Feed Your Brain: Humanities West

Are you starved for cultural stimulation? Tired of events that present information on a topic only to leave you wanting to uncover more layers? There are many ways to feed your intellectual curiosity in San Francisco, but Humanities West offers one of the finest, a curated selection of lectures and performances around a specific topic, covering social history, fine arts, music, politics, and philosophy of the arts. This season took attendees from ancient pirates on the Mediterranean to expat artists in Postwar Paris, to the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660. The final series of the season was an engaging two days of conversation about Bernini and the Rome of his time, diving deep into the art and architecture of the Baroque.

The two day event began with a lecture on Friday night about the history of Rome, where we learned that Bernini would close the curtains in his carriage when driving through certain sections of the city to avoid seeing the starving masses who protested the extravagant fountains he was building while the city experienced a massive famine. We were then treated to a concert of Baroque music using period instruments such as the unwieldy theorbo (quasi-guitar with a giraffe-like neck) and harpsichord. Saturday morning lectures covered the competition between Bernini and fellow architect Borromini, who asserted that Bernini took the credit for his designs, and an in-depth look at the sculpture Bernini produced, from The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa to the set designs he created for plays in which he would act. After lunch the lectures continued and the day wrapped with a panel discussion including all the presenters.

I’m pleased to have gotten the combination art-history, political-history, cultural-history exposure that was packed into the weekend. The presenters were excellent, knowledgeable, and accessible to the swarming questioners after their sessions. The audience was attentive, murmuring its surprise as certain facts were revealed, nodding heads in agreement with things already known. During intermission the lobby was abuzz with discussions around what had just been presented.

To increase your pleasure and further your education, Humanities West schedules related events leading up to the lectures. These include book discussions and lectures at the Commonwealth Club, or readings by authors at local libraries.

Now entering its thirtieth anniversary season, Humanities West has an impressive lineup scheduled. From opera's influence on modern Italy, to Constantinople and the Byzantine Millennium, to Baghdad's golden age, the group is set to engage you in interesting discussions through the next year. Feed your brain and get tickets to an upcoming series.

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