Lecture, Course and Study Day Topics



This is just a small sample of lecture topics, do get in tour for a full list of titles

A Rebel on the Run - Caravaggio's Final Years

(given as the T Rowland Hughes Lecture at the University of Wales 2007)
Caravaggio was the definitive bad boy of art history – determined and ambitious yet irascible and highly volatile.  In 1606 his life was to change forever following a particularly violent and bloody brawl in which Caravaggio, himself badly injured, ended up killing a certain Ranuccio Tommasoni with his sword. This lecture will explore in particular the remarkable stylistic transformations that took place during the last four years of Caravaggio’s life, a period of restlessness and yet extraordinary creative activity when the artist was forced to leave Rome, realising that his own life was now on the line. 

Brothers of the Brush: Artist Monks in 15th century Florence

This lecture examines the unusual phenomenon of the artist monk or “frate dipintore” in Renaissance Florence - men who lived, on the one hand, an austere and cloistered existence and yet rose to become some of the most successful and highly respected artists of their time. Fra Filippo Lippi, Lorenzo Monaco and Fra Angelico were well-known not only as painters of devotional works for their own orders but also as highly active and successful figures outside their monasteries. How were they able to lead these demanding and no doubt attractive double-lives, and did their religious duties help or hinder their artistic activities? We discuss these questions with reference in particular to works on display in the National Gallery. 

Beyond Blue Skies: Unidentified Flying Objects in Renaissance Art

This lecture will investigate the many weird and wonderful details flying high in the skies of some of our favourite Renaissance paintings, concentrating in particular on works at the National Gallery, London. Do some of these famous frescoes and panels contain, as it has been argued, evidence of extraterrestrial life? Do they depict evidence of flying saucers, as has been claimed by many so-called “ufo-logists”? How would they have been interpreted by painters and viewers in the 15th and 16th centuries, and what explanations can be given today? Join me in a light-hearted examination of some intriguing case studies!

Venetian Art of the Renaissance: Form and Function

This lecture concentrates on the highpoint of Venetian art - the 16th century or cinquecento, when artists such as Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese were working in La Serenissima or “the Most Serene” Venetian Republic. Following a short historical introduction to the city the lecture investigates themes such as the function of art as a means of reflecting Venice’s political harmony; the revolutions in technique pioneered by the Venetian artists at the time, and the use of large-scale narrative painting to depict the city’s processions, festivals, ceremonies and pageants. 

The Court of the Gonzagas in Mantua

The Gonzaga family ruled the city of Mantua in northern Italy for nearly 400 years and established one of the most important centres of Renaissance civilization, surrounding themselves with the greatest artists, architects, scholars, poets and musicians of their day. The lecture examines some of their most famous commissions such as the Camera degli Sposi, a tiny room located in the Ducal Palace covered in frescoes by Mantegna, and the Palazzo Te. The lecture is illustrated with musical examples as well as slides.

Giotto and the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

The frescoes by Giotto covering the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua constitute one of the most important picture cycles in the history of art, and represent a major turning point in Western painting. Why was this? The lecture examines what exactly makes Giotto’s art so innovatory, using examples taken from the chapel and comparing them to similar scenes depicted by artists working within the previously predominant Byzantine tradition. 

The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao and the architecture of Frank Gehry

The Guggenheim, designed by the American architect Frank Gehry and opened to the public in 1997, is one of the most exciting buildings of the 20th C. The lecture begins with an introduction to the Guggenheim foundation and how it came about, and then moves on to describe the very particular circumstances that led to the commission in Bilbao. It examines the architecture of Frank Gehry using illustrations from his work in Europe and America, and describes, with some beautifully detailed slides, how the vast asymmetrical, apparently chaotic and fragmented structure was created. 

The Paintings of Murillo: A Reflection of Life in 17th C Seville

This lecture focuses on Andalucia’s most famous and popular painter, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, whose home town was Seville. Born in 1617, Murillo decided to remain here for almost all of his working life, and his paintings are not only a valuable testament to the religious climate of the city following the Counter-Reformation, but also important documents which tell us a great deal about society and everyday life at the time. The lecture describes many of the charming images of street orphans and flower girls which one so often associates with the artist, explaining the reasons behind their creation. It also examines some of the beautiful large-scale religious works and analyses their iconography. 

Renaissance Women: Artists, Patrons and Subjects

Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael are household names today but few have ever heard of Lavinia Fontana or Sofonisba Anguissola, who was highly admired by arguably the greatest artist of the Renaissance, Michelangelo himself. How were these ladies able to make a living in an essentially male-dominated industry, and why have they fallen into obscurity today? How were women depicted in paintings and sculptures of the period and what does this tell us about their place in society? And how independent were women when it came to commissioning works of art? Our lecture unravels these questions and examines the intriguing role of women in art from 1400-1600.

Myths and Meaning – Botticelli's Venus and Mars

This lecture looks in depth at one of the most famous and well-loved paintings at the National Gallery which seems to be a relatively straight-forward image, but which is in fact full of strange symbols and unanswered questions. The work is not signed or dated; we have no record of why it was painted, and we have no idea who commissioned it. How can we be sure in fact that we are even looking at Venus and Mars – could there be other interpretations relating to their identity? Today we will examine the history and iconography of this beautiful work and attempt to answer some of these intriguing questions.

Other Lecture Topics Include:

  • A Journey To Arezzo - from Piero to Vasari
  • Americans in Paris
  • At Home Abroad – Canaletto in England
  • Dutch Portraits from Rembrandt to Frans Hals
  • El Greco and Toledo
  • Frida Kahlo: Reflections of a Life on Canvas
  • Giorgio Vasari – “The Good, The Bad and the Better”
  • Moving Towards Unity: The Italian Altarpiece of the 15th century
  • Pompeo Batoni
  • Renaissance Siena
  • Rubens – a Master in the Making
  • Saints and Sinners: Francisco de Zurbaran
  • Spanish Sculpture: The Sacred Made Real
  • The Changing Face of Portraits in the Renaissance
  • Turner and the Masters
  • Velazquez and the Golden Age of Spanish Painting

For further information please contact us

Holbein's lute


This is just a small sample of courses, do get in tour for a full list of titles

Treasures of the National Gallery

Here we use paintings at the National Gallery in London as a springboard for addressing a different topic each week, including Portraiture, Light, Landscape and Composition. Favourites such as Holbein’s Ambassadors and Constable’s Hay Wain are discussed alongside lesser-known paintings, and a wide range of schools and periods is covered.

Dutch Painting of the Golden Age

This course introduces students to the rich artistic heritage of Holland by focusing on the art of Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Vermeer, Ruisdael and others active in the Dutch Republic during the so-called Golden Age. The course is structured thematically, and images are discussed within their economic, political and religious context.

Flemish Painting from van Eyck to van Dyck

This course will examine the history of painting in the Southern Netherlands within its political, religious, social and economic context. We begin in the medieval period in Bruges and study the magnificent altarpieces of van Eyck and portraits of Memling, then move towards the Baroque age where we will focus on Rubens and Van Dyck in Antwerp.

The Magic of Venice

This course covers the history of art and architecture in Venice, from the great works of Renaissance giants such as Titian and Palladio to the magnificent view paintings of Canaletto and Guardi. We discover how the visual arts were used to reflect images of political stability and investigate themes such as revolutions in technique, mythological painting, and the use of large-scale narratives to depict the city’s spectacular processions, festivals, ceremonies and pageants. 

The Art of the Early Italian Renaissance

This course focuses on art, architecture and sculpture in Florence during the 15th century within a historical and sociological context. The course is organised thematically - each session explores a different subject such as humanism, patronage, the artist’s workshop and the role of women. Key works studied include Masaccio’s frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel, Botticelli’s mythologies, Ghiberti’s Baptistery Doors and Brunelleschi’s great dome of Florence Cathedral, but time is also spent looking at works produced in the Renaissance courts of Urbino, Ferrara and Mantua. 

An Introduction to Spanish Art and Architecture

An introduction to some of the major Spanish painters such as El Greco, Velázquez and Murillo as well as the architectural highlights of Spain, including the Alhambra in Granada and the Mosque at Cordoba. Our final lecture is dedicated to the spectacular new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

Patronage in 16th century Italy

This course focuses on image-making and artistic patronage in early modern Italy, examining the iconography of large-scale decorative programmes in Rome (such as the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican), Venice and Florence as well as smaller scale commissions such as portraits and altarpieces. We will address the role of key artists of the High Renaissance such as Titian, Raphael and Michelangelo, and explore less frequently examined topics such as female patronage.

For further information and titles please contact us

Dance in art

Study Days

This is just a small sample of study day themes, do get in tour for a full list of titles

Dance in Art

Suffering from Strictly Come Dancing withdrawal symptoms? Then join art historian Siân Walters and dance historian Darren Royston on a light-hearted look at how dance and movement have been represented in art throughout the ages.Darren recently featured as the Dancing Master to Lucy Worsley and Len Goodman on BBC4's Dancing Cheek to Cheek: An Intimate History of Dance.

Paintings can tell us a great deal about the role of dance in history, giving us a valuable insight into the lives and pastimes of men and women from Renaissance Italy to the age of the Impressionists.  Did artists depict specific dances that are recognizable today, and have performance practices altered over time? Siân, Darren and professional dancers in historical costume will take you back in time to the courts of Tudor England, Philip IV of Spain and Louis XIV, and discuss the development of ballet over the years and how it evolved into the techniques shown in the paintings of Degas.  Siân and Darren have presented a large number of similar lectures at the National Gallery over the past three years, including highly popular events in conjunction with the gallery’s “Renaissance Siena” exhibition, “Big Dance” and more recently, “Dance at the Court of Philip IV”, in conjunction with “The Sacred Made Real”.

Women in Art

Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael are household names today but few have ever heard of Lavinia Fontana or Sofonisba Anguissola, who was highly admired by arguably the greatest artist of the Renaissance, Michelangelo himself. How were these ladies able to make a living in an essentially male-dominated industry, and why have they fallen into obscurity today? How were women depicted in paintings and sculptures of the period and what does this tell us about their place in society? And how independent were women when it came to commissioning works of art? Our lecture unravels these questions and examines the intriguing role of women in art from 1400-1600.

  • Lecture 1:  Power and Patronage: Donnas as Donors in the Renaissance 
  • Lecture 2: Beauty, Vice and Virtue: Perceptions of Women in the Italian Renaissance
  • Lecture 3: A Woman’s Place? Female Painters from 1400-1600

Exploring Venice

We examine painting in Renaissance Venice, the development of Venetian Architecture and the history of the veduta or view painting, with particular reference to Canaletto

Gallery Study Days

Spend a morning strolling through a gallery with Siân Walters at your side, or enjoy a private guided tour of a current exhibition in London. Ideal for individuals, couples, visitors from abroad, as well as small groups of friends and colleagues wishing to take in an exhibition at their own pace and learn more. These entertaining, professional and sophisticated tours are ideal for all levels of interest including corporate entertaining, since they provide both an erudite and entertaining introduction to some of London’s cultural highlights and can be combined with a meal in an elegant local restaurant.

Choose from:

  • The National Gallery
  • The National Portrait Gallery
  • The Wallace Collection
  • Hampton Court Palace
  • The V&A
  • Tate Britain

For further information please contact us

Sue and I would like to thank you for your wonderful lecture at our first meeting of BDFAS. We have had so many compliments and words of congratulation and we are off to a great start. We will both definitely be first in the queue when you are next over here!.”

Benahavis NADFAS

Read more testimonials and comments

Become a Friend of AHF

Enjoy a wide range of exclusive benefits including prize draws, special events and priority booking

More Info

Loyalty Scheme

Enjoy a gift selection of fine wines for every 4 tours you book with us

More Info

ahf on facebook

Discuss AHF events online and get to know other members

More Info