1. The Classical Tradition of Greece and Rome
The classical tradition which so influenced the culture of the West for over two thousand years began in the city states of Greece. Their art and architecture laid down the principles that were followed in the subsequent centuries. The earliest art forms were pottery and simple pieces of sculpture beginning nearly three thousand years ago. Their sculpture developed to reveal an extraordinary sense of realism, both in marble and bronze. Their architecture, in terms of their temples, was technically simple but in terms of aesthetics was the most sophisticated ever known to man. This architectural language endured in one form or another well into the twentieth century.
The Romans conquered the western world and founded their empire on the ruins of the Hellenistic kingdoms. Their art, sculpture and architecture are built on the achievements of the Greeks to which they added their own outstanding achievements in engineering. The empire flourished because of the Roman’ military, administrative and organisation skills and they recognized the artistic and cultural developments of the Greeks. This lecture traces the developments and advances of Roman engineering, architecture, sculpture and painting over a period of some five hundred years. Of all the influences on Western Europe, Rome, directly or indirectly, is undoubtedly the most important.
2. Christian Byzantium and the Islamic Caliphate
When the Roman Empire moved east it changed the direction of art and culture for the next millennium. Once the empires in the east and the west declined, the influence of Byzantine moved west to Europe and north to Russia. The driving force behind the spread of Byzantine culture was Christianity, which lasted long after the polical empire waned. New forms of architecture and art were developed as exemplified in the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople and the mosaics of Ravenna. These forms influenced both Islam and the West and much of our classical culture comes through Byzantium.
As well as a world religion, Islam also produced a civilization and culture of art, architecture and science stretching from Inda to Spain. Assimilating the achievements of Greece and Rome, this knowledge was developed and fed back into Europe. The golden age of Islam ran from the 8th to the 15th centuries. During this time, Arab scholars developed medicine, astronomy, mathematics and other sciences to an astonishing degree. Their design flair is exhibited in their buildings, mosaics, ceramics, scientific instruments and other artefacts.
In the Iberian Peninsula the Christian and Islamic tradition met to intermingle and influence each other. This melting pot of cultures produced examples of art and architecture to be found nowhere else in Europe. The Islamic legacy in Spain, particularly in the south, has left marvelous examples of their artistic culture in places like Seville, Cordoba and Granada.
3. Rebirth of the Classics – Renaissance to Baroque
The Italians of the 14th and 15th century believed that art, science and scholarship had flourished in the classical period and had been destroyed by the northern barbarians. It was their task, as direct descendants of ancient Rome to recreate this glorious past and usher in a new era of art and culture. Giorgio Vasari, writing in the 16th century divides this period into three stages of the tentative beginnings in the 14th century, the second stage in the 15th century, with an interest in perspective and the human figure, and the third stage from 1500 with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. The movement began in Florence and flourished in Rome where Renaissance man was skilled in all the arts of architecture, sculpture and painting.
Artist, sculptors and architects developed the new classical art of the Renaissance along increasingly elaborate lines and new forms. This development spread across Europe and the New World. It began in Rome with the Counter-Reformation at the end of the 16th century and developed in the 17th century and produced such painters as Caravaggio and sculptors and architects as Bernini and Borromini. The popes, the chief patrons of Baroque art, were concerned not only with celebrating their personal status but also with the glorification of God and the propagation of the Catholic faith, particularly during the Counter-Reformation. It also served as the theatrical presentation of the power and splendour of the French court. As well as the patronage of the Church and royalty, any prince or nobleman with aspirations adopted this lavish style to portray the magnificence of his status.
4. Classical Rome and Andrea Palladio
The Romans conquered the western world and founded their empire on the ruins of the Hellenistic kingdoms. Their art, sculpture and architecture are built on the achievements of the Greeks to which they added their own outstanding achievements in engineering. The empire flourished because of the Romans’ military, administrative and organisation skills and they recognized the artistic and cultural achievements of the Greeks. This lecture traces the development and advances of Roman engineering, architecture, sculpture and painting over a period of some five hundred years. Of all the influences on Western Europe, Rome, directly or indirectly, is undoubtedly the most important.
Born in 1508 into war-ravaged northern Italy, Andrea Palladio was apprenticed as a stone cutter. He moved from Padua to Vicenza where, thanks to the encouragement and patronage of a nobleman he became an architect and an intellectual. He made several visits to Rome to study classical architecture and also the new Renaissance buildings of the time. His work consisted of the town palazzo, the country villa and churches. Towards the end of his life he produced ‘The Four Books of Architecture’, a record of his studies, thinking and projects. In his work he took ideas from the past, added his own insights and created a straightforward approach to design that anyone could follow. He died in 1580 and his legacy was to determine the direction of Western architecture for the next four centuries.
5. English Medieval Cathedrals and Pugin’s Gothic Revival
Even before the Norman Conquest, French architecture had begun to cross the channel and for the next four hundred years it developed a particularly English character. Over the centuries it was continually creative and innovative and produced some of the finest buildings in Western Europe as the techniques and skills of the Gothic masons developed. The prime movers were undoubtedly the clerical patrons with their need to impress and edify their congregations. Most cathedrals were built over long periods of time and showed a variety of styles. Those that were built in a relatively short period showed more consistency of style such as the Norman architecture of Durham, the Early English of Salisbury, the Decorated of Exeter and the Perpendicular of Gloucester.
This is followed by an extraordinary story of a 19th century self-educated man who, throughout his life, studied Gothic architecture and became the world’s expert. He was shipwrecked, bankrupted, widowed twice, yet kick-started the Gothic Revival and changed the face of Victorian England before he went mad and died at the age of 40. He lived a turbulent and romantic life at breakneck speed despite continual bouts of severe illness. His architectural career was chaotic yet his work-rate phenomenal, punctuated by annual study tours around Britain and the continent. He produced books and pamphlets illustrating his studies of Gothic architecture and propounding his theories. His designs covered everything from buildings to a whole range of artefacts, including textiles, metalwork, stained glass, ceramics, jewellery and interior decoration. He introduced the concept of design into manufacture goods and his most famous work is the Gothic detailing of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. He awakened an interest in the decorative and fine arts.
6. St Petersburg – City, Parks and Palaces
Because of the drive of two powerful individuals, a new city emerged to give Russia access to the Baltic. As well as Russian culture, it drew heavily on the traditions of classical Italy and established some of the greatest collections of art in the world. Peter the Great founded his city in 1703 as a fortress against the Swedes and as the capital of Russia. He called in foreign architects, particularly Italians, to design it and was open to learning from the West. This tradition was carried on by subsequent Tzars and Tzarinas such as Catherine the Great throughout the 18th century and developed into a unique Russian Baroque style.
Around the city the Tzars laid out magnificent parks and palaces for themselves and the nobility. These exuberant and lavish designs were intended to reflect the image and power of Russia. The main parks are the Oranienbaum, the Pavlovsk, Peterhof and Pushkin Park housing the Catherine Palace. In all the parks there were several smaller palaces and pavilions as well as the main complex. Peterhof, started in 1715, is famous for its fountains and cascade which are on the scale of the Villa d’Este in Italy. The Catherine Palace, started in 1752, houses the famous amber room and is located in a park of 1,400 acres.
7. The Far East and Orient Express
A train journey in the Far East from Singapore to Bangkok looks at the different artistic traditions and cultures of Malaysia and Thailand. This exotic journey is one of contrast and starts with the thrusting modernity of Singapore which is seeking to become the hub of the Pacific. It travels up the coast of Malaysia to Kuala Lumpor, the Asian rival to Singapore and both were once part of the British Empire. The journey finishes in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, a teeming metropolis inhabited by ten percent of the country’s population. The temples within the city provide havens of peace from the noise and bustle outside. The complex of the Grand Palace was completed in 1772 and covers an area of a square mile, within which are individual palaces and pavilions whose dominant colour is gold.
Moving on to Cambodia we come across a story of a lost civilization that disappeared some eight hundred years ago, leaving behind an incredible array of buildings and sculptures that were only re-discovered in the 19th century. Cambodia’s religious, royal and written traditions stemmed from India and coalesced as a Cambodian tradition from about the 1st century AD. The people of Cambodia were the Khmer, united in the 8th century by a god-king and Hinduism was their religion. In the 12th century a successor introduced Buddhism and both existed side by side. Between these two centuries, huge complexes of palaces and temples wee built, the most famous being Angkor Wat. The temple of the Bayon contains over a half a mile of bas-relief carving in stone and sculptures that reach a height of some 140 feet. The huge public works put such a strain on the economy that they probably precipitated the fall of the kingdom to the Thais in 1431 and the buildings themselves were overcome by the jungle to lie hidden for four centuries.
8. Antonio Gaudi
In the 19th century, in the wake of the industrial revolution, there was an explosion of ideas, commerce and confidence. Architects and artists produced works of scholarly historicism, looking for inspiration from previous ages, whether that was Classical or Gothic, and taking these styles to new levels. However, some individuals throughout Europe began to develop entirely new forms and ideas and to branch out in different directions. They took the state of the art as it then was and produced work that was quite radical and innovative.
In the city of Barcelona at the end of the 19th century and astonishing genius produced forms of architecture unique to Catalonia. Widely regarded in Barcelona he was known to the rest of the world for his design of the cathedral of La Sagrada Familia. Qualifying as an architect in 1875, he followed two parallel careers, gradually developing his ideas throughout his life. He build a succession of town houses and estates for several wealth industrialists which continued until the death of his main patron and friend, Guell, in 1918. He took over the design of the Sagrada Familia cathedral and worked on this until his own death in 1926. His designs covered everything from the building to the last detail of furniture and his intuitive feeling for structure produced some astonishing work.