I came across this truly wonder-ful 13-part series, Civilisation, first filmed in 1969, with Kenneth Clark, one of the world’s foremost art historians of the twentieth century. As he puts it in the very first line of the first episode, quoting the great Victorian artist and art critic Ruskin:

Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts: the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their arts; not one of these books may be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last.

I’m not so sure about that, but there is a ring of truth in it, for does not what we love – which we portray in art, signify in some deep way who we are? (Which bodes not well for what passes for art in our own ‘civilisation’).

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