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Welcome to our December Newsletter!

Friday 2nd December 2016

A client rang us a few days ago to book a place on one of next year’s Study Days as a Christmas present – a first for this year. This led me to think that this might be a novel way to solve the problem of choosing a present for someone who has (almost) everything?! So, here are details of three Study Days we have organised next year, should you too be tempted to make next year a truly stimulating one for someone special? The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace has just opened a new exhibition devoted to an unusual theme: artists’ self portraits and artists portraying other artists. I will lead a Study Day on this exhibition early in the new year, Leonardo to Hockney: Portrait of the Artist, 7 February so in preparation, I went to see the exhibition a few days ago and it bowled me over. Displayed across four galleries, it includes paintings, drawings, engravings and some marvellous decorative works where the original portraits have been copied in different media. There are some truly wonderful self-portraits on show and those by Rubens, Rembrandt and Artemisia Gentileschi are remarkable paintings by anyone’s standards. Then there is the portrait drawing of Leonardo by one of his students, Francesco Melzi, thought to be the most accurate image of him known. Totally different, we can see how Rubens painted his younger contemporary, Van Dyck, in a ravishing display of bravura brushwork, apparently all done in one sitting. In fact, there are so many amazing images to see that I could take up this entire newsletter listing more of them. However, on the wall by the exit door are for me the ‘stars of the show’: side by side are hung two of Johan Zoffany’s greatest group portraits, one devoted to the original Royal Academicians, all gathered together for a life drawing class; the other his amazing Tribuna Gallery in the Uffizi, the most important image of the Grand Tour ever painted. It is worth a special journey to see these two pictures – do consider joining us in February. Woburn Abbey was one of the earliest of the great stately homes to open to the public. Setting aside the marvellous landscape in which it sits, plus the (at times) bewildering range of fauna which inhabit its ducal acres, the Abbey is full of treasures. The house and its collections will be our focus for Treasures Great & Small: Woburn Abbey Revealed, 22 February. Woburn’s curator, Matthew Hirst, will lecture us in the morning before we spend the afternoon exploring the State Rooms, when the house is closed to the public. However, the day will be very special as the Duke has given permission for us to see, out of their normal display cases, some of the amazing Sèvres china for which Woburn is renowned, particularly pieces from the Gift Service given by Louis XV to the 4th Duke’s wife, Duchess Gertrude (Leveson-Gower). This part of our day will be led by one of the world’s renowned experts on Sèvres, Dame Rosalind Savill (formerly Director of The Wallace Collection) making it truly memorable. Coffee on arrival, lunch with wine and tea before we depart are all included. Later in the year we shall visit another treasure house, this time in Sussex. A Collection of Collections: Exploring Firle, 25 September will give us an opportunity to look at a country house where the collections have fallen, as it were, into the sophisticated hands of the Gage family! Seated at Firle since Tudor times, the Gages augmented the original bones of the house with Georgian and later additions and it containts that great rarity, a collection of collections. Here you will find treasures from the Knightleys of Fawsley Hall in Northamptonshire, the Earls Cowper from Panshanger in Hertfordshire (via Florence!) and the Melbourne collection from both Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire and Melbourne House in London. Joined with the Gage family heirlooms, the ensemble makes Firle one of the finest treasure houses of these islands. There are stunning pieces of furniture ordered from Thomas Chippendale, paintings collected by that remarkable Grand Tourist, the 3rd Earl Cowper (coincidentally, also a major figure in the exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery mentioned above) and the crowning glory of the house, Sèvres porcelain of the rarest quality. Leading us through this breath taking collection will be its curator, Deborah Gage, a member of the owning family and a distinguished art historian. Her friend and colleague, Dame Rosalind Savill will be on hand to show us the Sèvres under ‘connoisseur’ conditions when it will be taken from its display cabinets for us to examine at close quarters. Coffee on arrival, lunch with wine and tea before we depart are all included. Since our 2017 brochure was sent out in September, there has been a change to the arrangements for one of our visits to Ireland next year, Forty Shades of Green: The Gardens of Ireland, 9 – 14 July. We shall now be based at a different hotel to that originally advertised (The Fitzwilliam) and this will be the 4* Davenport Hotel, perfectly located in the centre of Georgian Dublin, just off Merrion Square. One happy consequence of this change will be a reduction in the published price of the tour from £2125 to £1895 (a saving of £230) and the single supplement (double room for sole use) has come down from £495 to £375 (a further saving of £120). I hope this will encourage you to consider joining Jimi Blake, Helen Dillon and myself next July? Finally, our office will close on Tuesday, 20 December and reopen on Tuesday, 3 January. Our usual Christmas mailing will arrive either before or just after the New Year weekend, with details of some new Study Days and Visits for 2017, together with an outline of our plans for 2018. Emma, Chloe, James and Stephen join me in wishing you a peaceful holiday over Christmas and the New Year. All best wishes until I write again in January. Tom

Welcome to our November Newsletter!

Thursday 10th November 2016

As the Autumn sunshine gives way to a first hint of Winter, the end of our travel year approaches, which for me means planning my ‘catch-up’ reading over the coming months. Stimulated by a new biography, on which more anon, one of my themes this winter will be to look again at the great clashes between the Byzantine Empire and its many enemies, first of all, Persia; then the Crusaders and their unscrupulous supporters, the Venetians; and finally, the Ottomans - all in preparation for visits next year. These themes form part of the remarkable new biography of the noted scholar and writer, Sir Steven Runciman, Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman by Minoo Dinshaw, just published by Allen Lane at £30. His was truly an amazing life and he is probably best known for his magisterial three-volume History of the Crusades in which the largely selfish motives of the Crusaders and their supporters (notably the wretched Venetians) are exposed - though the Muslims fare no better in his analysis. There is an excellent review of Dinshaw’s biography in The Spectator of 22 October, penned by an old friend and former colleague, Jane Ridley. The review is mischievously titled “In the company of queens” hinting at his love of royalty, rather than his fellow aesthetes. Ridley’s final sentence is an apt analysis: “…he vividly brings alive this secretive, ludic man, making good his case that Runciman, like all the best historians, should be considered, first and foremost as a writer.” Persia: I have often been asked by regular participants on our tours ‘Tom, when are you going to organise a trip to Iran?’ Well, the time has come and I am off on a recce to Iran next March, with the intention of leading a visit there in 2018. Outline dates will be announced in our forthcoming Christmas mailing, so please let us know if you would like to put your name down for this visit? As usual, it does not commit you to taking up a place, but it will at least guarantee that you will be amongst the first to receive information once the visit has been planned and costed. Venice: please do not think that my harsh words on the role of the Venetians in the Crusades means that I \'have it in\' for them? We all adore visiting Venice, but each time I see the amazing treasures from Constantinople looted by the Venetians at the outset of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, now housed in glorious profusion in St Mark’s Basilica, I think of Byzantium’s past glories. If you have not seen these treasures at first hand, you might like to join us next March when we shall visit St Mark’s privately at night, when it is closed to the public – a truly amazing experience with no crowds, no barriers and no hurry. Patricians & Painters: Venice for Connoisseurs, 6 – 11 March offers participants unrivalled access to not only St Mark’s but also to a series of private palaces and art collections, all at a time when the city is little visited and at its most romantic. Malta: like its larger neighbour, Sicily, Malta has either absorbed or withstood endless invaders over the millennia. This has left it with not only a matchless number of monuments but also a complex history. Given our theme this month, Malta witnessed one of the final phases of the long conflict between Muslims and Crusaders as the Ottoman Turks sought to dislodge the Crusading Order of St John (the Knights of Malta) from their recently acquired home. It is a stirring tale brought vividly to life on our visit in January. Sound the Trumpet: The Valletta Baroque Festival, 14 – 21 January will combine the island’s remarkable story with the now firmly established music festival which brings together many of the leading soloists, choirs and period instrument orchestras from all over Europe. This next Festival is no exception and The Dunedin Consort under John Butt will perform works by both JS and JC Bach, including two violin concertos by Johann Sebastian. Other highlights will include Pergolesi’s opera buffa La Serva Padrona and a choral recital given by The Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers including Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater. Full details of each performance are now available on our website. Bulgaria: if you do read the biography of Runciman mentioned above, one of the more intriguing episodes in his life relates to Bulgaria, about which he wrote on several occasions. Sandwiched between east and west, it is a wonderful mix of cultures and for the first time we are offering a tour there next year. On the Frontier: Bulgaria & its Treasures, 6 – 13 June will be led by John Osborne, who is a noted expert on the country and its history. It has amazing Thracian artefacts crafted in gold, fine Roman remains and a grand heritage of Byzantine and later remains. The countryside is charming, the locals are welcoming and the food and wine will not disappoint. Christmas: if are you having trouble finding the perfect Christmas present for those hard-to-buy for friends and family, I would like to recommend a subscription to Timeless Travels magazine - it is a lovely magazine for those who love travel, archaeology and art. Described by Hilary Bradt, founder of the Bradt Guides as \'the magazine that serious travellers have been waiting for: illuminating, informative, and unashamedly intelligent\', TT is offering not only a discount on an annual subscription, but also a free book worth £6.99 if you subscribe before 30 November. Enter code CIC16 as part of the checkout process to receive 25% off an annual subscription – the usual price is £23.80 + P&P (print) or £33.79 + P&P (print and digital). Facebook: We are pleased to tell you that we are starting a Facebook page. For those of you that already use it, you will know that it is a useful medium to stay in touch and share information. We intend to post regular updates which we hope will be of interest. Please vist our new page to \'like\' and \'follow\' us. Finally: those of you who came to Dublin with me in past years may remember that one of the more memorable visits we often included was our guided tour of the National Gallery of Ireland, when my old professor at TCD, Anne Crookshank, literally stole the show? Sadly, after a long illness, Anne died a few weeks ago and she was buried in Ramelton, in Co Donegal, where she had lived for some years, an event combining great sadness with warm memories for those of us present. On one memorable visit to Rome, Anne, who was in theory a member of one of our groups, took uninvited charge as she considered I was talking far too much (imagine?!) and after all, I had included far too many churches and not enough paintings, particularly by her adored Guido Reni! Anne was my teacher, my inspiration and above all, my friend. Through thick and thin she advised, chided and encouraged me in all the major steps of both my career and my private life – on first meeting my partner, Stephen, then serving in Northern Ireland, she thoroughly approved, remarking that a man in uniform was always an asset! For that, as for so much else, I shall remain thankful until I too fall silent… All best wishes until I write again in December. Tom

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