Civilisations was Mary Beard’s first book I read, but it certainly won’t be the last. Next on my list is her book Woman and Power, and frankly, I’m very excited to read it. Anyway, let’s come to the book Civilisations. How did people use art to show what they thought and felt about themselves? The book enables you to focus on this question and blends exquisite examples with answers.

Civilisations - Mary Beard

The role of art

Civilisations let us take a look at the wonders of art in the world, while also explaining how people come up with their creativity. From politics to religion, you will read about how art plays a role and how people use the power of art. Believe me; it will make you think. There was also an example of a mosque in Turkey, and it took me off my feet. (Check it out: Sancaklar Mosque.) If you are looking for an easy-to-read art book that won’t tire or bore you, check this out.

About the book:

The idea of ‘civilisation’ has always been debated, even fought over. At the heart of those debates lies the big question of how people – from prehistory to the present day – have depicted themselves and others, both human and divine. Distinguished historian Mary Beard explores how art has shaped, and been shaped by, the people who created it. How have we looked at these images? Why have they sometimes been so contentious? 

In Part One, she examines how the human figure was portrayed in some of the earliest art in the world. From the gigantic stone heads carved by the Olmec of Central America to the statues and pottery of the ancient Greeks to the terracotta army of the first emperor of China. And she explains how one particular version of representing the human body. Which goes back to the ancient world, still influences (and sometimes distorts) how people in the West see their own culture and that of others. Throughout this story, she is concerned not only with the artists who made images. But with those who have used them, viewed them and interpreted them. In other words: How Do We Look? 

In Part Two, Mary Beard turns to the relationship between art and religion. For centuries, religion has inspired art: from the Hindu temple at Angkor Wat. To the Christian mosaics of Ravenna to the exquisite calligraphy of Islamic mosques. But making the divine visible in the human world has never been simple. All religions have wrestled with idolatry and iconoclasm. Destroying art as well as creating it – and asking how to look with The Eye of Faith.

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About the author:

Dame Winifred Mary Beard, DBE, FSA, FBA is an English scholar and classicist. The New Yorker characterises her as “learned but accessible”. Beard is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, a fellow of Newnham College, and Royal Academy of Arts Professor of Ancient Literature.

– First Sentence – 

Civilisations - Mary Beard
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

A Non-Fiction a Month

Books About Art and Artists

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