The Power of Art

In this 2006 BBC series, out now on DVD, British Historian Simon Schama looks in detail at eight important works of art ranging from the 16th century—Caravaggio’s “David with the Head of Goliath”—to the late-’50s:—Rothko’s Seagram Murals.

The two most interesting entries are where art arguably altered the course of history: “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David, and Picasso’s “Guernica”. The series also looks at works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and the sculptor Bernini (“The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa”), as well as “The Slave Ship,” made in 1840 by the British Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner.

The series looks not just at the production of the works but in many cases at the entire life of a work’s creator. Each hour-long episode delves deep into the political and social context of the works with perfectly-chosen musical accompaniment, Schama’s quirkily characteristic ambling delivery, and impressive, affecting photography—both of the locations Schama visits to bring to life the stories of the art, and of the works themselves.

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