This is just a taste of all the wonderful things the students have been getting up to in London. There have been trips to the Globe theatre; comedy evenings; cosy suppers at tutors’ houses; film nights; trips to the Opera and much much more.
A HUGE thank you to Semester Student Jacqueline Langelier for her excellent photos (1,6,7,8,9,10,11,12) – a joy to see the course through her eyes.
For regular updates on our Semester this year follow us on Twitter (@AHAcourses, #ahasemester), and \’Like\’ our Facebook Page. We’ll be posting more news from Paris soon!
We all know that Italian food is invariably delicious, its pretty much a given that if you eat in Italy, or in any Italian restaurant, you’re going to get a decent meal. However what I experienced this afternoon in the city of Modena, took this idea and blew it up to the vastest proportions you can possibly imagine. Quite simply, I ate the best meal I have experienced in my, albeit brief, life. The venue for such culinary delight was the Osteria Francescana, a small unassuming looking place run by chef Massimo Bottura and his English wife Lara. It was last year voted by Restaurant Magazine as the 5th Best in the World, and holds three, much coveted stars in the Michelin Guide.
Before I get going, I want to assure you that this blog entry is in no way a review, as I would feel wholly inadequate reviewing such a magnificent restaurant. Instead, I’m aiming to use my lunch at the Osteria as a springboard to talking about the aesthetic element of food, something that has interested me for a while. Everybody eats with his or her eyes to a certain extent, for instance it is clear that if you’re presented with a nice, neat plate of food, it will look more appealing than a big heap slopped in front of you. In Modena, this idea was taken to the extreme. In fact some of dishes presented to me were so beautiful (and I really do mean, BEAUTIFUL) that I felt aggrieved to have to eat them, and would much rather have just studied them all afternoon, much as one would do with a Titian or a Bellini.
Me and my dining companion, my mother, who also happened to pay (Thanks Mummy!), both decided to have the Chef’s Sensations menu, which claimed to be the ‘expressions of the experimental kitchen’. All very exciting. What followed were 11 of the most scrumptious and equally handsome plates of food I have ever eaten. I’ve got nowhere near enough words available to me to describe each course individually, but I’ll talk about some of the highlights briefly.
The first course was a delightfully light almond granita, with capers, bergamot, and coffee cream, which served as a perfect ‘amuse bouche’ for the forthcoming meal. What followed were a series of delectable seafood courses, including a seriously tasty Sea bass dish, with three different sauces, before we moved on to the final savoury dish of the day, the most spectacularly moist pigeon, with what the restaurant described as ‘sour and mineral salad and Balsamic juice’. Next were two pre-desserts, and finally, what was for me the piece de resistance of the meal, a dessert called ‘Oops! A broken fruit pie’, which was essentially a lemon tart, deconstructed to it’s elements, and delightfully presented as though it had been dropped.
In a meal full of delicious dishes, this was to the chef what David was to Michelangelo, absolutely unparalleled. Everything put in front of me today was not only delicious, but also entertaining, and spectacularly pretty, and I could not have had a better first meal, from which to talk about the visual art of food. In my opinion, art should not only delight the eyes, but also the soul, and I could not help but smile whenever a new dish was brought out to me. Whether or not food can be art is debateable, however on today’s evidence, I think it definitely can.
Osteria Francescana is run by Massimo Bottura in the Italian city of Modena. For more info visit: www.osteriafrancescana.it
Venice. Water, art and lots of wonderful places to see. For many of us it was our first encounter with this magical city, one that didn’t ceased to amaze. The first thing that struck us was its beauty: the architecture, the canals and the little shops that occupied the piazzas.
And then the art: Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini, Pesaro, Palladio, Giorgione, Giotto and so many more including Picasso, Pollock, Margritte and Dali from the Peggy Guggenheim collection. Seeing these works in real life was incredible, and so much better than in a classroom. On our free afternoon most of us went to the Lido on the outskirts of Venice. The warm water and chance to lie on the beach in the sun without having to concentrate was just what we needed to relax after a hard day’s learning.
One highlight of the trip had to be the last night in the city, where the tutors had arranged a picnic on the waterfront overlooking St Mark’s. The fancy dress theme ‘Carnival’ had all the tutors and some students sporting traditional Venetian masks for the occasion.
After traipsing through the busy streets with our identities concealed, we arrived and unpacked all the food, only to hear a live band performing just round the corner. Mesmerised by the music and still in full dress we decided to explore. What we found was a 7-piece band with a singer performing for a festival. Getting into the carnival spirit we started dancing, something that the Italian press were particularly interested in.
After a few quick snaps by the side, we were pushed onto the stage in front of the keen audience! What followed was to be the most exhilarating 5 minutes of the trip so far. Intense dance moves were performed, and any cares forgotten. Unfortunately we didn’t make it into the newspapers the next morning, but that experience, and all the others we had in Venice, will live in our memories forever.
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.
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’.
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
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!
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.
Louis Vuitton transported a photographer known as ‘the Selby’ to document the trip from Paris to Shanghai with videos, photos and paintings.
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 success of the Shanghai show has left people questioning; who else will follow in Louis Vuitton’s tracks from West to East?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.