Andrew Graham-Dixon Guest Lecture at St John’s School

andrewgrahamdixon (Picture courtesy of St John’s School)

St John’s School in Leatherhead opened its doors last Thursday to host a guest lecture by the world-renowned art critic, historian and broadcaster  Andrew Graham-Dixon.

Past St John’s pupils gathered with current students in the school chapel to hear the lecture on Caravaggio and his relationship with Christianity in his art.

Andrew Graham-Dixon’s talk ‘Whose Christ is it Anyway?’ explored Caravaggio’s unruly and indeed  obscure background; in fact there are few concrete biographic details, and some of the most illuminating information about him can be found in criminal records of the time.  He famously killed a man and was regularly in fights.  His artistic technique mirrored his shadowy life, as Andrew Graham-Dixon observed that: ‘Light and shadows are key to his work and he himself was like a living chiaroscuro.’  He skilfully played with light on his canvas while dodging the spotlight in life, as he purportedly wore black and had his hair untidy to aid his camouflage!

Caravaggio lost most of his family to the bubonic plague when he was young. The Renaissance was a time of great uncertainty over what happened in the afterlife, so the present-day tensions only heightened those concerns.  Graham-Dixon explained that Caravaggio often captured that very doubt in his paintings. Also, in a similar way, Caravaggio’s treatment of miracles is particularly interesting, paradoxical even, marked in a step away from the ‘fanfare’ announcement of a miracle taking place.  The audience was told that: ‘Miracles are subtle in Caravaggio’s paintings.  The Supper at Emmaus  shows those who see the miracle, and those who don’t.’

Caravaggio frequently revisited the dramatic physicality of death in his paintings. Andrew Graham-Dixon told the audience that we can learn through the x-ray of Judith Beheading Holofernes  that   Caravaggio repositioned the head of one of his  subjects to depict the most dramatic and bloody angle; and that Hollywood director Martin Scorsese had remarked to him that it was Caravaggio who had taught him ‘How hard it is to kill a man!’ – the similarities of the difficulty involved in showing the physical elements of death on screen and in art.

I thoroughly enjoyed the informative lecture.

Andrew Graham-Dixon’s book ‘Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane’ published by Penguin. RRP £12.99

Carrot Cake recipe

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Feeling inspired to make something sweet from the garden?  Try this easy carrot cake recipe.

Ingredients
For the cake
2 organic free range eggs
175 g muscovado sugar
150 ml olive oil
50 g butter, softened
200 g carrot, finely grated
225 g plain flour or wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp honey

Frosting/filling
115 g half fat cream cheese
4 tbsp butter, softened
85 g icing sugar (Tate and Lyle)
1 tsp grated lemon rind

Preheat the oven to 190° C/375°F/Gas 5.  Grease out the cake tin with a bit of extra butter.

Put the sugar, oil and softened butter in a large mixing bowl and beat together.  Then add the eggs.  Mix well with a large spoon.  Add the carrot, then mix again.

Sift in the flour and baking powder gradually by stirring as you go.  Add the cinnamon and the honey.  Mix everything together until well incorporated.

Pour the mixture into the well greased cake tin and bake at the bottom of the oven for 40-50 minutes until it has risen nicely and has a spring to the touch.

Carefully take it out the oven and turn it out into a cooling rack.  Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Put the cream cheese in a (new clean) bowl with the softened butter and mix slowly.  Add the icing sugar gradually, stirring as you go.  Add the lemon rind and mix everything together.

You can either spread the icing over the top of the cake or carefully cut the sponge cake in two and use it as a filling for the middle of the cake (as I have done in the pic!)

If you choose the latter option, sift some additional icing sugar and  sprinkle the grated lemon rind on top and enjoy!

RHS Wisley New Food Hall

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A new food hall has opened at RHS Wisley which makes use of the delicious fruit and vegetables grown on site in the gardens.

The new restaurant area provides a buffet-style set up where visitors can enjoy tasty treats such as a hot smoked salmon platter with beetroot and a horseradish and crème fraiche sauce, a freshly baked cupcake with a cup of coffee, or grab a homemade sourdough loaf to save for later.

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On one of the sunnier days last week I went for a walk round Wisley and had a look at the enviably abundant vegetable garden.  I always admire the way it subtly marks a change in season: last time I went there were dozens of pumpkins tumbling out onto the paths, but this time I saw the peeping tops of turnips and leeks through the soil, and the dramatic silhouette of purple kale nodding in the breeze.

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Now with the thought of food firmly in my mind I went to see the recently revamped restaurant and new food hall – you can always rely on the dominating foodie in me to seek out the latest edible offerings wherever I go – and both places seemed very popular indeed.  Clearly the relationship between gardener and chef is a strong one, as they meet regularly to plan menus according to what’s growing and how well, so the food will always be seasonal.

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