Tuesday 19 January – Thursday 11 March 2021

In the early 15c, the theoretician Alberti declared that a picture should be ‘a window in the wall through which I see whatever is to be depicted.’ In other words, art should imitate what the eye sees. Unfortunately, this view prevailed for centuries, trammeling an artist’s inclination to be inventive, to stray outside the normative. It sounds simplistic to say but perhaps the rigid rules and prescriptions of the Renaissance constituted an unconscious attack on creativity in its most free form – through the sieve of the artist’s most powerful tool – his/her imagination. The rare gift of artists and other creatives is the ability to see certain ideas in graphic form, in one’s ‘inner eye.’  One can almost read a medieval monk’s determination to dispel the church-orchestrated sins and terrors swirling in his medieval mind, by expressing them in the humorous marginalia of illuminated manuscripts with which we begin this new course. We will try not to stray far from humour as we believe that we are all together in wishing to carry on through the Pandemic in what we might call a Zen way- one with a certain degree of detachment from “reality”! 

During this eight-week course, divided into two parts of four weeks each, we take particular themes/subjects that have given artists opportunities to paint imagined manifestations of universal inner responses or states of mind. We ask: why artists from antiquity onwards were so obsessed with creatures that were half-human, half-animal, like centaurs? Why dragons were so particularly popular as embodiments of evil and what it meant for them to be slain by St George, in Byzantine icons and Italian paintings alike? Why serpents were seen as guardians of knowledge and symbols of medicine as well as being embodiments of the devil, and why did the devil then become a goat? Why was Hieronymus Bosch so obsessed by the Temptations of St Anthony? What had the Rebel Angels done to be so punished by St Michael? On what possible experiences did those great artists of the imagination, Bosch and Bruegel, base their truly astonishing menageries of fantastic creatures, stomachs on legs, priests with boars’ snouts, mice of human size, in their Last Judgements and battles for control of Heaven? Were such artists stirring our fears, or our sense of humour, or both? Some of the figures certainly make us laugh with their contradictions and their absurdities. We follow the development of such imaginings from medieval monks’ relieving their boredom with invented marginalia, through the astonishing fertility of Bosch and Bruegel right through to the imagined creatures and spaces of Max Ernst, Giorgio De Chirico, and Willem De Kooning, and see that a desire to keep more challenging emotions at bay by depicting them as sometimes grotesquely comic monsters is still very much with us.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2021-01-12-at-14.42.33-3.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2021-01-12-at-14.42.43-1.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2021-01-12-at-14.42.51.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2021-01-12-at-14.43.02-1.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2021-01-12-at-14.43.13.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2021-01-12-at-14.43.25-1.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2021-01-12-at-14.43.35.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2020-09-17-at-16.11.31.png


A Closer Look at the Big Picture
 Thursday 3 September – Wednesday 2 December 

This course has begun but you are very welcome to book for the remainder of the sessions. It is not necessary to have attended the previous sessions in order to enjoy each one.

Difficult though it is, at the moment, to contemplate embarking on buses, underground, planes or trains to visit galleries and museums at home and abroad, we need not deny ourselves the pleasure of seeing paintings up close. Instead, we can simply remain in our chairs, and turn on what is now a familiar piece of kit: a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, desktop, a TV screen or a computer monitor. Four years ago, these devices became portals to a miracle of 21c technology used by many museums worldwide to study their treasures. This technology permits a view, not only of paintings in their entirety, but in their most minute detail as well. Custom-built cameras scan an entire canvas taking thousands of high resolution closeups of the painting, millimetre by millimetre. The results, every brushstroke, even the smallest flecks of paint, can be brought into focus. This technology is not just a step forward, but represents a revolution in optics and opens the door to another dimension in our relationship to art. Whether for the purpose of documentation and analysis, or as a Dionysian pursuit of pleasure, or both, we can now enter a stunning micro universe never seen before with the naked eye.

In this twelve-week course with a short break mid-way through, we study, in greater depth than ever before possible, one magnificent painting per session; each chosen by us as a superb example of a particular artist’s work as well as for its importance to a broader narrative in the story of art. Using comparative images, we will engage with relevant contextual matters – from the life and times of the artist to the constraints of the subject matter and the terms of the commission.

Above all, we will have the unique experience of becoming involved in the very substance of each individual painting. We will be in the clouds, or alight on a leaf or onto a crusty carved capital. The minutiae of every element chosen for representation by the artist will be revealed, whether that of ornament, dress or robe, or the twinkle of candlelight reflected on a wine glass, on the surface of a pond, or in the eyes. Never before has it been possible to come so close to the artist at the precise moment of contact he or she made with the canvas. Never before have we had such privileged intimacy with the very process of creation. We may never look at paintings the same way again, even when we return in person to gaze upon them. It is a humbling and uplifting journey we embark on!


TUESDAY 22 April 11.00 or
THURSDAY 24 April 11.00 & 4.00

The Language of Gesture

TUESDAY 5 May 4.00 or
THURSDAY 7 May 11.00

A Matter of Life or Death

TUESDAY 12 May 4.00 or
THURSDAY 14 May 11.00 

In Sickness and in Health

TUESDAY 19 May 4.00 or
THURSDAY 21 May 11.00

Unity and Separation

 TUESDAY 26 May 4.00 or
TUESDAY 2 June  11.00

To be in Paradise, alone