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HPP Talk: 4th December, Alexander Stoddart

"'The Molten Calf and the Contemporary Art World'"

On the 4th of December Her Majesty's Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland, Alexander Stoddart spoke on the topic 'The Molten Calf and the Contemporary Art World' at the ongoing seminar series organised by the Humane Philosophy Project and the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion.

Video footage of the talk will soon be available here


The subject of my lecture is the episode in Exodus concerning Moses and the Molten Calf, and how this item of Hebrew mythology tells us great truths about the current state of particularly the visual arts in the Occident. The triumph of the text over the image is the central theme. It is against this iconophobic trait that the converse triumph of Occidental art occurs in the eras of civilisation. While the Exodus story stands for the mythological proof of the case I offer examples throughout history in which Nature’s essential detestation of the image is demonstrated – from the Spartan king Agesilaus’s rebuff of the nightingale-imitator, through Plato’s proscription, a reverse detour towards Heraclitus and of course an excursion into the twilight zone of Scottish Calvinism via examples from the oeuvre of the poetaster Ian Hamilton Finlay. The kernel question – why, then does Nature hate a picture so? – also has an answer attempted for it.

ALEXANDER STODDART is Her Majesty's Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland. He is known for figurative neoclassical sculptures, his most famous works including the bronze statues of David Hume and Adam Smith on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. In Oxford Stoddard is responsible for the bronze frieze at the Sackler Library depicting an allegory of traditionalist and modernist values. Stoddart was awarded a Doctorate by the University of Paisley in 1997, an Honorary Doctorate by Glasgow University in 2006 and is Honorary Professor in the Department of Arts and Media, University of Paisley.

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