“The Hero as Artist”

If there’s only one program you ever see of Kenneth Clark’s landmark 12 part Civilization tv series, it would have to be part 5–“The Hero as Artist”. In it, Clark zeroes in, for 50 minutes, on the three Renaissance greats: Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. There are many wonderful moments when Clark remains quiet and the camera lingers or roams over the Sistine ceiling, “David”, “The School of Athens,”¬†and da Vinci’s notebooks. Three Giant-Geniuses–one age. It never got better than that in any one era of Western civilization. The program seamlessly and sinuously presents the three greats in an exalted, loving fashion. As usual, Clark adds his personal quips and humorous asides as he does elsewhere throughout the series.

His biggest challenge in this program was the order in deciding on the order in which the artists are presented, but he ended up with a perfect sequence: Michelangelo (to o’erwhelm the viewer out of the gate), Raphael (the great ‘copier’ who takes a longer time to appreciate), and then da Vinci (the man of insatiable curiosity and a million questions in his passionate search for the truth). The climax of the program comes with Clark showing da Vinci’s prophetic catastrophic water deluge drawings while quoting Shakespeare’s King Lear. The program is then summed up by his last sentence: “For a few years it seemed that there was nothing which the human mind could not master and harmonise.”

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