Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Genius Of British Art

If you were lucky enough to catch the first episode of The Genius of British Art on Channel 4 on Sunday evening, then I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If not, I'm sure that if you head over to the channel's On Demand website, you can watch it, too. That is, if you're a fan of David Starkey (like me) and find anything he does nothing short of hypnotically interesting. The Genius of British Art is a five part lecture series being screened by Channel 4 in conjunction with The National Gallery, London. David Starkey's contribution, Power & Personality, charted the portrayal of British royalty in art, from Hans Holbein's striking images of Tudor aristocracy through to modern day images of the royal family.

Hans Holbein (the Younger), King Henry VIII, 1540

Throughout the programme, Starkey gives insight into the symbolism latent in so many royal portraits; the perfectly arrogant stance of Henry VIII, fruit and flowers littering a 1562 portrait of Queen Elizabeth I to announce her burgeoning fertility, or the fact that Anthony Van Dyck preferred to paint King Charles I on horseback to avoid the embarrassing problem of his diminutive stature.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Equestrian Portrait of King Charles I, 1633

By focusing on royal icons through the ages, David Starkey effectively shows that the depiction of royal power has remained largely unchanged since the early modern period. Only recently, Starkey argues, have the royal family had to accept a more informal approach to their public image (and in more ways than one). I always enjoy watching just how Starkey picks apart his chosen images, giving fresh perspective and wonderful insight into signs and symbols increasingly lost in a modern age.

Next Sunday sees Gus Casely-Hayford makes his contribution in Art For The People- a discussion on the pioneering artwork of William Hogarth in eighteenth century Britain. As well as the Sunday night programmes, (Flesh- Howard Jacobson, Visions Of England- Roy Strong and Modern Times- Janet Street Porter) The National Gallery are also hosting talks given by the series speakers.


  1. Laura, you really are a font of knowledge :-) I mean it, I always feel like I need to read/research/learn more about history - if only there wasn't sooo much of it ;-) Seriously though, it's fascinating and I find reading your blog a great "short cut" to gaining knowledge, hehe. Thanks for that ;-)

    Now, what was that about you coming to London? Let me know if you need any help - not that I'm an expert, but I am learning my way around :-)

    Have a great week, Love from London xo

  2. That's a really sweet thing to say, thank you! Truth is, I'm always looking to learn more and I'm very glad that you enjoy what I write, it means a lot. I'm happy to provide the shortcuts to get you interested :D

    I will explain about London very soon! Have a great week too x

  3. This looks like a fascinating series - one that I'd love to watch, especially as I'm researching symbolism in art. I hope one of the Canadian networks will pick it up.

  4. I know you would really enjoy it, Ingrid. It's possible you maybe able to download it:


    Channel 4 have a service where you can download their programmes, but I'm unsure as to whether none-UK viewers can watch it. I hope they make a book of the series, too.

  5. I totally missed (for the lack of telly, I suppose) but I'm rushing over to 4oD right now to catch it! To be honest, I'm surprised Channel 4 managed to make an interesting programme, I have to pay more attention in the future

  6. I know. Honest, it's not Big Brother or anything with Gok Wan in it...! I know you'll enjoy it.

  7. Yes,excellent and refreshing.