Civilisation (TV series)  

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"What is that I hear, that note of urgency of indignation, of spiritual hunger? Yes, it's Beethoven it's the sound of the European man once more reaching for something beyond his grasp. Oh freedom, freedom, come to us again. This cry has echoed through the all the countless revolutionary movements of the last century. They suffered from the most terrible of all illusions, they believed themselves to be virtuous, and in the end were destroyed by the evil beings they had brought into existence." --Civilisation (1969) by Kenneth Clark voice-over


"This book is made up of the scripts of a series of television programmes given in the spring of 1969. Writing for television is fundamentally different from writing a book, not only in style and presentation, but in the whole approach to the subject. People who settle down to an evening's viewing expect to be entertained. If they are bored they switch off. They are entertained as much by what they see as by what they hear. Their attention must be held by a carefully contrived series of images, and often the sequence of images controls the sequence of ideas. The choice of illustration is itself determined by certain material accidents. Some places are inaccessible, some buildings defy the camera, some locations are too noisy for sound recording. All these considerations have to be in the writer's mind from the beginning, and modify or direct his line of thought. But more important still, every subject must be simplified if it is to be presented in under an hour. Only a few outstanding buildings or works of art can be used as evidence, only a few great men can be named, and what is said about them must usually be said without qualification. Generalisations are inevitable and, in order not to be boring, must be slightly risky. There is nothing new in this. It is how we talk about things sitting round the room after dinner ; and television should retain the character of the spoken word, with the rhythms of ordinary speech, and even some of the off-hand imprecise language that prevents conversation from becoming pompous."--Civilisation (1969) by Kenneth Clark

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Civilisation — in full Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark — is a television documentary series outlining the history of Western art, architecture, and philosophy since the Dark Ages. The series was produced by the BBC and aired in 1969 on BBC Two. Both the television material and an accompanying book were written by art historian Kenneth Clark (1903-1983), who also presented the series. The series is considered to be a landmark in British Television's broadcasting of the visual arts.

Series outline

  1. The Skin of our Teeth - In this the first episode Clark travels from Byzantine Ravenna to the Celtic Hebrides, from the Norway of the Vikings to Charlemagne's chapel at Aachen, telling his story of the Dark Ages; the six centuries following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
  2. The Great Thaw - In the second episode Clark tells of the sudden reawakening of European civilisation in the 12th century. He traces it from its first manifestations in the Cluny Abbey to its high point, the building of Chartres cathedral.
  3. Romance and Reality - Beginning at a castle in the Loire, then travelling through the hills of Tuscany and Umbria to the cathedral baptistry at Pisa as he examines both the aspirations and achievements of the later Middle Ages in France and Italy.
  4. Man - the Measure of all Things - Visiting Florence, where, Clark argues, European thought gained a new impetus from its rediscovery of its classical past. He also visits the palaces at Urbino and Mantua, other centres of (Renaissance) civilisation.
  5. The Hero as Artist - (List of Renaissance figures) Here Clark takes us back to 16th century Papal Rome noting the convergence of Christianity and antiquity. He discusses Michelangelo, Raphael, and da Vinci, the courtyards of the Vatican, the rooms decorated for the Pope by Raphael, and the Sistine Chapel.
  6. Protest and Communication - Here Clark takes us back to the Reformation. That is to the Germany of Albrecht Duerer and Martin Luther, the world of the humanists Erasmus, Montaigne, and Shakespeare.
  7. Grandeur and Obedience - Again in Rome of Michelangelo and Bernini, Clark tells of the Catholic Church's fight against the Protestant north, the Counter-Reformation and the Church's new splendour symbolised by the glory of St. Peter’s.
  8. The Light of Experience - Here Clark tells of new worlds in space and in a drop of water that the telescope and microscope revealed, and the new realism in the Dutch paintings which took the observation of human character to a higher stage of development.
  9. The Pursuit of Happiness - Here Clark talks of the harmonious flow and complex symmetries of the works of Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart — and the reflection of these in the Rococo churches and palaces of Bavaria.
  10. The Smile of Reason - Here Clark discusses the Age of Enlightenment tracing it from the polite conversations in the elegant Parisian salons of eighteenth-century, through the subsequent revolutionary politics to the great European palaces of Blenheim and Versailles finally to Jefferson’s Monticello.
  11. The Worship of Nature - Belief in the divinity of nature, Clark argues, usurped Christianity’s position as the chief creative force in Western civilisation and ushered in the Romantic movement. Here Clark visits Tintern Abbey, the Alps, and there discusses the landscapes of Turner and Constable.
  12. The Fallacies of Hope - Here Clark argues that the French Revolution led to the dictatorship of Napoleon and the dreary bureaucracies of the nineteenth century and traces the disillusionment of the Romanticism artists from Beethoven's music, Byron's poetry, Delacroix's paintings to Rodin's sculpture.
  13. Heroic Materialism - Clark concludes the series with his discussion of materialism and humanitarianism of the past century. This takes us from the industrial landscape of nineteenth century England to the skyscrapers of twentieth century New York. The achievements of the engineers and scientists - such as Brunel and Rutherford - having been matched by the great reformers like Wilberforce and Shaftsbury.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Civilisation (TV series)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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