The Cult of Celebrity

The Inexorable Rise of Celebrity in the Art World
Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Belle, Pre-Raphaelites

24 April – 19 June 2018
Tuesdays 10.45am – 12.45pm
The University Women’s Club, 2 Audley Square, London W1K 1DB
Leslie Primo
Full course (8 lectures) £399.00
Single lecture £59.00
(includes morning coffee, tea and biscuits)

Book your place now on The Cult of Celebrity Course

“I have loved this course. Despite the breadth of the subject Leslie made it ‘manageable’ and despite his detailed examination of some works and artists, the pace never flagged. The course was notably well structured, allowing participants with sketchy knowledge to recognize references via a broad range of paintings”

This course will explore the rise of celebrity in the art world and how this change in status not only affected the output of artists but also their lives and in some cases the individuals depicted by them. It will show that the impact of these changes is still with us and continues to govern the way we appreciate and value art. We will start by looking at very early un-autographed works before moving on to look at iconic artists such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer and others. The themes will be the rise of the signature work, the rise of the individual and thus creation of the idea of the artist, fame, adulation, riches and the celebrity endorsement.

John William Waterhouse, Ophelia, 1889
Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, c.1665 Dido Elizabeth Belle, Zoffany, c.1778

Course outline

The Signature Work, Fame and the Celebrity Endorsement

A large body of work in world museums has no names attached to it and we will try to ascertain why this is the case. We will look at how artists’ names have been attached to works that have no signature and then look at works where the attachment of the artist’s name and endorsements by others have become an important part of the work itself.

The Rise of the Divine Michelangelo, Fame within his own Lifetime

This lecture has been postponed and will take place on 12 June. No lecture on 1 May.

From Unknown to Fame, to Infamy and Ridicule, Caravaggio and Bernini

Two of the most seminal artists of the Baroque period – Bernini and Caravaggio – will be contrasted in this lecture. Both rose to fame during their lifetimes but their reputations crashed and burned during those lifetimes. How did they rise so rapidly and how did they descend equally rapidly? What can this tell us about the nature of fame and celebrity? We will look at the motivation of their patrons as well as those of the artists and consider how these aspects affected their works.

From Rags to Riches to Rags, Rembrandt and Vermeer

How could two artists be so well known, famous and wealthy yet die penniless? Arguably the two most famous Dutch artists are Rembrandt and Vermeer; their work output, their rise to fame and their celebrity status not only during their lifetime but up to the present day in Amsterdam and Delft will be explored. We will begin by setting the scene for the boom of Dutch painting, followed by a look at their early lives and work and explore the meaning behind these works.

Fame and Adulation, The South Pacific Voyages of Captain Cook

A venture into the South Pacific to explore fame and celebrity in the 18th century through the voyages of Captain Cook will take us to the discoveries of Joseph Banks. What were the motivations that drove British explorers to venture halfway across the world into the unknown? We will look at the art, artists and literature associated with this period and how this informed the attitude of both artists and explorers. We will also look at how the making of and dissemination of the celebrity portrait was integral to the promotion and success of those that embarked on these missions.

Dido Elizabeth Lindsay Belle, The most famous black woman in London and the Beginnings of the Abolition of Slavery

We continue with our 18th century theme, with an exploration of the life of Dido Elizabeth Lindsay Belle, a black woman, depicted in just one painting by Johann Zoffany. We will look at her birth and origins, explore her fame and notoriety and her ambiguous place in society at the time of the burgeoning anti-slavery movement.

Fame, Celebrity and Caricature the 18th Cartoon in English High & Low Society

Now we see the beginnings of the backlash against celebrity. The weapon of choice that would lead this onslaught was the illustration or to give it its common name – the cartoon. We will look at the early proponents of this genre and also the much more well known illustrators, such as James Gillray, George Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson and William Hogarth. Of course, caricature of the rich and famous was not new and this lecture will look back to its origin, before going on to show how this varied genre could not exist without the oxygen of celebrity, especially celebrities behaving badly.

The Rise of the Divine Michelangelo, Fame within his own Lifetime

Why did Michelangelo actively pursue fame and celebrity and how did he do it? We will see how he used his earliest pieces and celebrity endorsements to promote himself and his art. These aspects will be explored through some of his most iconic works placing them in their historical, social and political context.

Internationalism and Commercialism, The Pre-Raphaelites & Fame in the Modern World

This final lecture takes us again into the 19th century to explore the rise of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and how they embraced commercialism and advertising to enhance their fame and fortunes. These aspects will be explored through key emblematic works, such as The Death of Ophelia, 1851–2, The Light of the World, 1853–54 and Bubbles, 1886, to demonstrate how the motivation of these artists affected their works.