Ragged University: ‘Spinoza’s Spectacles’ plus ‘Germans in England 1860-1915’
Come along to The Castle Hotel (66 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LE) from 7pm. Come along for some food, some socialising and an opportunity to learn in a relaxed atmosphere. All are welcome along to this informal event – put your feet up and enjoy the journey…
The Dutch Masters are an intriguing group in art history. Compared to other great artistic movements their work is rather quiet and insular. Not for them the wild experiments of the modernists or the celestial majesty of the renaissance. Instead, artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer focused on domestic interiors, reserved portraits and the exquisite play of light and shadow known as chiaroscuro.
Yet the Dutch Masters were working at a time of great change. The Dutch Republic carved a unique path between Catholic absolutism and Protestant iconoclasm, stumbling upon the invention of modern liberal capitalism along the way.
Dutch toleration and trade produced huge advancements in technology and learning; the understanding of architecture, accounting, music, mechanics and, importantly, optics were revolutionised. A new philosophy emerged to explain these breakthroughs, most eloquently summarised in the works of the artisan lens grinder Baruch de Spinoza.
A living example of the power of Dutch toleration, Spinoza’s works were banned by the Catholic church, denounced by Protestant preachers and he was cast out from the Jewish community for suggesting that God and Nature were one and the same.
Offered a prestigious position at the University of Amsterdam, Spinoza preferred to keep on making his spectacles and keep his philosophising as a hobby. This was in keeping with his Ethics, in which he argues that every individual is responsible for their own soul which no established church or institution could guarantee for them.
In this lecture I aim to demonstrate how the intimate domestic scenes common to the Dutch Masters reflect a view of the world in line with Spinoza’s materialism. The importance of light and shadow, the denial of myth and magic, and the preponderance of group portraiture all reflect the unique landscape of Dutch thought and being in the seventeenth century Golden Age.
And for the second talk of the evening…
2017 has seen the sharp decline in UK German studies at all levels. A 13.2 drop at GCSE level, similar at ‘A’ level and undergraduates reading German has almost halved since 1997. It would appear ironic that in an age where Europe has never been closer geographically, our real sense of closeness to it culturally & emotionally widens.
As a result of this and continued media stereotyping of the ‘bad’ or ‘threatening’ German, many British are unaware of the completely different reputation that ‘our cultural cousins’ had before the onset of WW1 as a nation of ‘poets and thinkers’. Germans of all professions flocked to Britain from the 1860s onwards, becoming one of the largest immigrant groups and contributing immeasurably to British culture and communities of the time.
My talk will identify German nationals’ contribution to Manchester in particular but crucially, will try and pinpoint at what point the image started to curdle, from that of ‘poets and thinkers’ (Dichter und Denker) to that of ‘Judges and executioners’ (Richter und Henker) – a Eurotrope of aggression and domination that the country has never quite managed to shake off. The question posed is how to re-engage Britain with German culture – a culture so bound up with ours if only we knew…….
All Ragged University events are free and informal. Everyone is welcome to bring along an item of food to put on the table to share and take away what is left at the end.