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Hidden in Plain Sight

7 Dec 2019
9:45 am - 2:30 pm

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Hidden in Plain Sight

Some years ago my curiosity was piqued by seeing an Indian ring-necked parakeet in an early 15th century altarpiece and an Australian sulphur crested cockatoo in one of 1496 painted for the Dukes of Mantua in Italy. This altarpiece was painted 2 years before Vasco de Gama got to India in 1498. How did these birds get to Europe in the 15th century and is there evidence for the trade in other luxury items emanating from the Far East, long before the routes opened up to the Portuguese and Spanish explorers. 
By examining surviving Roman murals, mosaics and documentary evidence; 13th/14th illuminated manuscripts; 15th/16th century paintings, altarpieces, ceramics and more recent evidence, we will explore the trade in consumables from southeast Asia, precious stones, pearls, ceramics, exotic birds and animals dating from Roman times. In some cases, evidence comes from the time of the ancient Egyptians and the Greek historian, Herodotus. We will explore how the Greeks and Romans loved their silks and other goods that came from China. Was this one-way trade, or was it a two-way exchange of technologies and goods? We will also look at how the Vikings helped restore the European economy during the so-called Dark Ages, as well as the rise of the trading republics of Venice, Genoa and little Pisa after 1000AD. Was it the fall of Constantinople in 1453 that inspired Columbus and de Gama to sail off into the unknown in search of a direct route to the lucrative Spice Islands, or were Henry the Navigator and Isabella & Ferdinand of Spain interested in other goods that were said to be in abundance in fabled Cathay. This miniature portrait shows that Katharine of Aragon was given a pet Capuchin monkey in the mid 1520s. These monkeys come from the New World. Who were these ancient traders and how had they managed to dominate the luxury goods market for approximately 1500 years? The visual evidence is there; all you have know is where to look. I look forward to sharing my research with you.

The Tutor

Born in Pinner, but brought up in the Channel Islands, Mell Taylor has taught art & medieval history to various WEA  Groups. She holds a BA (Hons) in The History of Art, Architecture & Design & and Master's degree in Medieval &Early Modern Studies and has run a small art history group (Ashtead  Art Lovers) from her home in Surrey for the past 10 years. Her research focus is illuminated manuscripts created by the Flemish illuminators of the 15th and 16th centuries. Mell is also a novelist and blogger so you can follow her on FaceBook, Twitter and her personal website www.melanievtaylor.co.uk, or just Google her name!


10.00-11.00 Hidden in Plain Sight part 1
11.00-11.30 Coffee, Tea and biscuits
11.30-12.30. Hidden in Plain Sight part 2
1.00-1.30 Lunch
1.30-2.30 Hidden in Plain Sight part 3
2.30-2.45 Time for questions

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