Welcome! This website has information on courses I'm teaching at the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies and assorted musings on art.  Click on the labels at right to find particular topics. Thanks for visiting, and if you'd like to get in touch, it's isherwood dot barbara at g mail dot com.

Fabulous Frederician! The Loveliest Room in Berlin

Golden Gallery, Charlottenburg, Berlin, 1740s.

Rococo may have sprouted in France, but it blossomed in Germany. During the 18th century, France was the leader of style, and for rulers of present day Germany’s many states, decorating in the French style was a way to demonstrate their sophistication.

Golden Gallery, Charlottenburg.
So accepted was the cultural domination of France that Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (1712-1786), could read French better than his native German. When it came time to add a new wing to Charlottenburg, the Berlin palace he’d inherited from his father, Frederick Wilhelm, Frederick the Great hired a team well versed in the style then called “le goût nouveau” or “the French taste.”

Golden Gallery, Charlottenburg.

Supervising architect, Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff (1699-1753), had studied in Paris on Frederick’s tab, while sculptor Johann August Nahl the Elder (1710-1781) had collaborated with noted French designer, Nicolas Pineau. The pair are credited with developing the form of Rococo known as Frederician.

Trellis motif in the Golden Gallery.


While it features the requisite Rococo S and C curves, and of course cupids up the wazoo, what distinguishes the Frederician style is the plentiful references to gardens and nature. Frederick the Great was known for his interest in horticulture, and had his summer palace at Sanssouci designed so that he could walk straight out into the garden.

Cherubs, grapes and birds in the Golden Gallery.


The first thing one notices in the famous Golden Gallery in the New Wing at Charlottenburg is the colour, an extraordinary delicate green that balances the copious amount of gilt stucco. Windows on both of the long sides illuminate the assortment of cherubs, birds, flowers and plants that spread out over the walls and ceiling in delightful asymmetrical fashion.

Candelabra in the Golden Gallery.




Charlottenburg was extensively damaged in WWII and when yours truly visited (June 2017) parts were closed due to on-going restoration work. But the Golden Gallery was what I most wanted to see, and I'm please to say it quite exceeded my expectations. Thanks Frederick, you made my trip!


To find out more about Charlottenburg and the Golden Gallery click here.

18th Century Rich People Problems: A Swarm of Cupids!

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Swarm of Cupids, 1767. Musée du Louvre. Source.

Spring seems like the ideal time to revel in the delightful excesses of 18th century art. Please join me for Art of the 18th Century, an eight week course beginning on Tuesday, April 4, at U of T. More cupids than you can shake a stick at!


Leopard, Meissen, ca. 1750. Hard-paste porcelain. Gardiner Museum, Toronto.

Fragments of the past

Ruins of 12th century church at the Catacombs of St. John in Siracusa

Bosch’s Mysteries Revealed?


Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail), c. 1503. Source.

The 500 year anniversary of the death of Flemish master Hieronymus Bosch has brought forth a wealth of new books, two exhibitions, and two new documentaries. Hieronymus Bosch, Touched By The Devil is screening in Toronto’s Bloor Hot Docs Theatre at the end of August. The second, The Curious World of Hiëronymus Bosch, produced by the excellent team behind the Exhibition on Screen series, will be out in late 2016.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Last Judgement, (detail), 1504-08. Source.

But there’s an older one called The Mysteries of Hieronymus Bosch on YouTube that is also well worth watching. As a dyed-in-the-wool sceptic, I can relate to filmmaker Nicholas Baum’s desire to reject some of the more outlandish theories about Bosch's nightmarish imagery (such as that the artist belonged to a late Medieval “Back to Eden” free love cult) and dig into the scant details of Bosch's life to discover a plausible explanation these wonderfully bizarre chimeras. You can see this 1980 film here.