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Friday 1st July 2016

London’s National Gallery will this Autumn (12 October 2016 – 15 January 2017) host an exhibition, “Beyond Caravaggio” devoted to the remarkable influence Caravaggio had on European artists who descended on Rome in the late 16th and into the 17th centuries. To link with this much anticipated exhibition we have planned not only a Study Day in London on Wednesday 30 November but also a short weekend visit to Rome, 1 – 4 December, which will provide the ideal opportunity to come to terms with this great artist and his wider influence. London Study Day, 30 November 2016: Light, darkness and drama are the qualities most associated with the revolutionary work of Caravaggio. The National Gallery’s Autumn exhibition will focus on the influence of this most troubled of painterly geniuses and will be the first UK exhibition to explore his influence on contemporaries and successors, such as Gentileschi (who worked in England from 1626, dying here in 1639), Valentin and van Honthorst. James Hill will give a short introduction to Caravaggio’s life and art and Tom Duncan will lecture on the exhibition itself. These two morning lectures will be followed by a timed entry afternoon visit to the exhibition in the National Gallery. The cost is £69 and includes entry to the exhibition. We expect this to be a popular Study Day and suggest early booking. Weekend Visit to Rome, 1 – 4 December 2016: Long thought to have been born in the Lombard village of Caravaggio in 1573, recent research has revealed that Michelangelo Merisi was born in Milan in 1571. His early Milanese training is obscure and he may have spent time in Venice. He was certainly in Rome by the late 1580s and his early work was dominated by glorious still life paintings and the patronage of a group of worldly clerics led by Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, who secured for him his first major commission, the St Matthew cycle in the Contarelli Chapel of San Luigi dei Franchesi. From this period also come two paintings of St Peter and St Paul in the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo – we visit both churches to see these masterpieces. The style of these revolutionary works was not acceptable to more conventional tastes. Their combination of figures based on real, often low-life characters, shown in all their unblemished humanity offended Caravaggio’s clerical clients. His dramatic sense and use of light and shade – chiaroscuro - though not new, had never been handled in this way before. He used it as a focal point to heighten our emotional experience of religious subject matter. Indeed, a whole new manner of presenting sacred narrative entered the artistic tradition via Caravaggio. This is seen in the work of his Roman contemporaries such as Orazio Gentileschi (who ended his days in London working for Queen Henrietta Maria) and successors, such as Manfredi and Guercino. Such revolutionary approaches to the business of painting were echoed in the artist’s dramatic, ultimately tragic, life. Tavern brawls, stabbings (if not murder itself) and many other difficulties meant that his last four years were spent in a sense “on the run”. Moving from Rome to Naples, he fled to Malta, followed by a period in Sicily, then a return to Naples and finally, death at Porto Ercole north of Rome, all of which lent a sensational tint to his final years. During all that time Caravaggio continued to paint works of art which in their day were considered both revolutionary and unprecedented. The Roman art world of the early to mid 1600s must have been a place of great opportunity. Young men came to study in the city and Caravaggio made a deep impression, not least on those who came from Utrecht, an outpost of Catholic belief stranded amongst the staunchly Dutch Calvinist Dutch Provinces, particularly Baburen, Honthorst and Terbrugghen. Their world is easily traced and this will form the joint focus of our explorations, in addition to the life and work of the troubled genius who so inspired them. We stay at the comfortable 3* Superior Albergo del Senato, centrally situated in the Piazza della Rotonda, directly overlooking the Pantheon, the finest monument of Roman antiquity. This respected hotel (in our view, it is most definitely 4*) could not be better placed for, or suited to, the theme of this visit, and is surrounded by a remarkable range of restaurants and other amenities. The cost is £1280 and includes the London Study Day on 30 November, 3 nights B&B in Rome, 2 Dinners & 1 Lunch. And finally, you may remember that I mentioned that Val and Helen Dillon put their house and garden up for sale earlier this year? Well, this has now happened and the Dillon Garden at 45 Sandford Road, Dublin 6 will remain open until the end of September after which the Dillons will pack up and move to a smaller house and garden nearby. Please check visit details, particularly timings, on their website. Val and Helen have welcomed members of our tours for about twenty years and I cannot remember a guest who did not come away impressed not only by the garden but by the genuinely warm welcome we always received. I am sure you would want to join Stephen and myself in wishing Val, Helen, Rosie and Ruby many happy years in their new house and garden. Until our next newsletter in a few weeks, all best wishes, Tom

Welcome to our May Newsletter!

Thursday 26th May 2016

Welcome to our May Newsletter! We are now very much in the midst of releasing details onto our website of our visits for the first part of 2017, with the latest, Barbados, going “live” a few days ago and already we have had some bookings! Do look at our website as each week sees new trips added, with for example, details of our visits to Provence and Extremadura due to be released in the next two weeks. An Island Paradise: Country Houses of Barbados - when we announced our outline 2017 visit programme last January, a few clients expressed surprise that it listed a possible visit to Barbados. Some thought it odd that we would visit somewhere usually associated with winter sunshine. A canny few realised that here was an opportunity to visit, yes, at a time when winter gloom is still the default setting in the UK, but in a manner that would offer participants an insight into the history of Barbados and its Plantation families, their homes and lifestyles. We pride ourselves on opening doors that are otherwise firmly shut and this visit, 15 – 23 March 2017, will be no exception. Led by Juliet Barclay (who has led several tours to Cuba for us), who was born on the island so knows its history well. James Hill will tour manage the visit and on his recent visit to the island he secured access to several very private houses, including some by the renowned Oliver Messell. As you can imagine, some of the owners have asked that we not publish the identity of the houses and as a result, we can assure you that our itinerary will contain more than its fair share of “lollipops”! Based in the renowned Cobbler’s Cove Hotel, ample time will be provided to enjoy its sybaritic pleasures. That said, we have not lost sight of this year’s visits and I detail below a few later this Autumn which have some availability and in which you might be interested? A Nation Formed: Washington and Virginia will see us visit the US’s capital for the first time from 13 - 22 September and will combine visits to the city’s great public institutions including the Capitol and a private visit to the State Department. The city has wonderful museums including the National Gallery and the Freer (visited privately). Timed to catch the first “Fall” colours, a series of important gardens will be included such as the renowned Dumbarton Oaks and Hillwood House and Garden. Outside the city, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and George Washington’s Mount Vernon will be visited – all seen at a momentous time for the US as it moves closer to what should be a pivotal election climax! An Anniversary Celebration: Giovanni Bellini & Venice has gained extra relevance due to the Royal Academy’s current exhibition “In the Age of Giorgione” (it closes on 5 June) as many critics have remarked on the overriding role placed by Giovanni in forming the style and career of so many younger men such as Giorgione and Titian. Led by one of our great authorities on fifteenth century Italian art, Paula Nuttall, this 6 – 10 October visit is the ideal opportunity to see Venice at an important moment in its history with new eyes. Based in a very comfortable, privately owned hotel looking out across the Lagoon towards Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore, we have just a few places left on this visit. A Hidden Europe: Exploring Slovenia is truly a unique opportunity to discover something quite different as the country maintains its independence of spirit amidst some of its less tolerant neighbours. Remarkable natural beauty, a resilient population, fine castles, churches and palaces - all seen at probably the most beautiful time to visit, it is the ideal short Autumnal break. Based in elegant Ljubljana 8 – 14 October, seize the moment and join James Hill and his local colleagues as they guide you through natural beauty, complex history, fine buildings and the excellent local food and wine. Merchants and Monarchs – A Shakespearean Masterclass, 7 - 11 October, will include two highly anticipated productions which will form the monumental bookends to this visit, led by Shakespearean actor James Howard, as we have secured tickets to what will be two of the “must-see” productions of 2016. At the Globe Theatre in London, Jonathan Pryce revives his critically acclaimed performance of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, whilst in Stratford upon Avon, Sir Antony Sher will tackle possibly Shakespeare’s most demanding role – described as “the actor’s Everest” – King Lear, in a production directed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director Gregory Doran. This four-night tour will take us on a journey from the heart of Shakespeare’s creative home in London to his spiritual home in the Warwickshire countryside. We will explore many of the sites and houses that Shakespeare visited on his travels, including a hidden gem in the centre of Oxford, the Painted Room, with remarkably preserved sixteenth century wall paintings. All in all, this will be a unique opportunity to watch two great Shakespearean actors on the two most important Shakespearean stages – a perfect way to celebrate such a significant anniversary! And finally, wearing another hat, on Tuesday, 28 June I shall give a Study morning at the Coton Manor Garden School on Smaller Gardens. Two lectures, broken by coffee, will focus on the trials, failures and successes of making a small garden at our house in Aynho. Ten years old this Autumn, it has been a wonderful experience and images of our garden through all four seasons spread over those ten years, will be used. In addition I plan to include images from gardens from which I have drawn inspiration. Coton is truly unique as it combines what I believe to be our finest garden in Northamptonshire, a wonderful range of garden-themed lectures, excellent hospitality (there will be a delicious lunch!) and an opportunity to buy plants from the on-site nursery, many of which I have used in our own garden. Please call Coton direct on 01604 740219 or visit their website for further details. The image used to illustrate this item is a photo of a peony (Joseph Rock) taken in our garden last Sunday, after torrential rain on Saturday - hence the slightly damp look! Until our next newsletter in a few weeks, all best wishes, Tom

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