William Sterling

Gods and Heroes: The Influence of the Classical World on Art in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

This was a one day course run as a collaboration between the City Lit and the National Maritime Museum at the Queen’s House in Greenwich on Saturday 22nd July 2017.  The course was inspired by the new hang of artworks in the Queen’s House and in particular the portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds of his friend Captain Augustus Keppel.  The course included a guided tour of the art in the Queen’s House.

The course was repeated with suitable changes at the City Lit and British Museum on Saturday 11th May 2019.

Below are the edited scripts used for the Queen’s House day and the slides as printable handouts.

Gods and Heroes Final Script

Gods and Heroes Printable Handout

The Grand Tour

Grand Tour Printable Handout

Rulers and Others in Roman Costume

Roman costume Printable handout

Tour of The Queen’s House

Tour Printable Handout

The 2019 tour was advertised thus

Ever since the Renaissance artists in Western Europe had been discovering the beauty and majesty of statues and other works of art from the worlds of Ancient Greece and Rome.  In the late 17th century this meant kings and military figures would often be portrayed in Roman military costume or as Mars the god of war.  In the 18th century artists and all young noblemen went on the Grand Tour and came across the works from the Ancient World for themselves.  Artists such as Joshua Reynolds introduced the Classical style and would pose their sitters in such a way as it would remind their cultured audiences of some of the works they had seen on the tour.  The myths from Greece and Rome also became popular so that the gods and heroes were used as symbols for their attributes.

Session 1 – Kings seen as Roman Soldiers – the depiction of Mars/Ares in Greece and Rome (including Augustus shown as such) and how these images were revived and altered in the Renaissance and later.  From Louis XIV Charles II brought the idea of the king in Roman military outfit to Britain and this was followed by his brother and successors up to George II.

Session 2 – Portraits with Poses based on Classical Statues – the development of the Grand Tour and the statues seen by the tourists and those brought back to Britain and their influence on Reynolds and others.

Session 3 – Heroes used as symbols – the popularity of legends such as the Labours of Hercules and Jason and the Golden Fleece and show how they were used symbolically in the C18th.

Session 4 – Visit to the British Museum to see some of the Classical originals

The slides for the 2019 were adapted thus

Gods and Heroes printable

Grand Tour printable

Roman costume 2019 printable

This catalogue not only shows what Classical sculptures was on show for any Grand Tourist to see by 1700 but also provided compensation to those who could not go.  Josiah Wedgwood certainly owned a copy of this.

1704 catalogue printable

Finally, this set covers the tour of the British Museum that we did but hugely expanded.  As I produced this in March and April 2020 I was like many in total lockdown and no one had access to the museum to see the objects.  I thought this might offer some compensation.  I have tired to order the objects in a logical sequence and where there is a reference to an influence I have provided an image of this as well even though many are not in the  museum.  To read all the captions and study the objects will also take far longer than the couple of hours I allocate as a maximum for a museum visit but will pass some time during lockdown and beyond.

BM Tour to view

These episodes from Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time might be of interest

Greek Myths