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Curt lecturing at a Masterpiece event for Downton Abbey at WGBH Studios, Boston, December 2013
© Copyright Liza Voll Photography for WGBH






AT THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
BOSTON


All Roads Lead to London:
The Supreme 19th Century World City


May 31, 2016
This is an archive record of a past lecture


Britain, according to Winston Churchill, has always been at her best when ruled by queens. Certainly the reign of Victoria would confirm such an opinion. Reigning from 1837 until 1901, the longest of any monarch until Elizabeth II, Victoria dominated almost the entire 19th century. During her reign Britain reached the pinnacle of its existence, with an empire upon which the sun truly never set. Ruling a quarter of the earth’s surface, the British Empire was the largest empire in human history – there has never been anything quite like it, before or since.

The bustling center of all this was, of course, London, the first city in the world to reach one million inhabitants and the most important city on the planet in the 19th century. Like Imperial Rome, upon which the British modeled themselves, all loads led to London. An astonishing city of contrasts – extreme wealth and appalling poverty, surprising liberality and narrow-mindedness, monarchy and democracy – London encompassed it all.

Nineteenth century London gave birth to the extraordinary and outrageous Oscar Wilde and the sober Salvation Army; the modern museum and model prisons; the world’s first subway and the first flush toilet, the first city police force, Dickens, railroads, the Houses of Parliament, the first street lights, Buckingham Palace, and Sherlock Holmes. In so many ways, London gave birth to the modern world!




AT THE SPRINGFIELD MUSEUMS
SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS


The English Garden:
Perfection on Earth


April 7, 2016
This is an archive record of a past lecture

 

Though the earliest English gardens were planted by Roman conquerors in the 1st century AD, the English garden as we know it today is a designed landscape style that was first developed in early 18th century England as part of the setting surrounding a grand English country house. So successful was this English innovation that it quickly spread throughout Europe, becoming the dominant gardening style, replacing the formalized, symmetrical French style of gardening - itself based on Italian Renaissance examples.
 
Though indebted to the earlier fashions that had reigned supreme for centuries, the newly-developed and uniquely English garden was a stylistic breakthrough, the likes of which had never before been seen in Europe. Often called "educated nature" by its proponents, this innovative English garden style offered an idealized view of nature influenced by the landscape paintings of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. With artificially-made lakes, planted groves of trees, mock Gothic ruins, and new classical temples and follies, one was meant to be transported to the world of an ancient, idealized past.
 

In this lavishly illustrated lecture noted historian Curt DiCamillo will discuss the development of the English landscape tradition and demonstrate why the English garden has often been called Britain's single most important contribution to world culture.



AT THE NEW ENGLAND HISTORIC
GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY
BOSTON


Tartan Tales:
Stories From Historic Scottish House
s

April 21, 2016
This is an archive record of a past lecture

From the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s palace in Croatia to Culzean Castle on the Ayrshire coast, a masterpiece by Scotland’s greatest architect, historian and raconteur Curt DiCamillo will lead a romping, fascinating tour through Scottish history using architecture and great houses as his guide.

Some tales are about eccentric owners, like the 3rd Marquess of Bute, who built Mount Stuart, a massive 19th century Gothic revival masterpiece on a remote Scottish island, while other stories highlight fabulous houses still in private hands, including Glamis Castle, the ancestral home of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and Drumlanrig Castle, owned by the Duke of Buccleuch and home to the only Leonardo Da Vinci painting in the world in private hands.  

With appearances by Dwight Eisenhower, Rudolf Hess, Macbeth, the Roman Pantheon, and Rugby School, among others, this wide-ranging lecture will paint a rich story of Scotland that will leave you breathless.  Kidnappings, bloody battles, and cannibalism – these, together with glittering silver, timeless portraits, and some of the world’s finest Chippendale furniture, all play parts in this fast-paced and unique compilation of Scottish history.  Only Scotland could offer such a tale!



AT THE SOCIETY OF THE FOUR ARTS 
PALM BEACH, FLORIDA

Jewels of Scandal and Desire: 
British Jewelry Collections and Country Houses


February 25, 2016

This is an archive record of a past lecture


Shimmering, captivating, and corrupting.  Great jewels have dazzled people for millennia, their beauty and value producing respect, deception, love, and betrayal. Whether an enormous diamond, a jewel-encrusted heraldic pin, or an Order of the Garter Star, the language of jewels subtly, and sometimes ostentatiously, conveys a statement of power, position, and wealth.

This lecture explores how the 18th and 19th century British ruling classes, modeling themselves on the ancient Roman Empire, used jewelry to reinforce their positions in society and awe their peers.  The aristocratic families that owned these jewels, such as the Marquess of Londonderry, were at the pinnacle of British society.  They hosted glittering soirées at their expansive country houses and grand London homes, where their jewels were shown off to great effect.

British Royals collected jewels for both state and private use, and notable collectors included Queen Mary and Princess Margaret, who amassed collections of extraordinary tiaras, necklaces, and brooches.  Curt DiCamillo will discuss the tales behind these noble families, their houses, and their jewels, all weaving together to create a glittering web of power and position.



AT THE SOCIETY OF THE FOUR ARTS 
PALM BEACH, FLORIDA

The British Crown Jewels: 
Triumph & Tragedy


February 25, 2016

This is an archive record of a past lecture


They stand alone, above all others:  the British Crown Jewels.  Spanning centuries and offering bling on an unrivaled scale, they tell the story in gold and gems of the rise and fall of dynasties, of beheadings and coronations, all wrapped up with unparalleled magnificence.  

The coronation ceremony of Elizabeth II in 1953 was hardly changed since a crown was place on the head of William the Conqueror in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day in 1066.  And nothing brings to life the sacramental aura of a coronation, redolent as it is with British national symbols, like the Crown Jewels.  

The concept of permanent collection of crown jewels was born in the 12th century, when the monks of Westminster Abbey took valuable and sacred gold items from the grave of Edward the Confessor, the penultimate Anglo-Saxon king of England.  This small collection ultimately grew into the spectacular display we see today in the Jewel House, probably the single biggest draw for the 2.5 million people who visit the Tower of London every year.

This lecture will reveal the Crown Jewels in all their glittering splendor, from the enormous Black Prince's Ruby (really a 170-carat red spinel) in the famous Imperial State Crown to the gold-and-gem-encrusted castle that is the Salt of State.  The Crown Jewels offer more than just an endless sea of gold dotted with thousands of emeralds, rubies, and diamonds.  What brings them alive are the stories of people who possessed these priceless jewels:  the kings and queens of England. 



AT THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING UNION
NEW ORLEANS

Greed, Lust, and Murder:

King Henry VIII, the Tudor Court,
and How It Changed England Forever


May 15, 2015

This is an archive record of a past lecture


The Tudor dynasty was one of the most dramatic and troubled of all English royal families. Ruling during extremely turbulent times, and with a precarious claim to the throne, the dynasty was founded by Henry VII, who usurped the throne in 1485 with the battlefield murder of Richard III.

Henry’s son, the infamous Henry VIII, changed England forever when his desire for a divorce led him to break with the Roman Catholic Church and create the Church of England. Originally a young, handsome, and thin prince, as king, Henry VIII’s court has been described as “an area ridden with intrigue, betrayal, treachery, and deceit” by Tracy Borman.  From his brutal and greedy seizure of the monasteries, to his gargantuan appetites for food and women, Henry didn’t believe anything should be denied him. Ironically, Henry’s grotesque behavior placed England on the course toward the Protestant enlightenment, thus laying the groundwork for the tolerant country known today as the bedrock of stability.

Henry’s daughters (Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I) were the first women ever to sit on the English throne.  Though Mary’s reign was an unmitigated disaster (her attempt to bring England back to the Roman Church earned her the sobriquet “Blood Mary” because of the almost 300 Protestants she had burned at the stake), Elizabeth stands as one of the greatest of all European monarchs.  Her reign is best summed up by E.N. Williams, who wrote “Where the independence of England was gravely threatened by the Catholic powers of France and Spain, she maneuvered in the twilight zone between diplomacy and war with outstanding skill; stretching narrow resources to the limit, she struck with success wherever danger loomed.  She preserved the unity, the independence and the peculiarity of England, and there can be no doubting her greatness.”

This lecture will provide a broad sweep of all five Tudor monarchs, encompassing their loves, personalities, art, architecture, and literature, all of which has come down to us today in many and surprising ways.  In spite of their extreme shortcomings, there wouldn’t be an England today without the Tudors.



 

AT THE STUDIOS OF WGBH, BOSTON

Greed, Lust, and Murder:

King Henry VIII, the Tudor Court,
and How It Changed England Forever


March 25, 2015
This is an archive record of a past lecture


The Tudor dynasty was one of the most dramatic and troubled of all English royal families. Ruling during extremely turbulent times, and with a precarious claim to the throne, the dynasty was founded by Henry VII, who usurped the throne in 1485 with the battlefield murder of Richard III.

Henry’s son, the infamous Henry VIII, changed England forever when his desire for a divorce led him to break with the Roman Catholic Church and create the Church of England. Originally a young, handsome, and thin prince, as king, Henry VIII’s court has been described as “an area ridden with intrigue, betrayal, treachery, and deceit” by Tracy Borman.  From his brutal and greedy seizure of the monasteries, to his gargantuan appetites for food and women, Henry didn’t believe anything should be denied him. Ironically, Henry’s grotesque behavior placed England on the course toward the Protestant enlightenment, thus laying the groundwork for the tolerant country known today as the bedrock of stability.

Henry’s daughters (Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I) were the first women ever to sit on the English throne.  Though Mary’s reign was an unmitigated disaster (her attempt to bring England back to the Roman Church earned her the sobriquet “Blood Mary” because of the almost 300 Protestants she had burned at the stake), Elizabeth stands as one of the greatest of all European monarchs.  Her reign is best summed up by E.N. Williams, who wrote “Where the independence of England was gravely threatened by the Catholic powers of France and Spain, she maneuvered in the twilight zone between diplomacy and war with outstanding skill; stretching narrow resources to the limit, she struck with success wherever danger loomed.  She preserved the unity, the independence and the peculiarity of England, and there can be no doubting her greatness.”

This lecture will provide a broad sweep of all five Tudor monarchs, encompassing their loves, personalities, art, architecture, and literature, all of which has come down to us today in many and surprising ways.  In spite of their extreme shortcomings, there wouldn’t be an England today without the Tudors.




AT THE MONTGOMERY MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
FOR THE ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY OF MONTGOMERY
MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA


The King, the Duke & the Rothschilds:
Edwardian Country Houses in the Era of Downton Abbey ®


February 19, 2015
This is an archive record of a past lecture

Named after King Edward VII, who reigned at the turn of the 20th century, the Edwardian era was the swan song of a centuries-old way of life.  The British Empire was at its peak, London was the acknowledged capital of the world, and the country house shimmered in the warm glow of “the long Edwardian afternoon.” All of this was swept away by the catastrophe that was World War I, leaving Britain irretrievably changed. The optimism of the Edwardian age – a mindset that caused people to believe anything was possible – was destroyed forever.

This lecture will examine some of the greatest country houses of England that existed during this magical twilight of the early 20th century.  From Highclere Castle (famous as the setting for Downton Abbey) to Blenheim Palace, the magnificent home of the Dukes of Marlborough, to the glorious Rothschild houses, there has never been anything quite like the splendor of the grand Edwardian country houses.

Jaw-dropping by any measure, these houses were off the charts when the art they contained was factored into the equation.  The Rothschilds possessed the largest fortune in the world, which allowed them to create homes that were world-class museums in their own right.  So famous was the Rothschild taste that its over-the-top verve gave birth to the term “le goût Rothschild,” a phrase still used today to describe collections of incredible richness featuring the finest art, furniture, fabrics, and decorative arts.  This serious taste for bling was transmitted to the newly-wealthy American plutocrats, who were decorating their great townhouses on Fifth Avenue in New York City, as well as their country houses and Newport “cottages.”  As with so much in history, one trend influences another, leaving for us today the residue of this faded but glorious time.

Downton Abbey and Downton are registered trademarks of Carnival Film & Television Ltd.



AT THE WALTERS ART MUSEUM 
BALTIMORE

Lords, Ladies & Mummies:
The Story of Highclere Castle, the Real Downton Abbey ®

January 3, 2015
This is an archive record of a past lecture

Although famous today as the country house depicted in the television series Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle in Berkshire has a rich and fascinating history that goes far beyond its television fame. 

Home since 1672 of the Herbert family, later Earls of Carnarvon, the English Renaissance Revival house seen today was created in the early 19th century by architect Charles Barry. Highclere is noted as the home of the 5th Earl, who financed the 1922 expedition that discovered the tomb of King Tut (the Earl's sudden death, after discovering the tomb, led to the legend of "the Curse of the Mummy"). The 5th Earl's wife, Lady Almina, the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, also brought great prominence to Highclere. Through the generosity of her natural father (one of the richest men in late 19th century England), she was a pioneer of military hospitals and set standards of care that are still followed today.

 

Architectural historian Curt DiCamillo will explore Highclere Castle, linking it to other historic houses, and explaining how the fictional Downton plotline has unexpected echoes to Highclere's history.

 

Downton Abbey and Downton are registered trademarks of Carnival Film & Television Ltd.

 



AT WINTERTHUR MUSEUM, GARDEN & LIBRARY
WINTERTHUR, DELAWARE


Jewels of Scandal & Desire:
British Jewelry Collections and Country Houses

June 10, 2014
This is an archive record of a past lecture

Shimmering, captivating, and corrupting. Great jewels have dazzled people for millennia, their beauty and value producing respect, deception, love, and betrayal. Whether an enormous diamond, a jewel-encrusted heraldic pin, or an Order of the Garter Star, the language of jewels subtly, and sometimes ostentatiously, conveys a statement of power, position, and wealth.

This lecture explores how the 18th and 19th century British ruling classes, modeling themselves on the ancient Roman Empire, used jewelry to reinforce their positions in society and awe their peers. The aristocratic families that owned these jewels, such as the Marquess of Londonderry, were at the pinnacle of British society. They hosted glittering soirées at their expansive country houses and grand London homes, where their jewels were shown off to great effect.

British Royals collected jewels for both state and private use, and notable collectors included Queen Mary and Princess Margaret, who amassed collections of extraordinary tiaras, necklaces, and brooches. Curt DiCamillo will discuss the tales behind these noble families, their houses, and their jewels, all weaving together to create a glittering web of power and position.



AT THE THOMASVILLE ANTIQUES SHOW 
THOMASVILLE, GEORGIA

Lords, Ladies & Mummies:
The Story of Highclere Castle, the Real Downton Abbey ®

February 22, 2014
This is an archive record of a past lecture

Although famous today as the country house depicted in the television series Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle in Berkshire has a rich and fascinating history that goes far beyond its television fame. 

Home since 1672 of the Herbert family, later Earls of Carnarvon, the English Renaissance Revival house seen today was created in the early 19th century by architect Charles Barry. Highclere is noted as the home of the 5th Earl, who financed the 1922 expedition that discovered the tomb of King Tut (the Earl's sudden death, after discovering the tomb, led to the legend of "the Curse of the Mummy"). The 5th Earl's wife, Lady Almina, the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, also brought great prominence to Highclere. Through the generosity of her natural father (one of the richest men in late 19th century England), she was a pioneer of military hospitals and set standards of care that are still followed today.

 

Architectural historian Curt DiCamillo will explore Highclere Castle, linking it to other historic houses, and explaining how the fictional Downton plotline has unexpected echoes to Highclere's history.

 

Downton Abbey and Downton are registered trademarks of Carnival Film & Television Ltd.

 


 

AT THE JAY HERITAGE CENTER
RYE, NEW YORK


Speed, Style & the English Country House:

Auto, Horse, and Airplane Racing at England's Historic Houses


March 9, 2014
This is an archive record of a past lecture


Fast living surrounded by bright young things - that's the image we have today of the Interwar Years, when, between 1919 and 1939, fast cars, fast women, lots of alcohol, and an abundance of glamour and glitter was the order of the day for England's upper classes.

 

However, there is much more to the story. This lecture will go back hundreds of years, beginning in the 17th century, when the turf ruled the aristocratic taste for racing and horses were de rigueur for the fast set. From Goodwood House in Sussex, home of the Glorious Goodwood festival (Thoroughbred horse racing), one of the highlights of the English social season, to Higham Park in Kent, one of the first centers of auto racing in the early 20th century, the lecture will cover horse, auto, and airplane racing.

 

Stories of lions, murder, and movies, all mixed carefully with soaring ambition and stunning houses filled with sublime art comes together to reveal fantastic stories that have left a residue for us to marvel at today. From James Bond's ancestry to the Flying Duchess - it's a world that would be recognized by King Charles II and Evelyn Waugh. What could be more delicious?!

 


 

AT THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON


Ultimate Bling:
Britain's Royal Collection 


March 18 and 20, 2014
This is an archive record of a past lecture


Formed through centuries by British kings and queens, the Royal Collection today is one of the largest and most important collections of art in the world. Jaw-dropping art of incredible richness populates this idiosyncratic and personal collection of art. British monarchs from Henry VIII to the current Queen have added to the Royal Collection, but none have equaled the collecting fervor of Kings Charles I and George IV, the greatest collectors in the history of the British monarchy. Charles I was a passionate collector of Italian paintings and a major patron of Van Dyck and other artists, while George IV had an acquisitive eye for all kinds of art, most especially the French variety. George IV benefited greatly from the upheaval of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the result that many pieces from the great French royal and aristocratic collections crossed the Channel to become part of the Royal Collection.

 

This lecture will highlight some of the hundreds of thousands of pieces of art under the care of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, including paintings, tapestries, furniture, and watercolors housed in royal residences like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle and in public galleries. With a staff of 400 and locations throughout the United Kingdom, the Royal Collection today is a vibrant organization that maintains and continues to add to one of the most amazing collections of art on earth.

 


 

AT THE STUDIOS OF WGBH, BOSTON

The English Garden:
Perfection on Earth


March 28, 2014
This is an archive record of a past lecture


Though the earliest English gardens were planted by Roman conquerors in the 1st century AD, the English garden as we know it today is a designed landscape style that was first developed in early 18th century England as part of the setting surrounding a grand English country house. So successful was this English innovation that it quickly spread throughout Europe, becoming the dominant gardening style, replacing the formalized, symmetrical French style of gardening - itself based on Italian Renaissance examples.
 
Though indebted to the earlier fashions that had reigned supreme for centuries, the newly-developed and uniquely English garden was a stylistic breakthrough, the likes of which had never before been seen in Europe. Often called "educated nature" by its proponents, this innovative English garden style offered an idealized view of nature influenced by the landscape paintings of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. With artificially-made lakes, planted groves of trees, mock Gothic ruins, and new classical temples and follies, one was meant to be transported to the world of an ancient, idealized past.
 
In this lavishly illustrated lecture noted historian Curt DiCamillo will discuss the development of the English landscape tradition and demonstrate why the English garden has often been called Britain's single most important contribution to world culture.






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