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Summary: Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation’s final episode – The age of Industry to the age of the Atom

  • By: Vincent van den Born
  • Although he sees much that is threatening, Clark seems to still be positive about this, our era. Almost fifty years later, it is hard to share some of his positive ideas, whereas some of the negatives aren’t as heavy on our mind as they were before the end of the Cold War. But Clark’s idea, that “it is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation,” is stronger than ever.
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    Summary: Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation Part 12 – After Christianity died, what became the prime civilising force in Europe?

  • By: Vincent van den Born
  • If Christianity is dead, and the Romantic Movement killed it, what, if anything, has replaced it as the prime civilising force in Europe? What has civilisation gained or lost in the process? Clark touches on this question in passing, when he criticises the 19th-century bourgeoisie, but then asks what the mocking Romantics could put in place of middle-class morality when “they themselves were still in search of a soul.” This is the hole left in Clark’s narrative, the hole in the French Revolution that it sought, in vain, to fill with a religion that never took root.
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    Summary: Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation Part 11 – The Worship of Nature

  • By: Vincent van den Born
  • Clark, rather cleverly, sums up Rousseau’s philosophy in the sentence “I feel therefore I am,” calling it a “curious discovery to have been made in the middle of the Age of Reason.” He connects it to David Hume’s work, before noting how Rousseau’s beliefs were extended from nature to man. Rousseau believed that natural man was virtuous, a belief that soon came to be widely accepted. Clark mentions and quotes three detractors of the idea, but it is fair to say that the belief that nature is somehow virtuous, while man is not, is still popular.
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    Summary: Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation Part 10 – The Smile of Reason

  • By: Vincent van den Born
  • Clark mentions a “sudden consciousness of feminine qualities,” of which he says

    “I think it absolutely essential to civilisation that the male and female principle be kept in balance. In eighteenth-century France, the influence of women was, on the whole, benevolent; and they were the creators of that curious institution of the eighteenth century, the salon.”

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    Summary: Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation Part 9 – Art under 17th century French authoritarianism and the German pursuit of happiness 

  • By: Vincent van den Born
  • The logic of state authoritarianism imposed on all aspects, including and above all the arts, a “certain inhumanity.”

    “It was the work not of craftsmen, but of wonderfully gifted civil servants. As long as it reflects this grand comprehensive system, it is done with superb conviction. (…) [However,] French Classicism was eminently not exportable.”

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    Summary: Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation Part 8 – The Light of Experience in The Netherlands

  • By: Vincent van den Born
  • Clark explains that he is in Holland because he thinks the Dutch Republic is the first country to profit from a civilisational shift: “the revolution that replaced Divine Authority by experience, experiment and observation.” His characterisation of this revolution as the changing of the question ‘is it God’s will?’ into ‘does it work?’ or even ‘does it pay?’, is at least easy to remember.
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    Solomonica de Winter – Daydreaming Donatello’s David to life

  • By: Solomonica de Winter
  • Donatello chose to portray a boy, the young body of someone not destined for war and who would not survive one. But, and this was the message; through the power of god even a small boy like David could win a battle. What he lacked in physical strength he made up for with his unquestioned religious faith. A strange kind of magical delirium which turns a boy into a godly warrior.
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    Summary: Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation Part 7 – Grandeur and Obedience in early 16th century Rome

  • By: Vincent van den Born
  • Clark returns to the grandeur of early 16th century Rome. The Reformation and subsequent Wars of Religion, whose devastating effect on Western Europe Clark describes in passing naturally had their impact on Rome. Part 7 is dedicated to the extraordinary resilience and ability shown by Catholicism to bounce back from a seemingly desperate position. And the situation was bad. As Clark describes it, Rome had been humiliated: “The city had been sacked and burnt, the people of Northern Europe were heretics, the Turks were threatening Vienna.”
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    Summary: Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation Part 6 shows little love for the Germans

  • By: Vincent van den Born
  • One might assert that his view of Germany is a 20th-century sentiment speaking through a man who has lived through both World Wars, and is maybe somewhat inappropriate for a discussion of the late 15th century. When Clark talks about “these destructive national characteristics,” he uses 19th-century concepts that barely fit the political or cultural constellation around 1500.
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    Summary. Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation Part 5 – The Hero as Artist: Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci

  • By: Vincent van den Born
  • Clark describes Medieval Rome, maybe too harshly, as a time when the Romans lived in their city, essentially as people without a past. Pressed down by the weight of the giants of Antiquity, which they no longer understood, they treated the city as if it was a natural phenomenon. This is, according to Clark, what changed with the Renaissance, when Antiquity no longer oppressed, but was taken as a challenge. Concentrating on art, as always, Clark describes three “heroes” of the Renaissance: Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.
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    Summary: Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation Part 4 – Man, the Measure of All Things

  • By: Vincent van den Born
  • In the Pazzi Chapel, Clark says, the beginnings of the Renaissance are visible. Though often considered small, Clark claims that this is actually because of a new perspective, so to speak, in culture in which “everything is adjusted to the scale of reasonable human necessity.” This whole change in outlook he catches in one phrase, coined by Protagoras:”Man, the measure of all things.”
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