Epic new series spanning 31 countries and more than 500 works of art. Presenters Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga explore humanity's desire to create.

Project details

A major new nine-part series telling the story of art from the dawn of human history to the present day, on a global scale. Civilisations will introduce a new generation to the great masterworks of beauty, ingenuity and illumination created since the dawn of civilisation itself.

The visuals were simply superb (The Telegraph)

It is now nearly half a century since Kenneth Clark’s series ‘Civilisation’ thrilled audiences with its authoritative interpretation of the glories of Western art. Inspired by that ground-breaking project, the Civilisations series ranges more widely, featuring African, Asian, American as well as European cultures in order to explore how human creativity began and developed, how civilisations around the world influenced one another and how artists have depicted the human form and the natural world.

This new series will explore the visual culture of societies from around the globe revealing, alongside the magnificent objects made in the West, the wealth of treasures created by other cultures including the extraordinary landscape scrolls of classical China; the sculpture of the Olmecs; African bronzes; Japanese prints; and Mughal miniatures.

Civilisations will have three presenters, each bringing their own skills and perspective to the series:

  • Simon Schama, an art historian with a breadth of experience and authority second to none, will present five programmes, reflecting the wide-ranging nature of his expertise and his extensive knowledge of global art, taking us from Paleolithic cave painting to the studio of contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer.

“We live in a time of raw power, the swagger of money, brutal poverty and hard reckonings, precisely the moment when it can’t be bad to contemplate again the most enthralling things that human creativity can achieve, because, for the most part, they are our common possession.

  • David Olusoga, historian and writer, also making two programmes, will call upon his expertise in Empire, military history and the relationships between global cultures.

“When I was growing up on a council estate, my family didn’t have the money to visit galleries or museums, but my mother was able to open up the worlds of art and culture to me through documentaries on the BBC, programmes that broadened my horizons and transformed my view of the world. Civilisations is the next chapter in that tradition of TV with the power to change lives.”

  • Mary Beard, the well-known Cambridge classicist, will present two programmes, putting the art and culture of ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt into a much wider context using early material from China, India and Mexico.

“This programme explores the art and architecture we can see in the museums, galleries and streets of the UK. But it also raises big questions of what [British] civilisation is… and the sometimes fine line that separates civilisation from barbarity.”

This is about the civilisations of the world … it’s an extraordinarily ambitious project (Evening Standard)

Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, said of the commission, “I remember the impact Civilisation had on me when I was in school: it was the start of a lifelong passion for the arts. Inspired by that great programme of the past, we want to excite a new generation. We want to show them the power of art and creativity across the world – from the dawn of civilisation to today. I’m thrilled that Simon, Mary and David, three outstanding broadcasters, have accepted the challenge."




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