2007 – 2013 Undergraduate lectures for the Department of Art History, University of Sussex on BA courses: Communicating Art, Sites of Art, Objects of Art, Stories of Art, Exhibition Studies, and Before Modern Art.
From 2016 worked as an accredited Arts Society speaker.  Helen offers the following lectures and Study Days (‘live’ or on Zoom): 

Buried Treasures: Spectacular Hoards of Late Roman Silver

The Late Roman era was a period of crisis riven by civil wars and barbarian invasions (Rome was sacked in 410 by Alaric the Goth).  As a consequence of the break-down of society valuables were often buried for safe-keeping – the owners of which often failed to return to claim them.  This lecture will examine a fabulous selection of silver vessels from these enigmatic and mysterious silver treasure troves (still being discovered and unearthed today).  Marvel at the beauty and rarity of these magnificent objects within the context of their classical heritage and the lives of the people who once owned them.

‘Helen’s lecture and illustrations described these amazing silver hoards with such enthusiasm and excitement that she held our member’s attention from beginning to end’.

A Pilgrimage to St Catherine’s Monastery: Exploring the Treasures of this UNESCO World Heritage Site

St Catherine’s Monastery, at the foot of Mount Sinai, Egypt was founded in the sixth century by Byzantine emperor Justinian I – the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments, the location of the legend of the Burning Bush and the resting place of the martyred body of St Catherine. The Greek Orthodox monastery is packed full of precious religious art – a splendid basilica with exquisite little chapels, intricately carved wooden doors and breathtaking mosaics, an amazing collection of the rarest early icons to survive, and a library of rare and beautiful religious manuscripts.

‘Once again I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation of Saint Catherine’s Monastery. As another viewer commented, you explain everything so clearly. You gave us the just right amount of factual, historical detail while we captured an insight into the wonders, the spirituality and beauty of such an amazing place’.

An outstanding lecture and lecturer.  Everybody was most excited about this most interesting and well executed lecture’.

Hagia Sophia: Glorious sixth-century Church of Holy Wisdom

The cathedral church of Hagia Sophia (an UNESCO World Heritage Site) was built in the sixth century by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I at the heart of the empire’s capital Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).  The emperor spared no expense for its interior decoration from its enormous dome (56 metres from floor level), to the use of expensive and rare materials – multi-coloured marbles, monumental bronze doors and sparkling mosaics.  A main focus of the lecture will be an examination of the church’s world-famous mosaics which offer an insight into the secret world of powerful emperors and empresses.

‘Excellent lecture delivered in a pleasant and relaxed manner with regular injections of humour’.

The Christianisation of the Roman Empire: How Classical Art became Christian

By the fourth century the classical pagan world was coming to an end. The process of Christianisation of the Roman Empire had begun with the first Christian emperor Constantine the Great and his devout mother St Helena. This lecture focuses on the religious art of this transitional period and reveals how classical art was subsumed into the art of the early Christians resulting in significant and innovative developments which continue to enrich Western art.  The lecture will take the audience on a journey from the Holy Land and the finding of the True Cross, to the mysterious catacombs of Rome and some surprising early images of Christ.

‘A very good lecture, very informative, a well-researched subject from a passionate lecturer’.

Sacred Treasures: Unwrapping the Secret Life of Holy Relics

The word ‘relic’ comes from Latin Reliquiae meaning ‘left behind’.  All reliquaries are hollow to hold a sacred relic such as the bone of a saint or a piece of the true cross. This lecture will examine many exquisitely crafted reliquaries – in all shapes and sizes – many wrought in precious materials such as gold, silver, ivory and enamel and some mass produced in base metal alloys. Also, to be revealed is the sensory way such reliquaries were engaged with and the cult of saints that underpinned their talismanic and apotropaic power.  Concludes with an opportunity to handle a genuine 9thcentury reliquary!

‘Fascinating lecture delivered by an expert in her field’.

Exquisite Miniatures: Late Antique and Early Christian Ivory Carving

In the Late Antique period (fourth to the sixth century AD) ivory was the principal organic material used in the Mediterranean world to create works of art. Carved by the hand of anonymous craftsmen, these ivories are some of the most beautiful art objects in the world.  Following an introduction to the history of ivory carving, the lecture will then examine some of the most celebrated ivory carvings of this period to marvel at the craftsmanship of the master carvers, explore the unique iconography and unravel the original functions of some key ivory carvings. With a ban on ivory just around the corner this lecture reminds us why early carvings deserve to be preserved.

‘Helen’s subject knowledge is vast and her enthusiasm for her subject is boundless and inspiring’.

Glorious Things: Discovering Byzantium through its Art

Inspired by the Royal Academy’s 2008/2009 ‘Byzantium Exhibition’ this lecture will reveal the diverse richness of the decorative arts of Byzantium. The aim is to trace the fascinating story of the Byzantine Empire, which flourished for over a thousand years, through the art of the period.  Mosaics, ivory carvings, enamels, holy relics, silverware and icons are just some of the ‘glorious things’ to be examined and discussed.  Along the way the audience will encounter all manner of characters from emperors, empresses, Roman matrons, virgins and whores through a variety of art works from fourth-century buried treasure to tenth-century pornography – all with the ability to bring this colourful world back to life.

‘An inspiring and entertaining lecture, interesting facts and excellent digital images’.

Icons: Exploring their History, Power and Enduring Mystery

Icons are religious panel paintings developed early in the history of Christianity.  The term ‘icon’ comes from the Greek word eikonmeaning a likeness, image or picture. Their religious power made them amongst the most valuable objects in the medieval Christian world – icons are art, but not as we know it! This lecture will evaluate the power of the icon by exploring the origins of this type of portrait, the earliest surviving icons, their spiritual otherworldliness, the process of their creation (and why they often look the same), and the religious context in which they were displayed and used in daily worship.

‘Your talk was enthralling and you certainly know your subject.  The best on the screen so far.   The icons are astonishing in their skill and beauty’.  

‘If Helen hasn’t been approached by some TV channel – she should be.  What an exceptional amount of knowledge she has on icons’.

The Mosaics of Ravenna: For the Glory of Kings and Emperors

In 402AD Ravenna became the capital of the Western Roman Empire and continued to prosper under Ostrogoth and then Byzantine rule.  This past eminence left Ravenna with a legacy of richly decorated early Christian buildings, which has earned it UNESCO World Heritage site status. This lecture will explore some of these buildings and their magnificent mosaics: The octagonal church of San Vitale, home of the celebrated portrait panels of the emperor Justinian I and his wife, the notorious empress Theodora; the basilica church of S. Apollinare Nuovo decorated with spectacular processions of male and female saints, and with surprising evidence of its past life as the palace chapel of Ostrogoth King Theodoric; the basilica church of S. Apollinare in Classe featuring a magical starry sky apse mosaic; and the exquisite mosaic decoration of the cruciform oratory of imperial princess Galla Placidia.

‘Helen delivered a lively lecture with interesting, informative and amusing anecdotes – an excellent lecture’.

Oh Come All Ye Faithful: The Nativity in Art

The Nativity, with the Adoration of the Magi and the Shepherds, is one of the most popular subjects in Christian art.  Starting with the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, this lecture will explore the surprising idiosyncrasies of this much contested site, including a rift between the Catholics and the Greek Orthodox clergy over the marker of the actual birth spot of Christ that might have been a cause of the Crimea War!  This will be followed by an examination of a number of key paintings from the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods in order to see how the Nativity imagery has developed and changed over the centuries. Early depictions favoured the portrayal of a ‘real’ birth, whilst later imagery represented a totally ‘miraculous’ birth!

‘Thank you so much for an absolutely excellent and illuminating lecture. Your photos of Bethlehem really gave one the feeling of visiting oneself. I will look at nativity images with so much more interest now that you have explained the symbolism’. 

‘Thank you for an interesting and inspiring lecture.  Your memory and knowledge of the history of Christianity is wonderful’.

New for 2022

Bringing India to Britain: Queen Victoria’s Indian Portraits and the Durbar Hall

This lecture will focus on Victorian encounters with India and will begin by focusing on the Indian portraits decorating the corridors of Queen Victoria’s favourite palace, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.  Austrian artist Rudolf Swoboda was commissioned by Queen Victoria to paint authentic portraits of her Indian subjects to represent ‘various types of the different nationalities’ of India.  Swoboda produced some extraordinary paintings during his two visits to India and the Queen was thrilled, calling them her ‘Beautiful Things!’  If Queen Victoria couldn’t travel to India – India had to come to her!

Swoboda’s royal commission was inspired by the success of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 when Swoboda had painted the portraits of some of the Indian artisans who had been brought to London from India to be ‘live exhibits’ in the show.  The final part of this lecture will look at an exquisitely carved Durbar Hall, created and shipped over from India to serve as a backdrop for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition. It is now the centre piece of Hastings Museum and Art Gallery having been gifted to the town by the Brassey family.

Casts of Thousands: The Replication of the Masterpieces of European Art and Architecture

From the 18th century there was interest in collecting plaster casts of classical sculpture and by the 19th century the casting of plaster models of sculptural art works was undertaken on a massive scale.  This was encouraged by the dissemination of the plaster casts of the so-called Elgin Marbles as diplomatic gifts from the British government and was further enhanced by the popularity of the casts displayed at the London Great Exhibition of 1851.  This led to the setting up in 1867 of a European Commission to manufacture and then share good quality plaster-cast reproduction of the known masterpieces of European art. This Commission was signed by 15 princes of Europe. Surviving cast collections reveal the scope of this collecting: antique statuary, medieval effigies, pulpits, altars, doors, tombs as well as smaller objects such as coins, medals, carved gems, ivories and even textiles!  Helen has published three articles on this topic.

To the Manor Born: Unpacking the Towner Art Collection 

For nearly a century the Towner Art Gallery has enriched the lives of Eastbourne residents and visitors to the town, turning from a small provincial art gallery into a gallery that champions contemporary art in the 21stcentury being named the Museum of the Year in 2020.

This lecture will begin with the gallery’s inception in the 1920s (thanks to the generosity of Alderman John Chisholm Towner) before exploring the development of the Towner Collection.  A further focus of the lecture will be some of Towner’s key art works (some very familiar, others not so) that express the evolution of the gallery’s acquisition policy that has allowed the collection to grow into the respected gallery it is today.  Along the way, the audience will encounter all manner of delights – tranquil landscapes, mysterious and shadowy interiors, controversial abstracts and iconic Eastbourne imagery.

Special Interest (Study) Days

Byzantine Brilliance: Shining a Light on Byzantine Art                                                                                                    

This special interest day combines two one-hour inter-related lectures:

  • Glorious Things: Discovering Byzantium through its Art.
  • The Mosaics of Ravenna: For the Glory of Kings, Emperors and Empresses.

Helen’s special interest day is inspired by the Royal Academy’s 2008/2009 blockbuster exhibition Byzantium 330-1453 which revealed the diverse richness of Byzantine decorative arts and led to Helen’s first publication on the exhibition’s ivories.  The aim of the first lecture is to tell the fascinating story of the Byzantine Empire through its sculpture, architecture, wall paintings, mosaics, enamels, crown jewels, stolen treasures, silverware, ivory carvings and icons.   This will be followed by Helen’s newest lecture on the mosaics of Ravenna.  In 402AD Ravenna became the capital of the Western Roman Empire and continued to prosper under Ostrogoth and then Byzantine rule.  This past eminence has left Ravenna with a legacy of magnificently decorated early Christian buildings which this final lecture will explore.

Everyone said how much they appreciated your depth of knowledge and we enjoyed your sense of humour’ (Review 28/2/20)

Otherworldly Byzantium: Holy Places and Sacred Art.                                      

This study day combines three inter-related lectures:

  • A Pilgrimage to St Catherine’s Monastery: exploring the treasures of this UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Icons: Exploring their History, Power and Enduring Mystery
  • Sacred Treasures: Unwrapping the Secret Life of Holy Relics

Helen’s study day starts with a pilgrimage, in the footsteps of Moses, to Mount Sinai in Egypt to explore the architecture and art works of the 6th century walled monastery of St Catherine’s, famed for their matchless manuscript and icon collection.  This is followed by a lecture that reveals the true nature of the ‘icon’ through an exploration of their origins, the process of their creation and their compelling religious power. The final lecture will centre on the cult of saints (which replaced the pantheon of classical pagan gods) and the sensory religious power of reliquaries (containers for sacred relics). Manufactured in a variety of precious materials, these intriguing objects are still considered among the most valuable objects in Christian art.