Click here to see lectures from previous seasons.

Lectures take place the second Thursday of the month from October to July at 8pm. Because of ongoing refurbishment at Kingswood House where we used to meet, lectures have recently been held at Alleyn's School and now at James Allen's Girls' School, and we're back at Kingswood for the final lecture in July. We know this is making life difficult. We will have a permanent home again next season.

Possibly the first universally acknowledged 'great' British-born artist, Hogarth demonstrated his genius in an astonishing variety of forms: engravings, satirical progresses like The Harlot’s Progress and Marriage á la Mode, portraits and history paintings. He was a determined and pugnacious man battling for artists’ rights and recognition of home-grown artists in a climate of prejudice favouring their continental counterparts. He was a good man (for example a major supporter of Thomas Coram’s new Foundling Hospital) and a brave exposer of greed, corruption and hypocrisy. Above all he can be enjoyed, like Dickens in the following century, as a lover and illustrator of the seething vitality of London life.

This lecture examines Bellmer’s work as a graphic designer in Nazi Germany and his decision to use art to attack the State by creating something of no use to it, an artificial girl, a life-sized Doll, which he photographed in various settings and published in a book, thus attracting the attention of the Nazi police. When the Surrealists saw the pictures they were very excited by them and Bellmer managed to escape to France to join them in Paris. Later, however, he was imprisoned in a concentration camp with Max Ernst during the German occupation of France, but he also undertook work for the Free French underground movement. After the war he worked on photographs, paintings and engravings.

Palestine was one of the most turbulent provinces of the Roman Empire. The Greeks had settled in the fourth century BC and created privileged colonial cities; the Romans had conquered in the first century BC and were milking the region of tax revenues. The Jewish upper classes were hopelessly compromised by collaboration with their foreign overlords; the Jewish peasantry were impoverished and rebellious. There was an economic culture clash between Graeco-Roman classicism and traditional Judaism. This was the context for the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. This was the world that produced Jesus Christ, the Essenes of Qumran, the Zealots of Masada and the Jewish Revolt of AD66.

This richly illustrated lecture identifies the earliest manifestations of a distinctly European architectural language, and explains the different orders of ancient Greek architecture - Doric, Ionic and Corinthian - and identifies the major structures that were erected in ancient Greek cities. It moves on to the major innovations in architecture that the ancient Romans introduced: new structures, materials and building techniques and the engineering challenges of arches, vaults and domes. The lecture closes with reflections on how all this influenced later generations, including our own

The Silk Road has fascinated travellers since the early Christian era. Along these trade routes flourished an exotic mixture of cultures from Arabic, Turkic, Iranian, Indian, Mongolian, Chinese and Tibetan sources. The richness of cultures is evident in spectacular sites ranging from abandoned cities and fortresses to Buddhist caves and Islamic mausolea. The legacy of the Silk Road lives on through the artefacts, writings, maps and contributions of many travellers throughout the region over many centuries. However, as these cities change and become areas of industrial and economic growth the legacy of the Silk Road may soon be found only in museums and collections.

At the beginning of the 19th century, dyeing processes would have been recognised by people from many centuries earlier. New developments were anticipated but no-one imagined how the new colours would be discovered. Enter an 18-year old student from the Royal College of Chemistry who turned the world of colour upside down when he created purple from coal tar gas. So began the search for new colours that would offer an exciting new range to painters, dressmakers, the military and fashion by the end of the century. This lecture tells the story of this tumultuous period illustrated with paintings, costumes and textiles from many sources.

This talk combines the lives of the Astors, the Sackville Wests and the Rothschilds and their family histories with the story of the gardens they all created, despite their very different backgrounds, in the English countryside. The lecture will take us to a range of gardens including Hever Castle, Cliveden, Waddesdon Manor, Exbury and Sissinghurst Castle.

This lecture offers a light-hearted but critical review of public sculpture today. Since antiquity, sculpture has transformed public spaces, celebrating and commemorating people and events and, at best, reflecting the spirit of the age. Contemporary public sculpture is more diverse and often aims to meet political, social or corporate agendas, yet at best it can provide an enlivening and sometimes controversial focus for our public spaces. The lecture discusses many successful examples of public sculpture today, like the commissions for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, plus some that are less successful. It also looks to the future and to works not yet realised, like the White Horse of Ebbsfleet and much more.

Fresco is the supreme medium in which one can track the ideas and the accomplishments of the Italian Renaissance, from Giotto’s work in the Arena Chapel to Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel. For secular leaders, wall painting cycles created the opportunity to create a virtual world which enhanced their status, in the church they brought a new immediacy and impact to the presence and meaning of the divine story, but what was their appeal for the artist? Why did they consider it "the sweetest and most subtle form that exists"? Why was this particular form so perfectly suited to the aspirations of the age? This lecture illustrates the complex technique involved and explores some of the great projects of the age to understand the fascination and significance of fresco for rulers, clergy and painters. 

The world of maps extends from 3000BC to Harry Beck’s London Underground map of 1931. In between, hand drawn 15th century Portolan sea charts were superseded by printed maps, including second century Ptolemaic maps, which could now finally be published. England played an important part in these developments. Christopher Saxton in 1579 was the first cartographer to publish a regional atlas of any country. Others of note are John Speed and John Ogilby, who in 1670 created the first road atlas. Historic maps give a fascinating insight in to world perspective over time.