History of Art Society: Jack West-Sherring

It was a great pleasure to welcome Jack West-Sherring to address the History of Art Society on Wednesday 20th March.

Jack is an auctioneer at Spink’s of London, the world’s oldest auction house, where he works in the historical medals department. Jack’s purpose was twofold: to present a close reading of a beautiful silverpoint drawing by Benozzo Gozzoli, an often overlooked Renaissance master, and to introduce pupils to the fascinating art-form of the medal.

The analysis of the Gozzoli drawing was sensitive and sharp, and made a convincing case for the Florentine artist’s early expression of humanistic ideals. Some of the enduring appeal of the classical idiom was demonstrated most powerfully in the second part of the talk when Jack passed around a military decoration awarded in 1854 to Brevet Major Adolphus Burton of the 5th Dragoons of the British Heavy Cavalry. Major Burton received this honour in the field after the Battle of Balaclava at the height of the Crimean War. The medal recognised the major’s bravery in leading the charge of the Heavy Brigade in that notorious battle, an action overshadowed in the historical memory by the terrible fate of the Light Brigade. Jack highlighted the impeccable classical values shown on the design and execution of the medal, from its elegant bust portrait of Queen Victoria on the obverse, with echoes of classical statuary, to its allegorical image of Mars crowned by Victory on the reverse. It was an exceptional privilege for the pupils to be able to handle an artefact of such astonishing historical provenance, and learn to read it as an art object of considerable beauty.

Excitingly, Jack also announced a writing competition for Marlborough’s art historians in which the winner will have their work published in Spink’s journal, and spend a day at the auction house. The outcome of this venture will be announced in these pages. We are most grateful to Jack for offering both a fascinating talk and a fine opportunity for one of our art historians.

Dr Simon McKeown
Head of History of Art

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