Art & Critical Analysis

Vasari, Alighieri, nude sculptures, Venetian Art, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Bernini, Vermeer, Hogarth, Ruskin, Pre-Raphaelites

30 April – 2 July 2019
Tuesdays 10.45am - 12.45pm
The University Women’s Club, 2 Audley Square, London W1K 1DB
Leslie Primo
Full course (8 lectures) £399.00
Single lecture £59.00
(includes morning coffee, tea and biscuits)

Book your place now on Art & Critical Analysis

“I have loved this series. Despite the breadth of the subject Leslie made it “manageable” and despite his detailed examination of some works and artists, the pace never flagged. The course was notably well structured, allowing participants with sketchy knowledge to recognize references via a broad range of paintings”

From the earliest times, there has been criticism of art, both positive and negative. A substantial body of text survives and this series will look at a wide variety of European art works in the context of their critical reception. Concentrating on major works and significant artists from 1300 to 1900 and beyond, we will observe the impact on the public’s appreciation of art and how that might be influenced by critical analysis including the vagaries of fashion. What impact did these commentaries have on art practice and the artists themselves and can critics be seen to be responsible for influencing and thus changing the course of art history?

John Ruskin, Self Portrait, 1875
Giorgio Vasari Roger Fry, Self Portrait, 1928

Course outline

Father of the Renaissance

Early discourse and criticism in Italian Art/From Medieval to Renaissance (1300 – 1480)

Art discourse and criticism stretches back to a very early period. In this lecture, we will witness the inception and idea of the Renaissance and the recognition of named artists such as Cimabue and Giotto about whom texts were written. We will look at the most well-known works of both, as well as others, including Pisanello, the Pollaiuolo and Leonardo, drawing on texts from Dante Alighieri, Giorgio Vasari and others.

Gender, the Body and the Nude

A Critical Reinvention/Renaissance, Baroque and Impressionism: Kept Behind the Curtain (1500 - 1900)

The nude is still seen in our modern age, and has been for quite some time, as the pinnacle of creative artistic perfection but throughout the course of art history the notion of the perfect body and consequently gender has been constantly reshaped and redefined. Both the female and the male body have been honed and twisted towards an ideal that often defies belief and reality, but how do we define what is a nude and thus art, and what is not, and what was the purpose of this fascination with nudity? This session will trace the critical reinvention of the nude from the Renaissance to the Baroque and on to the modern world of Impressionism. We will hear from German art historians and criticism from the Church.

No lecture

The Trouble With Venetian Painting

Why the Renaissance could only be a Florentine/Giorgio Vasari and the Critical Appraisal of Venetian Art (1500-1594)

To this very day Florence is not only seen but is the self-proclaimed city of the Renaissance. But how did it receive this exulted status which it so jealously guards? We will look at the powerhouse of Renaissance art that is the city of Venice and why it never historically achieved the same accolade as Florence. We will also look at how art criticism can and did have a profound and long-lasting effect on how Venetian art was and still is perceived.

No lecture

Giorgio Vasari and ‘The Divine Michelangelo’

The Signature Projects and their critical reception (1494-1564)

In his time, Michelangelo was the most written about artist and also the first to have literature published about him in his own lifetime. We will look at the uneasy relationship between Michelangelo, the artist and Giorgio Vasari, the art historian, as well as others who wrote about him. How did such adulation affect him and his work? We will also look at the development of the man through his most iconic works and evaluate their criticism through writing that survives and is still in publication.

The Rise and Fall in Critical Favour of Caravaggio and Bernini

Taste and the invention of Baroque/An Age of Conspicuous Consumption (1577 - 1680)

What is Baroque and why did it fall so heavily out of favour; a position from which it has, arguably, never recovered? This session will look at Baroque through the prism of two of the most influential Italian artists – Caravaggio and Bernini. It will also look at their most iconic works, their lives and how their works were received within their lifetime and in the decades following their deaths.

Fame, Bankruptcy and Critical Revival

Vermeer the Sphinx of Delft (1632 - 1675)

For an artist who died bankrupt in 1675 leaving enormous debts, Vermeer has become one of the most highly prized artists in the world. This lecture will look at his rise as an artist in the Dutch town of Delft, his training and influences, how and why he made his pictures and what they might mean. Could these factors have an impact on why he was described in his lifetime as “the excellent and famous Vermeer”? The story of Vermeer will take us right into the 20th century to help us understand the enduring appeal of this artist.

Hogarth and the Art of the Conversation Piece and Social Commentary

The impact of Criticism on the work of William Hogarth (1697-1764)

Hogarth is rightly acknowledged to be one of the best loved British artists, but in his day, this was not the case. We will look at the impact of criticism on Hogarth’s work through the pictures which Hogarth referred to as conversation pieces. The lecture will highlight both the positives and negatives which were seen by many as a social commentary while also looking at Hogarth’s own prejudices and how they impacted on his work.

A Catalyst for Change in Art Appreciation

From Pre-Raphaelitism & Ruskin to Impressionism, Modernity & Roger Fry (1848 - 1910)

Revolutionary iconoclasts or traditionalist in disguise? The artists in this final session seem hell-bent on causing offence and to be deliberately counter-culture just for the sake of it. Was this in reality their modus operandi or was there more to it? This session looks at two different approaches to modernity from both sides of the Chanel which changed the course of art history forever. In England, we will look at the Pre-Raphaelites and their relationship with John Ruskin and on the French side of the Chanel, the Impressionists and their critical reception. In both cases, the role of the critic, be it supportive or not, was crucial in establishing the reputation of these groups of artists. This session will also explore the tensions between artists and critics in what would become known as modern painting.