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From Leonardo to You

Impressions of the Special Interest Day
led by Sally Hoban
on November 2nd 2013

“Oh! It’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you”

Lou Reed

What can I say! It was indeed a perfect day and I’m so glad I spent it with you fellow NADFAS members.

The morning began with coffee and good spirits and the knowledge that we had lost our male speaker, and that Sally
Hoban, our other speaker, had undertaken to run the whole day.  However, what could have ended as a disaster turned out to be an absolute triumph.

Our first lecture, beautifully illustrated with slides, showed how science has been portrayed in Art.  Sally Hoban spoke with clarity and really knew her subject.  She took us from Raphael’s painting of Pythagoras to Hogarth’s sketches of anatomical dissection via Descartes, Galileo, Holbein’s anamorphic skull and Joseph Wright’s paintings of electricity, phosphorus and the air pump.  Indeed, so many examples that I can’t catalogue them all.  Suffice to say that it was a fascinating and informative hour that flew by.

After coffee with succulent home made biscuits and shortbread we returned to the lecture hall thirsting for more.
The second lecture examined how artists and scientists have worked together to create art and further the course of knowledge.

The group that figured largely in this conception was the Lunar Society, founded in Birmingham in the nineteenth century, whose members were led by Erasmus Wedgewood and included Matthew Bolton (Soho House, his home, was their original meeting place), Josiah Wedgewood, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley and James Watt.  What a meeting of minds!

One of the avenues that we explored was Photography.  We learned about the Camera Obscura and how many women were involved in the development of photography, notably a lady called Miss Wilkinson, a relative of Matthew Bolton known as “Aunt Bessie “.

Jewellery was influenced by Science.  For example, brooches were designed to represent Halley’s Comet.  William Morris worked with scientists to discover original dyes for his fabrics and wallpaper.  Gray’s Anatomy demonstrates the close collaboration of the scientist and artist in the wonderful anatomical drawing which are an art form in themselves.

Sally then went on to tell us of the work of Alumit Ishai the neurosurgeon who is studying the effects of Art on the brain and also the influence of cubism on camouflage and showed us the example of "Dazzle Ships".

By now it was lunch time and we went to nourish our bodies and give our over nourished brains a rest.  So much upon which to reflect and so much research that could be followed up should we choose to do so.

Not only is the local NADFAS society comprised of clever and informed people, it also has in its numbers some excellent cooks and caterers, certainly on the committee.  What a delicious lunch was provided for us prepared by these talented people; such interesting flavours and textures combined together.  Bravo ladies and thank you.

Fortified we returned to continue explorations.  I wondered if I would find it difficult to absorb any more information but no, the third lecture had even more to set me thinking.  I have to admit that the idea of God’s cloak being in the shape of a human brain (see below) was not a theory that I was prepared to give credence to but the fact that doctors are taking their students to visit art galleries to identify ailments from paintings I found intriguing, as was the theory that Fibonacci’s Golden Rule was the secret of the harmony in paintings such as the Mona Lisa.  Harmony + Balance = Beauty

The idea that really blew my mind was Professor Richard Taylor’s theory of Chaos; using a computer to do Fractal Analysis of Jackson Pollock’s paintings to prove they are originals not fakes (Art Detective by Richard Taylor).  Try explaining that to your husband when you get home.

Yes!  It was a perfect day thanks to Gwen and Liz who set it up, the Committee who provided for our every need and fed us superbly, the man behind the projector Richard, and of course Sally Hoban who gave us an exhilarating and thought provoking experience.

Thank you all and Please may we have more such days in the future.

Katrina McDonald

Related Link (opens in new window):

Sally Hoban's website

Sally considers the theory that Michelangelo
painted an outline of the brain in the Sistine Chapel
(with thanks to Jonathan Cross)