured we will be sending recordings of sessions 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: £135 members or £165 non-members for the course of 3 sessions or £45 members or £55 non-members per individual session. All sessions are limited to 21 participants to permit discussion.

Due to the coronavirus cheques are not a viable option at this time. Instead, please make your payment to Friend&Friend Ltd by bank transfer to our account with Metrobank, bank sort code 23-05-80, account number 13291721 or via PayPal to, or credit/debit card by phone to Henrietta on 07940 719397. She is available Tuesdays 10-12 and 2 – 3 pm or Thursdays 2-4 pm.

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