Review! Past AHA Student Anna Fothergill on the National Gallery’s ‘Metamorphosis: Titian 2012’

Last week, on a pale sunny afternoon mid-Olympics, I found myself wandering across Trafalgar Square, heading for the National Gallery. Being a country gal, the opportunity to visit the capital is a favourite but rare activity and this time I could not help but notice the beautiful posters which dotted every tube station showing two intertwining figures and broadcasting the latest enticement: ‘Metamorphosis: Titian 2012’. The word ‘Titian’ captured my attention and off I went to see what this exhibit would involve.

Titian, Diana and Callisto (1556-59) © National Gallery / National Galleries of Scotland. Contributions from National Lottery through Heritage Lottery Fund, Art Fund, The Monument Trust, private appeal and bequests, 2012

I found a small, dynamic, wonderfully unique collection of responses to three of Titian’s paintings, all featuring Diana, goddess of love and the hunt.  As part of a mythological series painted for King Philip II, these three images alone are fascinating but in the surrounding rooms were several different responses, from instillations to performance art. Modern meets the mythological; I was intrigued.

 

The exhibit had taken a wide variety of media to respond to the star of the show, the story of Diana and Actaeon, (who stumbles upon the goddess Diana bathing and for his crimes gets turned into a stag and torn apart by his own hounds). Titian took inspiration from Ovid’s epic poem and the modern artists followed his example, some even writing their own poems. There are many aspects of this exhibit I could talk about, whether it is the significance of the costumes designed for the ballet response, Chris Ofili’s very vibrant embrace of colour, or even the use of a live nude model. But the one response I found to be challenging, chilling, and creative was Conrad Shawcross’ ‘Trophy’.

'Trophy' by Conrad Shawcross

As you walk into the darkened room, the only light to provide some relief is the burning bulb on the wand-like arm of an industrial robot, encased in a glass box. Next to the spinning whirring piece of smooth, high-end technology is an antler. It seems to be growing out of the block of wood, a haunting symbol of Actaeon’s fate. The machine represents Diana, and as it moves, it conveys a sense of gloating. ‘She’ seems to be presiding over her ‘trophy’: her prize of his antlered head. The machine, while both powerful and terrifying, has a strange elegance to it. Shawcross wanted to explore the goddess’s duel nature, and this work concentrates on her hard, unyielding power. Yet what struck me most as I stood next to one corner of the glass box, is that the light on the end of the robotic arm, casts its own huge looming shadow. While the robot is encased, the shadow can escape and in a sense Diana herself can escape. As the robot’s shadow grew larger, my own grew smaller. Soon the predatory shadow completely enveloped my own and I felt powerless to stop her. Just as she hunted Actaeon, my own shadow was hunted and I became a trophy just as he had been. It was a relief to step out into the sunshine of the capital after that.

The exhibition is wonderfully varied and I recommend it to anyone. As you wander the various responses, a slow awe and inspiring realisations creeps up on you and the tragic story of Actaeon comes alive through dance, poetry and painting. Through this, I thought, one’s own sense of reality morphs in response to an ancient story and an artist whose work spans the centuries.

‘Metamorphosis’ continues at the National Gallery until 23rd September

 

 

A Friday Treat: ‘Our Girl Florence’ by early summer student Marie Naffah

Our Girl Florence, by Marie Naffah

There’s a girl I know called Florence,
Who on first impressions, seems shy
She carries her secrets till asked nicely
then throws them out to the sky.

She cries the Arno and cradles the streets,
Grabbing espressos to go,
Serving us bread that she never eats,
She’s watching her figure, young Flo.

She’s got friends who stay so close to her,
Like Siena, who lives next door,
They’ve known each other since childhood,
Maintaining a sturdy rapport.

She’s a fan of poetry, a fan of the culture-
A sucker for all types of art,
She’ll lose herself in piazzas,
And David- don’t let her start.

She’s getting old, our girl Florence,
But they say that beauty will come with age,
She writes her own stories, our Florence
-She let me write my own page.

As I turn my back on this wonderful girl,
It shall never fully be turned,
For she taught me a thing, or two, or three,
In the lessons that I have learned.

So we’ll meet for cappucini before midday,
When I’m older and I’m going grey.
But for now all that I have to say is:

It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Miss Florence.

 

 

 

 

Fashion’s Transcontinental Journey: past AHA student Caz St Quinton blogging from Shanghai where she’s working for the summer

Fashion is always changing. The history of fashion is a history of changes in colours, shapes or campaigns. Amid all this chaos there has always been one constant in the last few decades, namely that its epicentre has been the West. However, it seems even this constant could fall victim to change.

With Valentino being sold to the Qatar royal family for £556 million and the front rows at this years Paris Fashion Week being sprinkled with Asian investors, whispers of fashion moving East are echoing around the West.

Even Louis Vuitton, one of the world’s leading fashion houses, has succumbed to the Eastern promise. Louis Vuitton shocked Paris Fashion Week when designer Marc Jacobs steamed the models on to the catwalk abroad an £8 million train in a show that celebrated the art of travel. A rather brave move considering some of the fashion world were still in shock from their nine hour delay on the Eurostar!

The Louis Vuitton Train in Paris

After reminding Paris to see beauty not just in the destination, but also the journey, the Louis Vuitton Express has come all the way to Shanghai and rolled into their show on 19th July. This was in celebration of the brand opening its first Maison in Shanghai’s desirable Plaza 66 on 21st July.

The show celebrated the romantic golden age of train travel. When passengers dressed beautifully and weighed down trailing porters with their leather luggage. Louis Vuitton showed Shanghai a ghostly silhouette of another time. One that seems even more faint viewed from these distant lands.

The train is being used for Louis Vuitton's new campaign

Louis Vuitton transported a photographer known as ‘the Selby’ to document the trip from Paris to Shanghai with videos, photos and paintings.

One of the Selby's paintings while on his journey

This creative partnership records the transcontinental journey from Europe to Asia with a short film clip from each of the twelve days of the journey to build up anticipation for their arrival in Shanghai. The Selby is filmed leaning out of windows photographing cities, passing trains and deserts at dawn, always conveniently surrounded by piles of Louis Vuitton trunks containing his art materials.

The Selby's journey

The success of the Shanghai show has left people questioning; who else will follow in Louis Vuitton’s tracks from West to East?

AHA and Signal/Charles Taylor make a £2000 donation to Westminster Abbey Triforium Galleries Appeal.

For those who may not know, the triforium is the upper gallery of arches in the nave of a great gothic church. At Westminster Abbey, these galleries represent a huge space which is not at all evident from the ground. The Abbey would like to open this space for exhibitions, thus making one of the most thrilling aspects of the Abbey available for the public. It is wonderful to look down on the spot of the Coronation.

Last April, AHA was permitted to organise a private visit to the triforium for a corporate group and, thanks to the fees they paid, we were able to make a donation of £2000 to the Abbey Appeal for the renovation of this wonderful space. Even better, the Abbey was then able to match fund the donation, turning it into £4000.

It seems likely that this space in the triforium has been used by others before. There are carved stonework and paneling from previous centuries only visible from within the gallery itself, which suggest consistent use. For this writer, who has spent a lifetime in pursuit of the unusual and beautiful, the Triforium has to be in his top ten most exciting sites. We will keep you informed of new developments at the Abbey.

Once a year AHA is commissioned by and American/Anglo corporate group called Signal/Charles Taylor who joined AHA in making this donation to the Abbey to great effect and benefit.

AHA would like to organize more events at Westminster. It is wonderful, indeed oddly humbling to see this iconic building in such intimate circumstances. It is an old adage that one often omits what is under one’s own nose and, as visitors from around the world pay homage to our hallowed stones, we should not forget to do the same ourselves.

It may interest you to click through to some spectacular images on www.pinterest.com/ahacourses

Furthermore, don’t miss an excellent, informative article by the erudite Charles Moore: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/charlesmoore/5760400/Shining-a-light-on-the-magic-of-the-coronation-in-Westminster-Abbey.html

News from Italy! AHA Student Cassia Price on her emotional journey through Italy.

Originally, I was terrified to go on the AHA Northern Italy trip, having no prior knowledge of history of art whatsoever. My anxieties were dissolved and replaced with pure excitement before the plane to Venice even took off. For me, as a Classicist, however, I came into my own on the last journey of the trip, reading the Aeneid as we arrived in Rome. The AHA tutors allowed me to ask questions about Early Christianity, the fall of the Republic and even as far back as the origins of the Eternal City. That was not only a total change from the history covered so far which began in the 1300s, fascinatingly new to me, but also a new facet of classical antiquity which unfurled like a new scroll before my eyes.

 

Mithras Slaying the Bull

One visit on our second day, uniting my new-found love of medieval art and life-long passion for Roman culture, was to a church called San Clemente. Clambering down into the depths of time from the 1100s (pretty old, we thought) to the 6th century (older than anything we had yet seen that wasn’t actually ancient) finally into the alleys and houses of the city in the 50s and 60s CE. By this time I had passed by a little emotion and began sobbing when I heard that this was a house where St Peter may well have preached and converted, despite fostering no particular Christian beliefs myself. Though exhausted emotionally and physically, Group B felt that that was the most spiritual place on the whole trip. Bare in mind we visited every church in Venice, Florence, Rome, and the Vatican City. Every single one.

 

San Clemente: Uniting my new-found love of medieval art and life-long passion for Roman Culture

 

That little room, floored with herringbone bricks and with a broken pipe from the Cloaca Maxima viaduct in the corner, I hope, will be an everlasting memory of Rome for me henceforth, bringing together Roman life and worship from 50CE to 1700s, from Mithras to Jesus Christ.

 

And I bought Rainbow Mentos, which is always nice.

 

 

News from Italy! AHA student Helena Roy muses on what makes Florence different to Venice

After arriving in Florence by train on Saturday evening, we set about exploring the new city early the next morning. Cars become a novelty after the turquoise canals of Venice, and it took a while to get used to stony streets again.
'Cars become a novelty after the turquoise canals of Venice'
In Venice we went on several ‘Church crawls’ and focused predominantly on the religious aspects of Venetian painting. By contrast, in there seems to be a heady mixture of religion and politics pervading the art and architecture of Florence. This was obvious early on the first morning, when we found ourselves in front of Botticelli’s Venus, and his Primavera, on our trip to the Uffizi. Mythology began to infiltrate our study of art for the first time and this culminated in a colourful and imaginative session on mythology one evening, with everyone allocated a god or goddess (the birthday girl, Emma, being Hera of course). We began raiding each other’s wardrobes and the shops of Florence for costumes. The most memorable, I think, was cupid, resplendent in a toga fashioned out of a dressing gown, and a bow and arrow purchased from the Disney store.
'Mythology began to infiltrate our study of art for the first time...'
The Medici coat of arms outside the Palazzo Medici
The Medici coat of arms, brandished in nearly every church and on nearly every monument is also testament to the nature of the Florentine Republic, essentially governed by this powerful family. In contrast to Venice, the influence of the Medici seems almost to rival that of the Church. In line with this, there are references to the political and literary geniuses that also make up Florence’s incredible history: Dante’s house is a short stroll from the Duomo, and Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli all lie in the landmark Santa Croce church.
Another tangible difference between Florence and Venice I think, is the importance of sculpture to the Florentine Renaissance. Two works stood out to me from all others – that of Magdalene Penitent by Donatello, and, of course, David by Michelangelo. After a short background talk on the life of Mary Magdalene, seven of us sat in silent awe for several minutes, confronted with the harrowing, earthly beauty of the wooden sculpture. When compared to the idealised, hyperbolic marbles and bronzes that inhabit the Bargello, The Magdalene hit an emotional, human note.
'Donatello's Mary Magdalene hit an emotional, human note'
David came the following day. Walking up an aisle lined with Michelangelo’s series Slaves, we reached a
light dome under which he was stood. Witnessing the sculpture first hand confirms that books can only teach you so much. The physical nature of sculpture is something to be experienced, and can communicate so much with the beholder. The scale of the body and shine of the marble, with contoured, sinuous lines highlighting idealised muscles, the sculpture almost palpitates – with veins, bones and sinews visible underneath the stone hands and neck. Made after the Medici were (temporarily) exiled from Florence, this work epitomises how Florentines used biblical themes to symbolise political values in their art. Whether religious or not, the adding of a political to a Christian message makes the piece ever-relevant, as the values it embodies remain essential to the secular societies of today – freedom, defiance and strength in the face of a greater oppressive power.
Michelangelo's David: 'Witnessing the sculpture first hand confirms that books can only teach you so much'.
Religion may always impress – and we have much to thank it for in terms of the culture it has produced – but in Florence, the fusion of religion with a very human and gripping political history makes it a city vibrant with both the divine and the earthly.

News from Italy! My Florence Bucket List by AHA student Prudence Wade

As an English student, many of my preconceptions of Florence stemmed from the novel ‘A Room with a View’. Unfortunately the real experience of the city was without the beautiful period costumes (although wandering through churches in near forty degree heat made me somewhat thankful for that!) Looking back over the few days we spent studying art history in Firenze, I decided that the best way to make a record of it was through a sort of Bucket List – my own personal account of the best things I did here.
1) Food. I am a self-proclaimed foodie and one might think that pasta gets boring, but this is far from so. The tutors knew the best places to take us and point out to us for our free time. My favourite night was when we went to the ‘Quattro Leoni’ where friendly waiters gave us prosecco and an adventurous lot of us got exactly the same meal – a delicious plate of pear, cheese and asparagus tortellini.
A delicious plate of pear, cheese and asparagus tortellini at Quattro Leoni
2)Watching the sunset over the Arno. Coming straight from Venice we felt withdrawal symptoms from the water, so one evening we desperately sought out the one river in Florence. The picturesque scene of the sun setting over the city was accompanied with daiquiris and an assortment of authentic Italian antipasti (food does seem to be a recurring trend of this piece thus far, but the amount of walking we do entirely justifies it I like to think.)
Tuscan antipasti at sunset...
3) Climbing the bell tower. This was an interesting one for me as I am by no means the biggest fan of heights! However, the slight nausea, overexhaustion and screaming pain in my thighs was most definitely worth it. The views at the top were breathtaking, as you could see the entire plan of Florence mapped out in front of you and the landscape stretched out to the rolling green hills in the distance.
The Duomo and Giotto's belltower...which we climbed!
4) The art. It might seem somewhat odd to have this as one of the last items on this Florentine bucket list seeming as we are on an art history course, but that is because it is undoubtedly the most exciting and important thing that will feature in your trip to Florence. It is impossible to discuss all the amazing works of art that we were lucky to see as our five days have been jam-packed with all kinds of churches, galleries and frescoes. The tutors were evidently excited about the works that we saw, and this interest was infectious. I will only pick out one of my favourite pieces, but it is only a miniscule representative of the wealth of art that is on offer in Florence. I was particularly moved at Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ in the Uffizi, an expansive art gallery full of famous pieces. I was familiar with ‘Primavera’ so was excited to see it, but nothing can prepare you for the scale and pure beauty of the real deal.
Botticelli's Primavera: nothing can prepare you for the scale and pure beauty of the real deal
5) My own art, which is not as vain as it initially seems. Although many people who come on the course are adept at drawing and painting, I am by no means one of these people and prefer the critique of art over my abysmal attempts at stick people. However, on the last day we spent in Florence we went to the Bargello gallery which is housed in what used to be a stately home and then a prison before its current use. We were assigned a piece to examine and draw, and I spent a delightful half an hour looking at Michelangelo’s ‘Bacchus’. Whilst it cannot be classed as a masterpiece, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to really deconstruct and analyse the sculpture and understand it on a deeper level.
I spent a delightful half an hour looking at Michelangelo's 'Bacchus'...

Old Master Week. Past AHA student Lucy Speelman tells us about her experiences in the Sotheby's Saleroom

 

A gavel raps smartly on a mahogany podium; the crowd snaps to attention, looking up in anticipation. Are we in the midst of a court case perhaps? No: this is the evening sale of Old Master and British Paintings at Sotheby’s, and the only things on trial tonight are the pictures. The saleroom is packed – it’s Old Master Week, when the auction houses sell their very best works from that period, and dealers and collectors from all over the world converge on London to join in on the action. Many of said dealers and collectors are here tonight, competing for the very best of Sotheby’s offerings. A hand lifted here, an eyebrow raised there, and the bids go up in their thousands. As the lots go by, there are a few surprises. A (rather odd-looking in my humble opinion) French portrait of Louis XI, King of France, with no attribution surpasses its estimate of 400,000-600,000 to fetch £735,650. Another portrait with no attribution (this time of King Edward VI), catalogued as ‘Circle of William Scrots’, sails beyond expectations of 500,000-700,000, the bidding ceasing at £1.5 million.

 

Portrait of Louis XI, King of France, with no attribution surpassed its estimate of 400,000-600,000 to fetch £735,650' Portrait of Edward VI (unattributed) sold for £1.5 m, almost treble the estimate

But I daresay no one was prepared for lot 24 – The Surrender of the Royal Prince during the Four Days’ Battle, 1st – 4th June 1966 by Willem van de Velde the Younger, one of history’s most talented marine painters. This extraordinary canvas depicts the defeat of the English by the Dutch in the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Beneath the stern of the Royal Prince (the English ship) floats a small galliot where a tiny figure sketches – this is Willem van de Velde the Elder, recording the surrender which his son would go on to paint so beautifully. This picture is not only a showcase of incredible skill, it is an accurate and important historical document; the van de Veldes were ‘quite literally early war artists’. They paid paramount attention to detail, relying on black chalk construction drawings of ships to ensure absolute accuracy in the finished painting. This painting’s condition is excellent, and its provenance is remarkable, having only been in the ownership of 3 families since the late 18th Century. It once belonged to the 3rd Duke of Bridgwater, whose collection of European Old Masters was arguably the finest that had ever been in Britain. Seconds, then minutes tick tensely by, and before long fierce competition has driven up the price to almost twice the high estimate. When the hammer finally falls at £4.7 million, the room breathes a sigh of relief, while whispering and craning their necks around to see who the buyer is.

 

Star lot: The Surrender of the Royal Prince during the Four Days’ Battle, 1st - 4th June 1966 by Willem van de Velde the Younger sold for a staggering £4.7m

 

The bidder is later revealed to be acting on behalf of a Dutch private collector, so this magnificent van de Velde is likely now on its way back to Holland where it was probably first created, over three centuries ago. For more information: see Sotheby’s Old Master and British Paintings Evening Sale catalogue (04/07/2012), or go to http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2012/old-master-british-paintings-evening-sale/overview.html All images courtesy of Sotheby’s