Bhutan – Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon

Bhutan – Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon.    – a lecture by Zara Fletcher

Zara began her fascinating lecture by introducing  Bhutan to us as it was 60 years ago when there were no roads, no towns and no currency,(the only currency being textiles) and how, though there have been such big developments in all these areas in the last 60 years they have still managed to hold on to their cultural inheritance.

Zara then introduced us to the three key  figures in Bhutan’s history  who have been responsible for shaping the country as it is today.

The first was Padmasambhava

the second was Nawang Namgul

and the third –  the 4th king – Jigme Wangchuk

Bhutan, she told us is a small country the size of Switzerland but with a population of only 80.000. It has Tibet to the north and India to the south. It is divided into 3 different landscapes – in the north are the Himalaya, in the centre are terraced fields and this is where most of the population live  and in the south the land is very fertile and there are a few industries.

The country is home to a wealth of flora and fauna . The national animal of Bhutan is a takin – a rather strange looking creature


There is also great ethnic diversity in Bhutan – speaking 23 different languages , though the main one is English.

The earlier  religion in Bhutan was based on nature.  Budhism was introduced in the 6th. century  with its goal to eliminate suffering and attain enlightenment. The wheel of life is divided into 6 sections into which you can be reborn –  gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts and hells.

When Budhism arrived in Bhutan art – in the form of murals, paintings or sculptures, was used to enlighten the people as most of them were illiterate. They work as a focus of faith and therefore had to be drawn following strict codes. For example the hand gestures would convey different meanings.Once these works were completed they would be consecrated with prayer.

At the centre of their beliefs is Avalokitesvara – the earthly manifestation of Buddha and shows compassion with many heads to see the suffering and many hands to comfort.

Shabdrung (1594-1651) brought peace and unification to Bhutan.He built dzongs across the country which were both religious and secular centres and are still in use today.


During the 17th  century Tibet made many attacks on Bhutan so Shabdrung  instigated codes of behaviour including dress and etiquette to create a difference between Bhutan and Tibet. It was known as the Driglam Namzha code and included such rules as the colour of the scarf (The Kabney) which must be worn indicating status, with yellow indicating the highest status

The women wear a kira with horizontal stripes

and the men wear vertical stripes – the Gho

He also set up the Zorig Chusum which comprised 13 Arts and Crafts  which are symbolic and represent certain principles of Budhism – including weaving, sculpture and dance.

Creating Tashigomang – portable shrines. They  are  part of the Zorig Chusum and were  temples which consecrated and blessed the land around them and were resting places.

Another element was Jimzo – sculpting – as seen in this mask

and Shingzo – carpentry – shown on this building

One very important piece of art are the Thongdrels or banners which were rolled down at festivals before sunrise ( so they would not be damaged by the sun ) and would be touched by the heads of worshippers.

When Shabdrung died they kept his death secret for 50 years partly to maintain the unity of the country  but also because they were waiting to see the reincarnation. Much of what Bhutan is today is as a result of  Shabbdrung’s work.

In 1774 Britain sent a trade mission to Bhutan , which was rather inaccurately recorded in a painting by Tilly Kettle


At the end of the 19th century Bhutan was racked by civil war and the British suggested the idea of monarchy. Ugyen Wangchuk became the first king , reigning from 1907-26 and he restored peace and stability. In the picture he is shown wearing   the  raven  crown.

The raven is the national bird of Bhutan and at one time it was illegal to kill one. The raven represents the form of Mahakala – Bhutan’s guardian deity

The third king implemented his father’s dying wish and moved the capital to Thimphu as it was suitable for all year round living.

He was succeeded by his son – the fourth king – Jigme Wangchuk who developed the policy – ‘One Nation one Principal ‘ Wangchuck stated that it is the “distinct identity of our country”, and not the nation’s “wealth, weapons and armed forces”, that is the vital instrument in securing the sovereignty of the nation.  He said that everyone should wear national dress and speak their language.  As a result of this many of the Nepalese who had moved into Bhutan decided to return to Nepal.

He also made the  statement

Gross National Happiness 

is more important than 

Gross national Product

As part of this they were committed to :

Sustained economic growth and development

The preservation and promotion of their cultural heritage

The conservation and sustainable use of the environment

Good governance

Bhutan has free medicine, free healthcare and free education . The schools teach the Zorig Chusum ( the 13 arts and crafts)

They are constantly refurbishing temples to keep them fresh and bright.


Any new paintings must contain something Bhutanese and houses are built by the whole community


Weaving in Bhutan is a very important craft(textiles had been the only form of currency in the past)

Thimphu -the capital of Bhutan has a National Textile Museum.

It also has the Tashichha Dzong – half of which is for government and the other half is the Buddhist centre

Dances are now recorded for posterity and are a central feature in the Bhutanese festivals which are attended by many of the Bhutanese.   In an amusing anecdote Zara told us how protective and careful the Bhutanese are of their culture and whilst most tourists respect it – some don’t so sometimes they give out the wrong date for national celebrations so that visitors are not present on the correct date!!!


Having strengthened the cultural aspects of Bhutan the 4th king abdicated and  his  eldest  son Jigme Khesar  became the 5th king

Bhutan was facing external problems from China and internal problems largely brought on by the TV and media. Initially he tried to ban some programmes but the worldwide web meant that this was impossible.One of the most important and ongoing works of the King involves Kidu, a tradition based on the rule of a Dharma King whose sacred duty is to care for his people.

Zara concluded this fascinating talk by reminding us of Bhutan’s very proud people, striking architecture and  strong Buddhism – I think we had all seen this through her talk. Bhutan is also understandably proud  of its  bio diversity and is the only country in the world  that is carbon negative.

It is seeking  to evolve as a contemporary buddhist society – a world which could teach us so much.

As we reluctantly came to end of this lecture many of us were already looking out passports and planning a visit to this magical place as soon as we can travel.

The Nativity in Art From Giotto to Picasso

The Nativity in Art From Giotto to Picasso. A Christmas lecture by Clare Ford-Wille

Below are the notes that lare kindly sent out to accompany her talk

THE NATIVITY IN ART IN ALL ITS VARIETY from Giotto to Stanley Spencer




Of the four Gospel writers, only Matthew (2:1-12) and Luke (2:1-20) mention and describe anything about Christ’s Nativity and in different ways.  St. Matthew writes about ‘Wise Men’, rather than Kings, following a star and ‘entering the house’, not a stable. Moreover we are not told how many of them there were. St. Luke states that Mary laid the baby in a manger because, ‘there was no room for them in the inn’.  However, in the apocryphal Book of James and Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the narrative is a little different.  In the Book of James mention of a cave is made ‘And he found a cave there and brought her into it…..And behold a bright cloud overshadowing the cave….The cloud withdrew itself out of the cave a a great light appeared in the cave so that our eyes could not endure it. And by little and little that light withdrew itself until the young child appeared: and it went and took the breast of its mother Mary’. In the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew the ox and ass enter the story: ‘an angel made her dismount and enter a dark cave which began to shine….On the third day Mary left the cave and went to a stable and put the child in the manger, and the ox and ass adored him.’


During the 15th century particularly the Virgin is shown kneeling in adoration and this follows the writings of St. Bridget of Sweden who visited Bethlehem in 1370 and wrote in her Revelations of her vision of the Virgin: ‘When her time came she took off her shoes and her white cloak and undid her veil, letting her golden hair fall on her shoulders.  Then she prepared the swaddling clothes which she put down beside her.  When all was ready, she bent her knees and began to pray.  While she was thus praying with hands raised the child was suddenly born, surrounded by a light so bright that it completely eclipsed Joseph’s feeble candle.’


In the Eastern Church there are variations and traditions with Byzantine artists sometimes showing the Virgin on a proper bed, attended by midwives, and with the Christ child being washed.  The Book of James describes one of the two midwives, Mary Salome, denying that the Virgin could remain an intact virgin and examined her for proof, whereupon her arm, which had touched Mary, shrivelled but was made whole again when she picked up the Child.


In the 14th century the writings of the Pseudo-Bonaventura (Giovanni de Caulibus), in his Meditations, described how ‘The Virgin arose in the night and leaned against a pillar. Joseph brought into the stable a bundle of hay which he threw down and the Son of God, issuing from his mother’s belly without causing her pain, was projected instantly on to the hay at the Virgin’s feet.’



EARLY CHRISTIAN           Nativity with Shepherd 4th Century Sarcophagus.  Arles

PISA                                       Porta di San Ranieri Pisa Cathedral c.1180

BONANNO DA PISA           Detail of the Nativity from above

MARGARITO da Arezzo    Altarpiece c.1250 NG

JACOPO TORRITI             Apse Mosaics Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome 1296

JACOPO TORRITI             Nativity (mosaic) Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome 1296



NICCOLO PISANO                         Pisa Baptistery Pulpit 1260

GIOVANNI PISANO                       Pisa Cathedral Pulpit 1302-11

ROME                                                Apse Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome

CAVALLINI, Pietro                         Mosaic Cycle of the Virgin Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome 1296

The Nativity in Art of the14th Century


Some of the depictions of the Nativity introduce new aspects of the story from The Golden Legend. It became the primary source book for painters and sculptors in the later Medieval and early Renaissance periods.  A real knowledge, understanding and appreciation of art from 1300 to 1550 is only possible through a familiarity with The Golden Legend. The popularity of the Golden Legend ended with the Reformation but not completely as is clear from the continuance of some of the stories in paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries.  Renaissance scholars tended to attack it for being inaccurate and untrue, particularly following the Council of Trent in the middle of the 16th century.  Some attempt was made in the 19th century to reawaken interest in the work, notably by William Morris, who published a limited edition of the Caxton text in 1892. Particularly relevant to the depiction of the Nativity is the general reality and domesticity but also the introduction of the two midwives, whom Joseph goes to find to assist with the birth of Christ.  Of the two, one of them believes the baby is the Son of God, upon finding the Virgin Mary still a virgin, but the other refutes this and her arm which touched the baby withers immediately.  She then changes her mind, and the arm grows back again.


PADUA                                              Scrovegni Chapel c.1300

GIOTTO                                            Nativity c.1305

DADDI, B.                                         Triptych 1338 Berlin

DUCCIO                                            The Nativity 1308-11 New York       

MASTER BERTRAM                     Grabow Altarpiece 1379-83 Hamburg

MASTER FRANCKE                      St. Thomas à Becket Altar 1424 Hamburg   

BOHEMIAN                                     The Vysshi Brod Alterpiece c.1360 Prague

AUSTRIAN                                       Nativity 1400 Vienna

KONRAD VON SOEST                  Nativity 1403 Parish Church Bad Wildungen

NETHERLANDISH                         Folding Private Devotional Altarpiece c.1410 Antwerp

FRENCH ILLUMINATOR             Tres Belles Heures de Notre Dame du Duc de Berri c.1390 Bib. Nat. Paris


The Nativity in Italy and the North in the 15th Century


GENTILE DA FABRIANO             The Strozzi Altarpiece 1422 Uffizi Florence

ROBERT CAMPIN                          Nativity c.1425 Dijon

FRA ANGELICO                             Nativity (Cell 5) c.1440 San Marco, Florence

FRA FILIPPO LIPPI                       Cycle of the Virgin frescoes 1467-9 East End Spoleto Cathedral

ROGIER VAN DER WEYDEN      The Miraflores Altarpiece c.1440 Madrid

MEMLING                                        The Triptych of Jan Floreins c.1479 Bruges

GEERTGEN TOT SINT JINS        Night Nativity c.1465 NG

HUGO VAN DER GOES                 Portinari Altarpiece c.1478 Uffizi


GHIRLANDAIO                              Altarpiece c.1483 Sassetti Chapel, Santa Trinita, Florence


The Nativity in the Art of the 16th Century


Characteristic of developments in the 16th century in Northern Europe is the setting of the Nativity in a larger setting which includes the new fascination for nature and landscape.  Northern European painters also become fascinated with night scenes and light in darkness, which culminates at the end of the century with the chiaroscuro of the Italian artist, Caravaggio and the Dutch Caravaggisti.


GERARD DAVID                             Wings of Triptych in New York c.1505-10 The Hague

Triptych New York

BOTTICELLI                                   The Mystic Nativity 1500 NG

HIERONYMUS BOSCH                 The Adoration of the Magi Triptych 1492-8 Prado Madrid

GIORGIONE                                    Nativity c.1505 Washington

DURER                                              The Paumgartner Altarpiece c.1504 Munich

BALDUNG                                        Nativity at Night 1520 Munich

CORREGGIO                                   Night Nativity c. 1525-30 Dresden

BAROCCI, F.                                    Nativity in the Stable c.1597 Madrid


The Nativity in Art in the 17th Century


By the beginning of the 17th century fundamental changes came about in the depictions in art of the Nativity and other episodes from Christ’s early life as a result of the reforms instituted by the reforms emanating from the Council of Trent, the meeting so of which took place from 1545 and 1563.  The stories which did not come from the Bible itself were not encouraged and virtually forbidden.  The Adoration of the Shepherds and Kings became more widely depicted, partly because the former depictions of Nativity scenes would prove controversial.


CARAVAGGIO                                Adoration of the Shepherds 1609 Messina

CARAVAGGIO                                Nativity with SS Lawrence Francis 1609 (formerly) Oratorio di San Lorenzo, Palermo

HONTHORST                                  Night Nativity Uffizi

LA TOUR, G. de                               Peasant Nativity 1644 Paris

REMBRANDT                                  Adoration of the Shepherds 1646 NG

REMBRANDT                                  Night Nativity etching and drypoint


The Nativity in Art in the 19th and 20th Centuries


WILLIAM BELL SCOTT               Nativity 1872 Edinburgh

GAUGUIN, P.                                   Te Tamari No Atua 1896 Munich

FRITZ VON UHDE                         Holy Night c.1888-9 Dresden New Masters Gallery

PABLO PICASSO                            ‘Mère et Enfant’ or Maternité  1902 Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, USA

STANLEY SPENCER                     Nativity 1912 University College, London

Art Behind Bars : The Role of the Arts in the Cycle of Crime, Prison and Reoffending

Art Behind Bars : The Role of the Arts in the Cycle of Crime, Prison and Reoffending

A Zoom lecture by Angela Findlay

Angela Findlay is a professional artist, writer, and freelance lecturer with a long career of teaching art in prisons in Germany and England.

Her time ‘behind bars’ and later as Arts Coordinator of the London-based Koestler Trust, gave her many insights into the huge impact the arts can have in terms of rehabilitation.

In 2016 she was invited by the Ministry of Justice to support the case for the arts to be included in new, progressive programmes of rehabilitation and education.

‘The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.’

Fyodor Dostoevsky 

Angela began this potentially controversial  lecture by stressing that she was expressing her points of view and that she was fully aware that other people would have very different views.

To begin Angela gave us a short resume of her career and how it led to the work she has done in prisons. She began her career by painting large scale murals and had gone into a prison yard to paint a mural with some of the prisoners. This led to her studying art therapy for three years, focussing on using colour and then going to Germany to work with 10 prisoners. At this point she recounted that her German was not good and instead of saying to the prisoners ‘we will do this painting together ‘she had  said ‘ we will go to bed together!!’ Because she wasn’t attached to a prison she was not obliged to report anything the prisoners may say and as a result they began to open up and express their thoughts and feelings. After 9 years she became Art Co-ordinator for the ‘Koestler Trust.’ Her main focus was setting up ‘Learning to Learn’ – using a variety of artists from all around London. They would offer an alternative to conventional classroom activities which had the potential to become the springboard for a new career.

Angela then gave us some very startling data whilst acknowledging that prison serves the public by keeping in custody those who have committed a crime.

67% of under 18s reoffend after 12 months

46% of adults reoffend after 12 months

52% of prisoners are dyslexic

70% suffer from some type of personality disorder

65% have a reading age below 8

50% can’t write

In the Uk we have 86.500 prisoners in the system – more than anywhere else in Europe at a cost of £37.000 per years per prisoner. Reoffending costs the government £18.1 billion.

Angela said that this is a spectacular failure rate and she gave us some of the reasons why she thinks it currently doesn’t work.Her main point was that prisoners are not confronted with the impact of their crime- even that they think the world is a better place as a result of what they have done. She gave the example of a prisoner who had ‘just stolen a handbag ‘ and the prisoner was shocked when the victim said that as a result of the mugging she was frightened to go out so she lost her job which in turn made her depressed and as a result of being depressed she lost her partner.

Prisoners, she told us, are locked in with nothing to do, in overcrowded and understaffed premises. There is no provision for education and drugs are everywhere.

Angela said she was not saying – ‘give them a paintbrush and they’ll be ok. ‘ nor was she suggesting that we don’t need prisons, but prisoners should be on a programme of Confrontation/Challenge and Change.

Victim awareness will lead to empathy ‘ until this day I have never felt so much remorse for what I have done’ She told us of a bank robber who had said to her ‘I have never met a man who committed a crime with evil intent.’

So the question is ‘How can the arts work?’ Angela then shared with us her programme of work with prisoners.

Her first step was to give prisoners just the three primary colours to work with and paint with and then begin to ask them to mix these colours and ask them to describe the colours they had made with sounds and adjectives.

One of the issues is that prisoners had overstepped boundaries and now were in a system of rigid and tight boundaries so she would then have a colour conversation with them – in their paintings some had made definite strong boundaries between colours  whereas others had mixed them totally. What she was aiming for them to do was to mix the colours gently and flowing.

Art projects often led to lightbulb moments with issues addressed through art rather than full on which could lead to totally unacceptable behaviour..Prisoners had to learn to collaborate within their groups, thereby giving them these soft skills which are so helpful in the world outside prison.

Angela gave us examples of how she chose the projects with the needs of the particular prisoners in mind.

Some of them had committed crimes because they wanted instant gratification – ‘I want that car so I’ll take it ‘ so asking them to create mosaics helped them to see that taking things step by step will eventually have very pleasing results – that nothing is instant.

Other prisoners had very low self esteem – possibly with the absence of a father or positive male role model and authoritative figure, but creating a piece of art can raise  their self esteem and also become a focus for talking about how they feel; many prisoners are emotionally illiterate.

Angela concluded this fascinating lecture by reaffirming what arts can offer to prisoners and the prison system. Arts she said, can make a massive contribution to preventing re-offending. The arts demand self discipline and raise self-esteem and can serve as a springboard to a more positive future which impacts on us all.

Her final statement – that the Arts could halve the numbers reoffending, left us  feeling very reflective and questioning  of our current system.

Thank you Angela, you presented your views in a  clear and positive manner and whilst we may not have agreed with everything you said we certainly had much food for thought and consideration



2020 KOESTLER AWARDS, South Bank Centre, London
NOTE: Angela Findlay, who gave last Monday’s TASNF monthly lecture “Art Behind Bars”, was Arts Coordinator for the Koestler Trust
The links above are a reminder of a listing given in Section A. NEWS in last week’s email. They give information about The Koestler Arts Annual Awards 2020 Exhibition (for which all the entrants are in the criminal justice system).





Titian – The First Modern Artist

Titian – The First Modern Artist – a zoom lecture by Douglas Skeggs.

Our second zoom lecture was outstanding. Douglas enthralled us with his presentation  and knowledge. It was our second lecture delivered through zoom and it went extremely well.

Douglas began by telling us that critics of Titian have said that all he did was to put paint on canvas, but he did more, so much more.

He was born in Pieve di Catore and went to the local school. The year of his birth is the subject of considerable debate- Titian himself, in a letter to Philip II of Spain, said it was 1474 but modern scholars put it at around 1488.

He was a good scholar but he didn’t learn Latin which meant in later life he couldn’t read stories in their original script. A local priest saw his talents and arranged for him to go to Venice to study with a mosaicist when he was about 11. A few years later he entered the studio of Gentile Bellini. Gentile was the first psychological painter as shown in his painting of  Queen  Catarina  Cornara ( 1500 ) (Fine Arts Museum Budapest ) where. the character  of the subject  comes through.  This  approach  to  painting  greatly  influenced  Titian.

Titian fell out with Gentile and moved to his brother Giorgione Bellini’s  studio. Titian worked with Giorgione but was never his pupil. This is apparent when both Titian and Giorgione were asked to work on frescoes on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi ( the German merchants’ warehouse) but they worked on separate areas – and if Titian had been his pupil they would have worked together.

Titian worked in a way completely different from what then was the current manner. He started with colour and light and the picture was created on the canvas. . It was a completely revolutionary style.

In The Ages of man (1514)(in Nat. Gallery Edinburgh) Titian’s use of dark and light is clear to see.

Titian always preceded his commissions with portraits as in his painting ‘Man with a Quilted Sleeve'(1509)(in Nat.Gallery)

The painting is so simple yet makes such impact- with the contrast of the hard rock background and the soft voluptuous fabric and the play of light across the picture set against the darkness makes it stand out. However the most important aspect of the painting is the psychology and how he conveys the personality. By making the eye line higher than ours he makes him look rather distant and slightly threatening.

In ‘The Assumption of the Virgin  ‘(1516-18 )(in Basilica of Santa Maria) the position of the arms and bodies of the disciples lead the eye  to Mary.

Titian creates an amazing spiral movement as Ariadne sees Bacchus in ‘Bacchus and Ariadne ” (1520-1523) (in National Gallery ) He has also made Bacchus’ followers very specific characters and looking like a tidal wave. This detail of the followers does not come from the original story (which Titian was unable to access as he had not learned Latin,) but came from a different story. The colours also go from warm to cold and light to dark.

In the Bacchanal of the Andrians'(1523-26) (in Prado ) if you start with the wine, your eye is taken into a spiral down through the people to the baby peeing on the reclining lady. It was images such as this that caused the Victorians to dislike him as he was too ‘earthy!’

Pietro Aretino was a friend of Titian who wrote pornographic poems.  And in this painting of him  (1545)(in Pitti Florence)Titian brilliantly shows this man who was larger than life.

At this time Titian was becoming more and more acknowledged and successful. He  copied  a portrait of Charles V by Schleissinger but showing Venetian light and a softer  face.

He then did the same with a portrait of Charles V’s late wife  and Charles is completely bowled over and becomes so impressed with Titian, buying many of his paintings.

Many important people became his patron. In 1542 he painted a portrait of Ranuccio Farnese for his mother,(now in Nat.Gallery Washington) who was so impressed she showed it to the Pope who then asked to meet Titian and to be painted by him (1543) (in Capodimonte Naples)

In 1545/6 Titian painted another portrait of the Pope with his ‘nephews’ (probably grandsons ) in which the Pope looks more brow beaten. This painting was unfinished but still shows how he achieved the amazing colour and texture of the cape. It also shows Titian’s skill at using psychological interpretation  in the manner and positioning of the  nephews and the Pope himself.(in Capodimonte  Naples)

Michelangelo and Titian met and although Michelangelo expressed admiration to Titian for his work ,afterwards he said to Vasari that he liked his colour but not the ‘dessina’ in his paintings.

Charles V had increasingly become concerned that because he was so rich he would not enter heaven so in 1555 he entered a monastery but surrounded himself with Titian’s paintings.

In 1551 Charles V died gazing at Titian’s painting ‘The Gloria’ which Charles had commissioned

(in Prado)

Phillip II who was the son of Charles V became Titian’s patron and Titian spent the rest of his life working on the mythological but rather rather pornographic paintings for Phillip, which he called Poesie. These can be seen  in  a variety  of  museums  around  the world   including  one in the Fitzwilliam Gallery  in  Cambridge

Evidence that Titian changed the figures directly on the canvas is shown in ‘Shepherd and Nymph’ (1570) where the shepherd has three hands!

Pieta by Titian (1570) (Venice) was unfinished as he died before it was completed. It was finished by a pupil. It was the picture Titian wanted hanging above his grave, but this never happened. Titian died of the plague and yet was buried in Ferrari – (the bodies of people who died of the plague were usually burned ) This was quite amazing and showed the status that Titian achieved – he had been raised  to the aristocracy.

Douglas ended this fascinating talk explaining how with the death of Titian it was the end of an era. And that without Titian the whole course of the history of art would have been so very different.

It was indeed a wonderful hour spent learning about and appreciating the skills of Titian. I for one will certainly look with renewed enthusiasm at Titian’s work.


Ancient Egyptian Artefacts – 3000 Years of Treasures

Ancient Egyptian Artefacts – 3000 Years of Treasures – A zoom lecture by Eileen Goulding

Eileen had the dubious pleasure of giving our first lecture on Zoom. There were very few technical glitches and Eileen delivered a very interesting talk, giving us further details of already known facts and widening our knowledge with more detailed information.

She began her talk explaining that  3100 B.C.was when the the country was first unified and the first pyramids were built. For over 3000 years Egypt was a great trading nation and this was an excellent route for the exchanging of ideas with other countries.

The Narmer Palette dates back to 3100 BC and belonged to  King Narmer who first united Upper and Lower Egypt. It is 2 foot high and shows the details of the power of the king. It is an amazing historical record.

Eileen compared this stone with a stone from 3000 years later – the Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone helps to decipher hieroglyphics. It was originally a free standing stone – dull looking- but a fantastic treasure. It was discovered by one of Napoleon’s soldiers.

Eileen then talked about mummification. The mummy now named ‘ginger’ dates back to 3000 B.C. and ‘Ginger’ was buried with everything he would need in the after-life.


The pyramid of Imorte is the first ever large stone building in the world.

and shows how the early pyramids were built in ‘steps’

The Sphinx at Gizah was built out of bedrock and was not actually a statue. Some of the elements are missing but it aligns with the pyramid at the setting of the sun on the Spring and Autumn equinoxes.

The head of Nefertiti (1350 B.C. ) was made of limestone but it hides a secret. The limestone core shows a wrinkled head with lumps and bumps!!

Funerary Goods

The most impressive find without doubt, is the face mask of Tutankhamen and it is probably a faithful portrait.. 

Many Pharaohs were buried with similar items but those have been lost.

The pastoral or pendant that was found  has a carib beetle at the centre and they were believed to burst out of the dung at sunset so they represent creation.

The Anubis shrine when found was covered in linen and had a flower garland around it.

There were numerous boxes found in the tomb which demonstrated the skills of the craftsmen of the time  as shown  by  this beautiful cartouche.

This wooden chest was the most highly decorated item and it is covered with scenes of battles and disorder calling Tutankhamen the valiant one

There was also a chest made of calcite and when the lid was removed it was found to contain hollowed-out heads holding liver, lungs, intestines and stomach. The four compartments were sealed with a stopper to represent the king who is shown wearing the Nemes headress with the protective cobra and vulture on his brow.

Eileen continued by telling us about the treasures found in the Ancient City of Tanis


The treasures found here were second only to the treasures in Tutankhamen’s tomb but received much less publicity as they were discovered during WW2. The head of Psusanis (who ruled for 42 years) in gold is particularly impressive

It showed all the valuable things that they traded in. Silver was particularly valuable as it had to be imported and so was in fact, more important than gold

Psusanis was buried with 5 necklaces – one of lapis lazuli with a very deep and intense bead (the reason for this is unknown ) and one with a scareb made of lapis lazuli to protect his heart.

The face mask is particularly interesting as it only went to his hairline.


In 1910 Howard Carter found, amongst other items, a board game- Hounds and Jackal made in ebony and ivory,

and a cosmetic container shaped like a duck; made from hippo bone and ivory.

Their craftmanship was particularly spectacular. This pectoral in Cloisonné work was made in 1800BC  with 372 semi precious stones. It was  4.5 cms. high. This was not just an adornment but it was also symbolic of their power. They believed that the wearer was endowed with their powers.

The Ancient Egyptians were also renowned for glass making . Glass was used for decoration and colour.This beautiful glass fish dates from 1350 BC

Eileen finished her interesting talk by telling us about the Ancient Egyptian belief in the afterlife

The Ancient Egyptians believed that when they died they went on a long and dangerous journey so they were buried with objects and prayers to help them on this journey. The objects are so beautiful but also useful in this world and the next. This papyrus (now in the British Museum) showed the prayers, the opening of the mouth ceremony and the weighing of the heart.

The zoom session ended with us all feeling that though we were not able to meet up personally , learning the skills involved with ‘zooming’ was well worth it as it allowed us to share Eileen’s excellent talk.

What Really Happened at the Yellow House in Arles in 1888 a lecture by Julian Halsby

What Really Happened at the Yellow House in Arles in 1888 – a lecture by Julian Halsby


Julian opened his lecture by comparing the very short time scale covered by  his talk  to the usual lectures which will cover decades – if not centuries!

He told us that there are many theories about what happened in Arles in 1888 between Gaugin and Van Gogh, but that the theory he will be putting forward may be quite controversial.

Julian told us how different in character the two artists were; Gaugin very confident

contrasted to Van Gogh who had a very insecure childhood shown below in Hatrick’s portrait of Van Gogh in 1887.

Gaugin’s grandmother was an early feminist and when he was a young boy Gaugin’s parents took him with them to live in Peru. They returned to Paris when he was 7. As a young man he joined the navy and saw much of the world before returning to take up work as a stockbroker. He was happily married to a Danish lady and started to collect impressionist paintings before deciding to paint himself. In the recession of 1881 he lost his job and decided to paint full time. This did not earn him enough to support a family and his wife decided to go back to Denmark with the children.

Gaugin joined an artist community at the Pension Gloanec in Pont Aven in Brittany where he became the centre of the commune.

One of his paintings from that period is ‘Breton Girls Dancing’ which he painted in 1888

By the time Gaugin goes to Arles he is well known. His paintings were full of Symbolism like the paintings of Klimt – painting from dreams, painting from imagination,which is shown in his painting ‘Vision After the Sermon’ (1888) where we see again the Breton ladies but in a fantasy setting

Meanwhile Van Gogh had been sacked from the family business for being too argumentative . They sent him to England to work as an art dealer but whilst he was there he took up art teaching. He had no idea what he was to do in the future and his brother Theo invited him to Paris where he met Toulouse Lautrec . He stayed in Paris for 18 months and as a result of seeing the work of the impressionists his work changed and became lighter and gentler.

Nobody really knows why Van Gogh went to Arles but at the beginning it was the happiest time for him but not necessarily the time when he did the best painting.  To begin with he stayed at the Hotel Carrel where he did many paintings.

Van Gogh was a very fast painter- often completing a painting in a day, paintings full of light and happiness as in ‘The Bridge at Langlois”

Then he discovers the Yellow House and makes this drawing

It was an uncomfortable house with no bathroom but it was the first house he had owned.

and his painting of his bedroom is one of his most famous

He invites Gaugin to join him and he arrived on October 23rd. 1888.

To begin with things went well but Gaugin tried to change the way Van Gogh painted. Julian showed us two paintings of the same scene one by Van Gogh and one by Gaugin to illustrate the difference in styles of the two artists.

VanGogh painting what he sees

whilst Gaugin painted what he wanted to be there

Van Gogh then begins to be influenced by Gaugin

About two months after his arrival Gaugin writes to Theo (Van Gogh’s brother ) that although he respects van Gogh’s intelligence he can no longer stay with him as for three days they had argued and argued. Gaugin books into a hotel . Van Gogh cuts off his own ear and sends it to a girl . Gaugin thinks that this action must have killed Van Gogh but he had gone to hospital and they had patched him up. At this point Van Gogh paints a self portrait with the bandaged ear.

The question asked is why did he cut off his ear““? Was it a cry for help? Theo is sent for and Gaugin goes back to Brittany feeling very guilty as is shown in his self portrait where he portrays himself as a devil

Van Gogh is moved to an asylum and though he said that Gaugin had no influence on him , the influence can certainly be seen in ‘Starry Night’ – more torrid and more introspective. 

In 1890 Van Gogh moves back up north, which is a real disaster and the loneliness he felt can be seen in ‘Wheat Fields’

Julian raised the question about Van Gogh’s ‘suicide ‘ Was it an accident? Where did he get a gun from? Why did he get a gun?. Most suicides shoot themselves in the head, but Van Gogh’s was in his stomach and the small bullet hole suggests that the shot was from a distance. Was it an accident?

Theo died three years later and the brothers are both buried outside a graveyard..

When he left the yellow House he said  ‘the end of a dream had come’

So the intriguing and informative lecture ended with Julian leaving  us to consider ‘What Really happened at the Yellow House in Arles ?’

Breaking Glass – Britain’s Post War Big Four – a lecture by Mark Hill

Breaking Glass – Britain’s Post War Big Four – a lecture by Mark Hill

Mark began his very interesting and informative lecture by setting the scene for us. He explained that he would be focussing on the 60s and 70s when glass was bought to be used, when there was greater prosperity and the beginnings of commercialism.

Stourbridge was the backbone of the industry at the end of the 19th century . The rules were very conservative and by the beginning of the 20th century they had still not changed -i.e.colourless cut glass.! This continued until the 1950s, although Stuart of Walsh and Walsh had introduced slight modernisation with the work of Farquarson ?????

Then suddenly Scandinavia appeared on the scene and style and design changed dramatically

In the 50s we see glass with cool coloured curves – no straight lines

In the 60s texture is introduced  and in the 60s and 70s the focus is on colour.

Examples of Scandinavian artists are shown below.

1964 ‘Finlandia’ by Timo Sarpaneva – showing the texture

1952 Holmegard ‘Duckling’ demonstrating cool curves

and the vibrant colour of  ‘Emma’ vase by Helena Tyrell in 1968

The key personalities at this period were Frank Thrower at Dartington Glass, Domhnall O’Broin at Cathness Glass, Geoffrey Baxter at Whitefriars and Ronald Stenett-Wilson at Kings Lynn. What untied these four was an altruistic streak and they were not controlled by the Stourbridge regulations- they were thinking beyond it.

Whitefriars was founded in 1680 and they became known in the 60s for delivering fast and effective glass.

Their ‘Drunken Bricklayer was part of their textured range

another of their work was Double Diamond

Much of their work was with cool colours like the fjords.


Mark showed us three examples of their work which he graded as good, better and best.

Good was Blown Soda

better was ‘Bark’ showing how effective the texturing was


and best was ‘Banjo’


Domhnall visited Scandinavia and his design became linear- neat and controlled though the key to it was colour focused on the Scottish landscape 0f the lochs, heather and peat.

For the ‘better’ example of Domhnall’s work Mark chose the 1961 Ring Vase which was very difficult to make so there are not many about


Kings Lynn Glass was set up in 1967 and sold to Wedgewood in 1969 !

A good example of his work are the Sheringham candle holders from 1967 where each part was made separately

Though he had a strong leaning to Scandinavia he gave his work U.K. names.

For the ‘good’ piece Mark chose the 1967  ‘Top Hat’ vase with its vibrant colour.

  • ‘better was the ‘Brancaster vase’ with its delicate hollow stem

and the ‘best’ was the deceptively complex Ariel Studio vase


Dartington Glass was founded in 1967 and Frank Thrower created many interesting designs – including the ‘Face ‘vase from 1967-71

and the ‘Polo Neck ‘ from 1968-70

He produced over 700 designs and had ‘Rock Star ‘ success. In 1982 Wedgewood bought into Dartington Glass.

Mark chose his good example of Thrower’s work as the FT1 Tankard


better was the FT4 decanter


and best the FT58 – Greek Key vase


Christmas at Covent Garden : 300 Year of Christmas Shows

Christmas at Covent Garden: 300 Years of Christmas Shows-  a lecture by Sarah Lenton

Sarah clearly had an extensive knowledge of her subject and she delivered the lecture with great humour.

She began by showing us the construction of the huge Christmas tree at Covent Garden and showing how the audiences are deceived as there is no middle or back to the construction. Sarah went on to tell us that the corridors at the Opera House  are always full of ‘stuff’ but much  more so at Christmas. There is a real atmosphere of family on stage and the cast feel very bonded to the show they put on. They all work extremely hard especially with the costume changes.

The first theatre on the site was very tiny and very well lit with candles and oil lamps, which were always on. In those days if the audience was displeased they would riot and go onto the stage and rip out any scenery, so as a result spikes were placed in front of the stage as these would slow them down !

John Rich – who was the director and theatre manager from 1732-1761 – geared his theatre to success and didn’t want to play to empty benches so he decided to do Christmas Shows and Harlequinades.

He defined an English harlequin – for example he stylised the patches of the Italian harlequin into the triangles that we see today. . The English harlequin had a stick with which he would bang scenery to indicate that it needed moving – and this was the beginning of the term ‘slapstick.’ The Christmas period was extended from Advent to February and this was when he made the money.John Rich spent £2000 a year on the Christmas shows but then they financed the rest of the year.

Handel was a good friend of John Rich and so he allowed him to put on shows in Lent.

During this time the backdrops were rolled up by stagehands and they used sailors as they were particularly skilled at rolling up canvas.

The theatre was burned down in 1808  and they built a second theatre

but this one sadly did not last long. . As it was much bigger than the first theatre the gestures had to get bigger and action more violent .The new theatre manager – John Kemble was the complete opposite of John Rich and hated the Christmas shows but was obliged to put them on because of the money they made. . Harlequin had been in existence for 60 years so there was a need for another character and so they created the clown. who was acted by Grimaldi.

However he thinking was that there was no place for a clown in Opera so they created the Dame.

By the Victorian era the middle classes were the audiences so they behaved in a much gentler way.

In the 1830s the Christmas shows had to have a fairy as Caraboss in Sleeping Beauty.

In the 1850s a third theatre was built

and during this time they made the performances gentler by creating a heart and emotion for the heroine.

Sarah ended this fascinating lecture by telling us that all their Christmas Shows have a happy ending. And we did.


And So To Vauxhall – Music and Culture at the Celebrated Gardens

And So To Vauxhall – Music and Culture at the Celebrated Gardens

a lecture by Peter Medhurst

This fascinating lecture was further enhanced by Peter’s piano playing and singing and though he apologised for a croaky voice, we heard no evidence of it and found the whole presentation totally delightful.

Many of us knew little about the story of the Vauxhall Gardens. Peter began by explaining that during the early 17th century there were over 600 pleasure gardens in London and they were known as the nursery of English song.

Peter showed us on John Roque’s map of London from 1745 the position of the Vauxhall Gardens bordering the Thames in the South East.

John Tyers purchased the gardens in 1732 and spent four years transforming them. He nearly failed in the first year  as he organised a Redotto al Fresca at which he displayed 5 large paintings illustrating the evil consequences  of self indulgence and drink. This clearly did not go down well with the visitors!

Entry was through a small turnstile which can be seen in the painting above. It cost 1/-, and was fixed for 60 years. Leopold Mozart commented that the entry cost was not high but once inside you would spend much more money on food and activities.

In 1751 Canaletto was in London and painted the Grand Walk in Vauxhall gardens, though it is not an accurate representation, it shows the grand tree lined walks.

After 3 years Tyers realised that music would play an important role in the gardens. Handel said that he would play an organ concerto and organs became very popular so Tyler built and organ house which can be seen in the painting below, behind the open  areas  where  the orchestras  played.  This  area for  the orchestras  was  very small.

There was a dome structure as you entered – for when  it rained.

There were two equally popular gardens – Ranelagh Gardens  in Chelsea and the one in Vauxhall. The Vauxhall gardens became more popular for evening activities and would open about 5pm and remain open until the last guest left in the early hours of the following morning. The season for the gardens ran from April until September.

In 1751 supper boxes were built but the food was variable and expensive. This painting by Rowlinson in 1854 shows how the seating in the boxes was arranged so all the diners could look out from the boxes. 

Another of the attractions were the Classical Ruins where everything was an illusion designed to titilate and please as shown in the painting by Rooker after Canaletto – the ‘ruins’ were painted canvas stretched over frames.

In 1737 a statue of Handel by Roubiliac was erected by the supper tables and Tyers used this as a great advertisement. It was a very interesting statue as it showed Handel in a very informal pose and was the first stature to be created of a famous person still living.

Tyers began to display paintings which he had purchased specifically for the Vauxhall Gardens.

In 1749 Handel’s Royal Firework music was to be performed in Green Park but it was rehearsed in Vauxhall Gardens and in return Tyers loaned his lamps. There were 12,000 visitors to this event.

Though the entrance fee went up to 2/6  this did not deter the people and the queues to enter were incredibly long.

The Prince of Wales became a patron of the gardens and the prince of Wales Pavilion was built.

From 1745 singers were constantly employed at the gardens and all performing musicians were always British.

After his death his family continued to develop it adding fireworks and fire balloons to the festivities.However  by 1840 the owners were bankrupt and the gardens closed. The moving of Crystal Palace in 1854 was the final nail in the coffin for Vauxhall gardens and in 1859 there were several farewell events.

We had been taken on a fascinating visit by Peter giving us an insight into the entertainment of the period.