‘Pearls and Pomegranates, Peacocks and Pipes’ talk for Beverley Decorative and Fine Arts Society

The autumn lecture programme began with a change to the published newsletter.

Thursday, 18th October 2012, 4:28 pm

The Beverley Decorative and Fine Arts society should have had Anne Sebba as guest speaker telling us all about ‘Laura Ashley’ but unfortunately Anne could not make the September date. In her place, members listened to a lecture on ‘Pearls and Pomegranates, Peacocks and Pipes: The Hidden Language of Renaissance Art’ given by Shirley Smith.

Shirley is a part time lecturer in Art History for the University of East Anglia and at the Department of Continuing Education for the University of Cambridge. Her totally absorbing lecture was excellent and given in a very professional manner – with a power point presentation containing remarkable images. Shirley’s thorough knowledge of her subject – given without reference to any notes was impressive.

Her lecture educated the audience in the symbolism used in Renaissance Art. It is difficult for us to understand the full meaning of a painting from the past due to the wealth of symbolism it contains. Much of it is obscure to us today, but would have been instantly recognisable to twelth century contemporaries.

This lecture aimed to peel back the layers of Renaissance Art by deciphering the meaning of some of these symbols – spiritual, secular, virginal and vulgar – and so enable us to read these paintings as would people for whom they were intended.

Gem stones were used in paintings. Pearls for example were associated with Venus, Goddess of Love as in Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ and with white or virginity as in Marcus Gheer’s ‘The Virgin Queen’. Coral could ward off evil spirits. Diamonds were a symbol of love fidelity and constancy.

All kinds of flowers were also used in symbolism. Lilies for purity, violets for humility, purple iris for grief or myrtle leaf suggesting mystical dimensions. Fruit such as the pomegranate meaning the resurrection; animals such as the serpent for evil and birds like the peacock with the all seeing eye were all put into paintings. Musical instruments were included – pipes, lute, flute, trumpet or oboe – often symbolising risky characters or behaviour! The lecture showed work from Titian, Jan Van Eyck, Hugo Van Der Goes, Holstein or Petrazzi. Anyone interested in learning more about symbolism should consult Hall’s ‘Dictionary of Symbols’.

The next meeting will be on October 17, at Willerby Manor Hotel 10am for 10.30am, where members will listen to a lecture on ‘Love and Loss: The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice in Art and Music’ with Lois Oliver. Anyone who wishes to attend this lecture should contact a member or membership secretary Sue Hammond on 01482 863942.

A forthcoming exhibition coming to our area is the Da Vinci ten drawings at the Ferens Art Gallery.

These have been loaned from the Royal Collection as part of the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. They are here until January 20, 2013.