Civilisations: Episode 3 – Picturing Paradise

Civilisations Episode 3
Picture Shows: Yosemite National Park, USA. Image Credit: BBC/Nutopia.

Simon Schama returns to present the third episode in the series, as he takes a look at landscape art.

In comparison to the first two episodes of the series, this artwork is more modern, and Schama only goes back as far as the 10th century, beginning with Chinese landscapes. These include the work of Li Chang in which nature is protective, and moves onto Wang Meng who landscapes seem more threatening.

Schama then moves slowly westwards as the episode progresses, moving to Islamic carpets depicting heaven as a garden; Italian villas with wonderful perspective tricks and the odd joke in their work; the German Albrecht Altdorfer who made landscapes the main focus, hiding religious messages at the time of the Reformation; Dutch masters like Bruegel, van Goyen and van Ruisdael, especially the latter’s Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede; and finally the USA, with Winslow Homer’s post-Civil War picture Veteran in a New Field and the photography of Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park.

Like in the first episode Schama presented, it is his enthusiasm that is the main drive. When he talks about the way Li Chang’s works are made using different styles to separate foreground and background, or villas which have fakes doors with picture of people popping their heads around, his joy for the works that he tells us about help to make this guide an enjoyable one.

Civilisations is on BBC Two at 21.00 on Thursdays, and the whole series is on iPlayer.