Art documentaries and their makers like to focus on the same type of art that attracts the highest numbers of visitors to galleries – the Impressionists; Picasso, Matisse….art with a capital “A”, produced by great masters so famous they go by a single name.
The exceptions to this rule have been a welcome change to a genre that risks becoming unoriginal – ironic, I know, given that “original” – with all its connotations, is so central to art. Earlier this year the welcome change was provided by A History of Art in Three Colours. Directed by Matt Hill and presented by Dr James Fox it did away with a number of well-established ways in which you can talk about art.
Now comes another great art documentary - The Dark Ages: An Age of Light, directed and presented by Waldemar Januszczak who is no stranger to the great artist/ well-known movement theme with previous documentaries on Picasso, the Impressionists, Gauguin and Van Gogh.
This time he focuses on an area of art which is neglected at best and underestimated at worst – Christian art produced in the Middle Ages. Nothing could be further from the typical art documentary subject not least because the overwhelming majority of artists and craftsmen from the period are known to us only through their work, not by their name.
In many ways this programme is a logical next step in BBC’s arts programming after Alastair Sooke’s Treasures of Ancient Rome. After Sister Wendy’s brilliant take on Christian art, it was about time we saw someone else’s.
Relic boxes – beautiful, bejewelled and sacred to many Christians, are discussed alongside churches, sculptures and mosaics. The types of art included in the first of what will be a four-part series is wide-ranging and so is the geographic and historic context in which it was produced.
In the first episode The Clash of the Gods Januszczak brilliantly maps the stylistic influences which shaped early Christian art. Juxtaposing ancient and early medieval art, he makes a strong case for the source of much early Christian artistic influence.
But what I liked most about this programme was the way Januszczak framed his topic in the beginning and the object he used to do so. In a true Christian secretive manner – I am not going to tell you what the object was. What I will tell you is that even though it wasn’t an art work, it contained all characteristics of Christian art – the interrelatedness of word and image and the reliance on symbols, meaningful only to those in the know. It was simple and brilliant and after this marvellous introduction there was no way I wasn’t watching. And so should you.
Watch it by clicking here. It will be available on iPlayer until 8:59PM Tue, 25 Dec 2012. Available in the UK only.