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Signs and Symbols: The Hidden World of Messages and Meanings in Old Master Paintings

29 September 2022 - 1 December 2022

10.45 – 12.45 Thursdays

£66.00 – £550.00

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Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, c. 1437-1446


We all visit art galleries but have you ever thought that you were a victim of FOMO (fear of missing out)? Is there a hidden meaning in the paintings that was only known to those who created them and the audience of the day, but are now not conveyed to the general public and only understood by snobby art historians? If you have ever yearned to know what all these strange signs and symbols mean and how it all links to Greek and Roman Myth, this series invites you into this seemingly impenetrable world of art investigation by giving you the tools to crack the hidden codes behind great paintings.

“I have loved this course. Despite the breadth of the subject, Leslie made it “manageable” and despite his detailed examination of some works and artists, the pace never flagged.”

Course Outline

29 Sept 2022 – Of Gods And Men: The Appropriation Of Religious And Secular Iconography From Renaissance To Baroque

We will look at the varied uses of religious and secular iconography and how artists, such as, Michelangelo, Poussin, Titian and Caravaggio together with their patrons took advantage of the signs and symbols inherent in these ideas to convey multiple messages to their audiences.


06 Oct 2022 – The Story Of The Nude In Art: Titillation, Interpretation, Exploitation

This lecture explores the proliferation and European obsession of the nude in art by looking at the underlying use of symbolism and how mythology and biblical stories gave legitimacy to these images. It will also highlight how our attitudes to such images have changed with time but have left us blind to the meaning of the original iconography.


13 Oct 2022 – Venus, Cupid And Mars: Stories Of Love, Lust, Infatuation And Deception

We will examine the many relationships of Venus and her son Cupid through stories such as, The Judgement of Paris and the works of Botticelli. Further investigation will look at Rubens’ eight versions of this story, Botticelli’s obsession with Simonetta Vespucci and her symbolic relationship to his Birth of Venus, the Primavera and more.


20 Oct 2022 – Journey Of The Magi: Origins, Myth And Reality: The True Story Of The Three Kings

This lecture will get to grips with the centuries-old symbolic meaning behind one of the oldest stories in Christian art – the tale of the Three Kings – beginning with an in-depth look at its origins, the myth and symbolism behind the Magi and how images from Giotto to Gossaert have responded to changes in the understanding and knowledge of the story.


27 Oct 2022 – Saints, Sinners And Annunciations: Picturing The Saved And The Dammed

This lecture will explore the symbols and meanings attached to saints and how they have been used by the Church and patrons alike. It will also look at how artists invented images of the devil and how those portrayals have changed through the centuries, including depictions of the condemned either by damnation in purgatory or by capital punishment.   Finally, we will look at the very particular symbolism of Annunciations.


03 Nov 2022 – Codes, Propaganda And Dynasty: Revelations Behind The Wilton Diptych And Holbein’s Ambassadors

We will take a forensic dive into the mysteries of the enigmatic Wilton Diptych, a painting packed with symbolism, yet with no known provenance.  This will be contrasted with Holbein’s Ambassadors, equally crowded with symbolism, and the only large-scale double portrait extant from this artist.


10 Nov – Families And Identification: Preserving The Past With Signs For The Future

A look at the world of family signs and symbols and their use in portraiture; how we recognise the families and why we still do not know who some of the sitters are despite symbols clearly displayed in surviving portraits. The lecture will also look at the different uses of these portraits and the variety of their symbols.


17 Nov 2022 – Van Eyck And The Pre-Raphaelites: Hidden Meanings And Inspiration Across The Centuries

This lecture will look at the close relationship the Pre-Raphaelites had with Jan van Eyck’s iconic Arnolfini Portrait and how it profoundly influenced their own art.


24 Nov 2022  Worlds Within Worlds: Messages Seen And Unseen In Vermeer’s Conversation Pieces

Here we will compare and look at the history behind Vermeer’s paintings, concentrating particularly on the hidden symbolism behind his two works in the National Gallery – The Woman Seated at the Virginals and the Woman Standing at the Virginals – which at first sight look innocuous and without any deep meaning.


01 Dec 2022 – The Conversation Piece Reinvented: Hogarth And His Marriage a La Mode

A close examination of Marriage a la Mode will give us Hogarth’s unique take on the conversation piece in this series of six paintings. Filled with symbolic and social meaning, the lecture will unwrap each painting and examine them in detail to reveal Hogarth’s true intentions and his thoughts about the society in which he lived and would ultimately give rise to these images.


29 September 2022
1 December 2022
£66.00 – £550.00
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Leslie Primo


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