Autumn Art Lecture Series 2018: Monsters

Download the poster Monsters -poster (PDF, 3,354kB)

‌Inspired by the bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, this year’s Autumn Art Lectures explored the ubiquity of monsters in culture as a prevalent part of our self-consciousness and social identity.

Opening with a reassessment of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson (whose acclaimed biography In Search of Mary Shelley was published earlier this year) we revisited Shelley’s archetype in relation to other monsters from various periods and contexts, asking why Frankenstein’s monster has both fascinated and repelled us since the first publication of Frankenstein, the modern Prometheus in 1818.

The series then moved to a medieval context with Alixe Bovey attributing the origins of modern Britain to savage giants - myths that have not wholly disappeared from our culture. An international approach was taken by Ronald Hutton, whose discussion of dragons demonstrated their moral, as well as geographic, diversity. Whilst Gilda Williams took us into the 21st century, addressing issues of gender and the modern Gothic through the art of Louise Bourgeois. Finally, we completed the series with Xavier Bray examining the supernatural and eerie in the art of Goya (including the so-called Black Paintings) demonstrating the potentially beneficial function of the monstrous.

Listen to the lectures below.


Mary Shelley and the Romantic self

Professor Fiona Sampson

23 Oct

Mary Shelley shared the Romantic era’s fascination with what makes a human self: from galvanism and chemistry to education, political or emotional agency and emotion. In this illustrated talk Fiona Sampson, author of the critically acclaimed biography In Search of Mary Shelley, explores Romantic ideas of selfhood, of modernity and of biography through the prism of Shelley’s own life and work. She reveals how these helped the teenaged author create her novel Frankenstein, and its archetypes which still resonate for us today.

Professor Fiona Sampson is a prize-winning poet and writer. She has been published in more than thirty languages and received an MBE for services to literature. A Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature and the recipient of a number of national and international honours for her poetry, she has worked as a violinist, in health care and as an editor.

Albion's giants: representing Gogmagog, Brutus and the conquest of Britain from the Middle Ages to now

Dr Alixe Bovey

30 Oct

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, completed in the 1130s, opens c. 1200 BC with the tale of the conquest of Britain by a band of Trojan refugees. Led by Brutus, the great-grandson of Aeneas, the Trojans made their way to an uninhabited island known as Albion, but on arrival they discovered that it’s overrun by ferocious giants. Renaming the island Britain after Brutus, they exterminated the giants, and then founded London as the new Troy. Although Geoffrey’s story kills off the giants in just a few lines, they have persisted in the myth and material culture of Britain. This lecture explores the remarkable variety of giants in the visual arts - in manuscripts and books, carved into landscapes and as pageant figures - asking how and why they have survived so long and what they reveal about the monstrous origins of the British nation.

Dr Alixe Bovey is a specialist in medieval art history based at the Courtauld Institute of Art, where she is Head of Research.


Professor Ronald Hutton

6 Nov

6.30 pm, Wills Memorial Building, Queen’s Road, Bristol, BS8 1RJ
Why have people believed in dragons, and what actually are or were they? Is there a difference between Western and Eastern dragons, and if so, why? Has the Western attitude to dragons changed in the modern era? These are the questions which this talk sets out to answer.

Ronald Hutton is the senior Professor of History in the University of Bristol, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Society of Antiquaries, the Learned Society of Wales, and the British Academy. He is the historian on the board of trustees which runs English Heritage, and chair of the Blue Plaques panel which awards commemorative plaques to historic buildings. He has published fifteen books and eighty essays on a wide range of subjects including British history between 1400 and 1700, ancient and modern paganism in Britain, the British ritual year, and Siberian shamanism.

'Men are monsters!': Feminism, Gothic and the story of Louise Bourgeois

Dr Gilda Williams

13 Nov

6.30 pm, Wills Memorial Building, Queen’s Road, Bristol, BS8 1RJ
When the work of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) was finally 'discovered' in the 1970s, her art was framed within a universalizing feminist discourse that lamented a woman's plight in generic terms. This talk proposes that Bourgeois later regained specificity and control around her art's reception by narrating her autobiography as a classic Gothic tale (a young female innocent, trapped in an ancient family home, haunted by a cruel and monstrous patriarch), a literary genre, then being re-appraised as an early instance of feminist resistance.

Dr Gilda Williams is Senior Lecturer on the MFA Curating programme at Goldsmiths, University of London, and author of The Gothic (MIT, Whitechapel). She is a London correspondent for Artforum and author of How to Write about Contemporary Art (Thames&Hudson).

Goya's monsters

Dr Xavier Bray

20 Nov

6.30 pm, Wills Memorial Building, Queen’s Road, Bristol, BS8 1RJ
In one of his letters to his childhood friend, Martin Zapater, Goya prided himself on having ‘no fear of Witches, goblins, thugs, Giants, ghouls, scallywags, etc., nor any sort of body except human…’ Throughout his career Goya was fascinated by the dark side of humanity and many of his greatest pictorial inventions show the individual besieged by the evils of superstition, ignorance, hypocrisy and lies. Goya believed that by satirising human weakness he could help rid society of these follies and foibles. This lecture will explore Goya’s rich imagery of the other worldly, through his experimental drawings and etchings to his celebrated and yet eerie so-called ‘Black Paintings’.

Dr Xavier Bray is an art historian specialising in Spanish art and sculpture and is currently the Director of the Wallace Collection, London. Formerly Chief Curator of Dulwich Picture Gallery and Assistant Curator of 17th and 18th-century European paintings at the National Gallery, London, he has curated several exhibitions including The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Sculpture and Painting 1600-1700 (2009) and Goya: The Portraits (2015). He completed his PhD in 1999 on Royal Religious Commissions as Political Propaganda in Spain under Charles III at Trinity College, Dublin. He is now working on Jusepe de Ribera and his images of extreme violence, the first exhibition on the artist in the U.K, which will take place at Dulwich Picture Gallery in autumn 2018.