Civilisations. How We Look


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Excellent ... an invigorating guide (Kathryn Hughes Guardian)

Beautifully produced and elegantly written ... utterly compelling (Linda Hogan Irish Times)

Enthralling (Sunday Times)

Slim yet insightful. . . . Beard expands her view beyond western Europe to offer an admirable survey of cultures from Egypt to China, Judaism to Christianity, centuries past to the modern era, all while emphasizing the significance of the viewer over the artist. . . . As Beard emphasizes the power of the context in which we look at and interpret art, she ultimately suggests that civilization itself is a leap of faith. Beard is having fun in this joyfully accessible primer, backed with a robust appendix, for all interested in a new perspective on religion, art, and history. (Booklist)

Praise for Mary Beard: What she says is always powerful and interesting (Guardian)

An irrepressible enthusiast with a refreshing disregard for convention (Financial Times)

If they'd had Mary Beard on their side back then, the Romans would still have their empire (Daily Mail)

[She] implicitly invites us to think about our own world, and about our answers to the question of what makes us human (Sydney Morning Herald)

With such a champion as Beard to debunk and popularise, the future of the study of classics is assured (Daily Telegraph)

Praise for SPQR: Fast-moving, exciting, psychologically acute, warmly sceptical (Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times)

Companion to the major new BBC documentary series CIVILISATIONS, presented by Mary Beard, David Olusoga and Simon Schama

The idea of 'civilisation' has always been debated, even fought over. At the heart of those debates lies the big question of how people - from prehistory to the present day - have depicted themselves and others, both human and divine. Distinguished historian Mary Beard explores how art has shaped, and been shaped by, the people who created it. How have we looked at these images? Why have they sometimes been so contentious?

In Part One, she examines how the human figure was portrayed in some of the earliest art in the world - from the gigantic stone heads carved by the Olmec of Central America to the statues and pottery of the ancient Greeks to the terracotta army of the first emperor of China. And she explains how one particular version of representing the human body, which goes back to the ancient world, still influences (and sometimes distorts) how people in the West see their own culture and that of others. Throughout this story, she is concerned not only with the artists who made images, but with those who have used them, viewed them and interpreted them. In other words: How Do We Look?

In Part Two, Mary Beard turns to the relationship between art and religion. For centuries, religion has inspired art: from the Hindu temple at Angkor Wat to the Christian mosaics of Ravenna to the exquisite calligraphy of Islamic mosques. But making the divine visible in the human world has never been simple. All religions have wrestled with idolatry and iconoclasm, destroying art as well as creating it - and asking how to look with The Eye of Faith.

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