'Eminently sane, highly informative, and reasonably priced’ (BBC History Magazine)*
CURRENT LECTURES AND/OR STUDY DAYS
THE ELGIN MARBLES
2016 will mark the 200th anniversary of the purchase of the so-called 'Elgin Marbles' from Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, by the British Parliament. This lecture, beautifully illustrated with specifically taken slides and video, will explore the aesthetics, the back-story, and the heated debates surrounding these fascinating and controversial works of ancient Greek art: what do we mean by 'the Elgin Marbles'? How and why were they originally created? What happened to them between their creation and Elgin's time? How did he acquire them? Why are they so highly regarded? Why are they now in the British Museum? And why are there such passionately held views both for and against their repatriation to Greece?
THE ANCIENT OLYMPIC GAMES AND THE TRUE OLYMPIC SPIRIT
None of the astonishing ancient Greek archaeological sites has quite the appeal to the modern imagination, or is more important to understanding ancient Greek culture, as the sanctuary at Olympia. Sumptuously illustrated with slides, video and ancient Greek music, this talk examines the religious aspects of the ancient Olympics, the concept of ‘sport’, athletics as an inspiration for art, the mythical/historical origins of the Olympics, and provides an overview of the main athletic events of the ancient festival. It ends by examining whether the Ancient Greeks really were ‘true’ amateurs, or whether we are projecting our own ideals onto them.
ONE ARCHITECT, TWO TEMPLES AND THREE MUSEUMS: THE ADVENTURES OF CHARLES ROBERT COCKERELL
architect Charles Robert Cockerell had some amazing adventures in
Greece during his 20s. Drinking with Byron, excavating stunning
artworks, bribing Turkish pashas, auctioning his finds, and sometimes
only escaping by the skin of his teeth, he acquired the sculptures of
the Temple of Aphaia on Aigine (now in the Munich Glyptothek) and the
Temple of Apollo at Bassai (now in the British Museum), and incorporated
certain features of the latter into the design of Oxford’s Ashmolean
Museum. This talk follows his itinerary, examines the temples and their
beautiful decoration, and raises interesting issues surrounding the
collection of antiquities.
THE NEW ASHMOLEAN MUSEUM AND ITS CLASSICAL COLLECTIONSThe Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology is a wonderful building housing world class collections. Illustrated with images from Oxford to Afghanistan, and brushing shoulders with splendid characters like Thomas Howard the Earl of Arundel, George Villiers the Duke of Buckingham, John Tradescant (Elder and Younger), Elias Ashmole, Charles Robert Cockerell and Sir Arthur Evans, this talk will tell the fascinating tale of how the Ashmolean acquired some of the finest Classical artworks outside Greece and Italy. Moving across sites in Greece and Rome, it will conclude with a virtual tour of many of the museum’s most intriguing artefacts.
THE MINOANS OF CRETE: THE FIRST EUROPEANS
At the start of the 20th century Arthur Evans unearthed an entire civilisation on the island of Crete. Its impressive public buildings, advanced social structures and political institutions, centred on the vast complex which he dubbed the 'Palace of Minos', showed that European civilisation was as ancient and sophisticated as that of Egypt. Illustrated with both slides and video, this talk will examine the culture of the Minoans, including their fabulous frescoes, painted pottery, architecture, social structures and writing, and conclude by assessing the theories relating to their demise – notably the cataclysmic Late Bronze Age volcanic eruption of Santorini.
MYCENAE ‘RICH IN GOLD’
‘Today I gazed upon the face of Agamemnon’. The Bronze Age Mycenaean culture was first unearthed and named by Heinrich Schliemann the 1870s. His discoveries were astounding: relics of a dynamically enterprising people who created a scintillating and original new civilisation. But who were the Mycenaeans? Why were they so successful? Where did their gold come from? What did they eat and drink? How did they worship? Who or what were they afraid of? What brought about their demise? Using slides, video, and a range of intriguing archaeological evidence, this talk will endeavour to get to the bottom of the enigmas about this extraordinarily advanced and artistically gifted civilisation.
TROY: MYTH, HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY
It has been said that there probably isn't any place in all the stories ever told that is as famous as Troy. This talk will focus on the mythology of the Trojan war, which gave rise to some of the finest Ancient Greek literature and art, and will then turn to the fascinating tale of the discovery and excavation of the "topless towers of Ilion" at the site of Hisarlık in Turkey by Heinrich Schliemann and others. Using slides and video we will explore some splendid archaeological finds, such as the ‘Jewels of Helen’, and finally, via encounters with Greeks, Trojans, Hittites and others, we will turn to the burning issue of whether Homer’s Trojan War really happened.
GREEK VASE PAINTING
Ancient Greek painted pottery is greatly admired, and with good reason. This talk, lavishly illustrated with both slides and video, will attempt to make the beauty of Greek ceramics more readily accessible and comprehensible. It will concentrate on gaining knowledge and understanding of the physical forms, stylistic features, subject matter, composition, emotional content, function and development of ancient Greek pottery, along with the acquisition of an understanding in its historical context of the civilisation studied through its art. Emphasis will also be placed on the relevant social, political and religious contexts: how were the vases created? Why? Who for?
HOW TO BUILD AND DECORATE A GREEK TEMPLE
A casual glance down any modern high street will probably provide a reminder of the influence which ancient Greek architecture, and Greek temple architecture in particular, still has. This talk aims to allow the audience quickly to become familiar with the intrinsic qualities of Greek temples. Firstly, by ‘building’ a generic Greek temple we will look at the plan, elevation, ‘orders’, painting, materials, construction methods, functions, and challenges of decoration that these structure pose. Then, through a selection of some of the finest works of world architecture and sculpture, we will see how the ancient Greeks rose to those challenges.
‘BEAUTY AND THE BIZARRE’: THE ART OF HELLENISTIC GREECE
The response to Greek art of the Hellenistic period (between Alexander the Great and Cleopatra) is often ambiguous: is it the pinnacle of Greek achievement, or is it the artistic expression of a decaying, decadent culture? By shedding light on stunning works like the Venus di Milo, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Great Altar of Zeus at Pergamon, as well as exploring some of the era’s finest architectural achievements, this talk will look at the defining features of Greek art and architecture during the period, and seek a deeper understanding of this controversial period of the Greek civilisation.
THE BIRTH OF THE GREEK GODS
Creation myths, which tell about the origin of the world and the gods, are essential features of the mythologies of many cultures, and ancient Greece is no exception. Illustrated with both slides and video, this talk provides a ‘who’s who and how’ of the main divinities of Greek mythology. Moving from the first generation of Ouranos (Sky) and Gaia (Earth) and their monstrous offspring, into the generation of Kronos and Rheia, and ending with the third generation of Zeus and the Olympians, we will explore the bizarre myths, discover fascinating echoes of other mythologies, and establish the definitive iconography of Greece’s key gods and goddesses.
THE BIRTH OF PORTRAITURE
If a portrait is ‘an intentional representation of a person containing a sufficient number of specific features to make the representation recognizable to others’, then the artists of the Hellenistic Age (323 – 31 BC, from Alexander the Great to Cleopatra) were the first ones in the history of Western Art seriously to attempt to make portraits. Moving from the first Greek ‘role portraits’, to the new type of ‘psychological portraiture’ that was developed early in the Hellenistic period, and on to the ‘realistic’/’idealistic’ types, we will see, on both slides and video, how the artists of the Hellenistic Greek world left this important legacy to the artistic tradition.
CLEOPATRA: IMAGE AND REALITY
Cleopatra VII, ‘the shame of Egypt, the lascivious fury who was to become the bane of Rome’ (Lucan) is one of the most intriguing figures in history. This talk will concentrate on her personality, the events of her life and the men in it, and the cultural context in which these took occurred. Using slides, video and ancient texts a variety of fascinating problems will be confronted: how reliable is the historical tradition about Cleopatra? What did she want to achieve? What did she actually achieve? How did she achieve it? And crucially, what did she look like?
THE CITIES OF VESUVIUS
In 79 AD an enormous eruption of Mt Vesuvius both destroyed and preserved the vibrant Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The circumstances of their preservation, and the sheer extent of the archaeological sites, not only provides us with invaluable information about Roman social, economic, religious, and political life across every stratum of society, but also allow us to see at first hand some of antiquity’s finest art and architecture. Illustrated with slides, video, ancient texts and graffitti, this talk will present a wide range of fascinating, beautiful and moving insights into Roman life in the the 1st century AD.
ROMAN HOUSES: DESIGN AND DECORATION
Roman architecture in many ways reflects the astonishing amalgam of cultures that made up the Roman Empire. The private ‘domus’ houses excavated at Pompeii and other settlements engulfed by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 show how architecture’s functions are governed by the lifestyles of its users, and so provide a wealth of material that allows us to explore Roman social life, as well as the design and meaning of the buildings themselves, whose interiors were often sumptuously decorated with beautiful wall paintings (whose four main styles we will examine) and stunning mosaics.
THE SEVEN WONDERS OF THE ANCIENT WORLD
Two tombs, a couple of statues, one temple, a garden and a lighthouse have become celebrated as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But how much do we know about them? Why and how were they chosen? And, given that six out of the seven were destroyed long ago, can we recreate their size, beauty and majesty, and the shock and awe that they generated? Combining literary and artistic evidence for the monuments with examination of the sites where they once stood, this talk will try to make the vestigial traces of their grandeur come to life once again.
* The quotation in fact refers to Steve' book, A Brief Guide to the Greek Myths, not to his lectures!