Episode 1: Caravaggio
Focusing on eight iconic works of art such as Caravaggio’s David and Goliath, David’s Death of Marat and Picasso’s Guernica, this series reveals the history of visual imagination through the ages.
A combination of dramatic reconstruction, spectacular photography and Simon Schama’s unique and personal style transport the viewer back to the intense moments the great works were conceived and born; from the murderous world of baroque Rome; paranoid, revolutionary Paris and the carnage of civil war Spain to the paradox of 1950s New York, caught between Cold War jitters and Manhattan glitter. Simon Schama’s Power of Art is the epic story of an unfolding force, a chance to witness the power of the individuals who changed the way we view the world.
Caravaggio’s approach to painting was unconventional. He avoided the standard method of making copies of old sculptures and instead took the more direct approach of painting directly onto canvas without drawing first. He also used people from the street as his models. His dramatic painting was enhanced with intense and theatrical lighting.
Episode 2: Bernini
Bernini worked under successive Popes; Pope Gregory XV made him a knight and Pope Urban VIII took him as his best friend. He was revered in his time until a jealous rage caused him to have the face of his mistress slashed after discovering her romance with his brother. His reputation fell further after his bell towers for the Cathedral of St Peter’s started cracking in 1641. He redeemed himself and kick started his career again with arguably his most famous work, The Ecstasy of St Theresa, in 1652.
Episode 3: Rembrandt
Rembrandt’s success in his early years was as a portrait painter to the rich denizens of Amsterdam at a time when the city was being transformed from a small nondescript port into the economic capital of the world. His historical and religious paintings also gave him wide acclaim.
Despite being known as a portrait painter Rembrandt used his talent to push the boundaries of painting. This direction made him unpopular in the later years of his career as he shifted from being the talk of the town to becoming adrift in the Amsterdam art scene and criticised by his peers.
Episode 4: David
Painting became an important means of communication for David since his face was slashed during a sword fight and his speech became impeded by a benign tumour that developed from the wound, leading him to stammer. He was interested in painting in a new classical style that departed from the frivolity of the Rococo period and reflected the moral and austere climate before the French Revolution.
David became closely aligned with the republican government and his work was increasingly used as propaganda with the Death of Marat proving his most controversial work.
Episode 5: Turner
Turner bequeathed 300 of his paintings and 20,000 watercolours and drawings to the nation. He led a secretive private life. He never married, but had a mistress and fathered two children. He died in a temporary lodging in Chelsea, under the assumed name of Booth.
Episode 6: Van Gogh
Born in Groot-Zundert, The Netherlands, Van Gogh spent his early life as an art dealer, teacher and preacher in England, Holland and Belgium. His period as an artist began in 1881 when he chose to study art in Brussels, starting with watercolours and moving quickly on to oils. The French countryside was a major influence on his life and his early work was dominated by sombre, earthy colours depicting peasant workers, the most famous of which is The Potato Eaters, 1885.
It was during Van Gogh’s studies in Paris (1886-8) that he developed the individual style of brushwork and use of colour that made his name. In 1888 he moved to Arles where the Provençal landscape provided his best-known subject matter. However, it also marked the start of his mental crisis following an argument with his contemporary Paul Gauguin. Van Gogh was committed to a mental asylum in 1889 where he continued to paint, but he committed suicide in 1890.
Episode 7: Picasso
Born in Malaga, Spain, Picasso’s many styles and prolific work rate have marked him out as one of the most recognised artists of the twentieth century. Not limited to one medium he created sculptures, etchings and prints. His artistic career only began to boom once he moved to Paris in the early 1900s. His Blue Period, reflecting the colour and his mood at the time was followed by his Rose Period, work inspired by primitive art and then Cubism, which shocked the critics, but ultimately made his name.
Guernica was created during Picasso’s Surrealist period and captures the horror of the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. By the end of World War II, Picasso had become an internationally known artist and celebrity.
Episode 8: Rothko
Born in Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia) Rothko moved with his family to Portland, Oregon in 1913. His painting education was brief – he moved to New York to study under the artist Max Weber and then struck out on his own.
Rothko is known for his abstract expressionism paintings, but he moved through more traditional styles in his early career, including Surrealist paintings in the 1940s. In 1947 he embarked on the first of his large abstract ‘colour-field’ paintings, formalising their structure further in the 1950s.
Rothko had huge success with largescale solo shows, but committed suicide in 1970.
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