‘John Hall pro­foundly be­lieves ex­pe­ri­enc­ing Italy is es­sen­tial in un­der­stand­ing life ’

The Oldie - - TRAVEL - www.john­hal­l­venice.co.uk www.john­hal­li­tal­ian­jour­neys.co.uk

of the War­burg In­sti­tute; Ni­cholas Hall, John’s son and ex-in­ter­na­tional Head of Old Masters at Christie’s; David Ek­serd­jian, cu­ra­tor of the Royal Academy’s Bronze ex­hi­bi­tion; and Peter Phillips, choral con­duc­tor, mu­si­col­o­gist and founder of the Tal­lis Schol­ars.

This may ex­plain why the course is re­as­sur­ingly ex­pen­sive, at just shy of £10,000 for six weeks in Venice, pre­ceded by a week in London. Two ex­tra op­tional weeks in Florence and Rome are also of­fered – for a price. The price may be hefty but be­ing a John Hall Alum­nus is tan­ta­mount to life mem­ber­ship of the es­tab­lish­ment élite.

The list of ‘John Hallers’ reads like a pot­ted guide to Bri­tain’s aris­toc­racy – Arm­strong-jones, Asquith, Bowes-lyon, Caw­dor, Dou­glas-home, Fi­ennes, Fitzroy, Guin­ness, Hes­keth, Mon­creiffe, Pley­dell-bou­verie, Sains­bury, Som­er­set, Vil­liers. Yet the course has also con­trib­uted to the cul­tural ed­u­ca­tion of cre­ative busi­ness moguls like Peter Ben­nett-jones and Cath Kid­ston and many a high court judge or high-pro­file jour­nal­ist too.

From early on, John be­gan re­ceiv­ing re­quests from par­ents to join the course, in­spired by the lec­tur­ers and also the ex­tra­or­di­nary ac­cess that John has ne­go­ti­ated over the years. Stu­dents take sole pos­ses­sion of the mag­nif­i­cent church of San Marco for an even­ing and are treated to a mem­o­rable pri­vate dis­play that in­volves sit­ting in the dark and slowly hav­ing the gold mo­saics lit and re­vealed. En­vi­ous of their chil­dren, par­ents wanted John to repli­cate that feel­ing of be­ing a Venice ‘in­sider’.

He started al­low­ing par­ents to at­tend some lec­tures, but par­ents pushed for more. So, in 1974, he set up John Hall Ital­ian Jour­neys, aimed at oldies and other grown-ups, of­fer­ing ‘cul­ture & con­vivi­al­ity in beau­ti­ful sur­round­ings’.

John him­self lives in Le Marche in cen­tral Italy with his wife, where they cul­ti­vate olives and wine. His love of his adopted coun­try re­mains al­most child­like in its in­ten­sity. He pro­foundly be­lieves that ex­pe­ri­enc­ing Italy is an es­sen­tial step to­wards un­der­stand­ing and en­joy­ing life.

‘We’re not just about art his­tory,’ he says of both his ven­tures, ‘We’re about the art of life it­self.’

‘Char­lie and I get on very well to­gether,’ says John. ‘Un­like me, Char­lie has the gift of the gab; so he hap­pily takes over in Venice, mak­ing all the an­nounce­ments and in­tro­duc­ing lec­tur­ers, which I used to do and he gives a few lec­tures of his own now. Now I sit at my desk at the back of the lec­ture room, watching and lis­ten­ing. I still con­sider my pres­ence of some value and I value keep­ing in touch with the stu­dents.’

John and Char­lie know not to tam­per too much with a for­mula that has stood the test of time. A few years ago, the course was short­ened but, due to stu­dent de­mand, it was length­ened again.

‘We will not bow to the fash­ion for quick, lazy fixes,’ re­solves John. ‘There’s far too much rush­ing around on other cour­ses. We want our stu­dents to build a real, last­ing re­la­tion­ship with Venice and noth­ing shorter or less aca­demic will do for us. We know our stan­dard is gold and we’re never go­ing to com­pro­mise on qual­ity. That way we hope to keep go­ing an­other fifty years at least.’

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