Booklist Reviews 2018 August #1
*Starred Review* Classicist and best-selling author Beard follows SPQR (2015) with this slim yet insightful illustrated volume based on two episodes of the BBC/PBS series Civilisations.The book is divided into two corresponding parts: the first examines the human body in art, the second, art and faith. Beard's reworking of Kenneth Clark's original BBC program shifts the focus from creator to audience while also giving women more due. And unlike Clark, Beard expands her view beyond western Europe to offer an admirable survey of cultures from Egypt to China, Judaism to Christianity, centuries past to the modern era, all while emphasizing the significance of the viewer over the artist. For example, the ancient Mexican work Olmec Wrestler is sculpted in a suspiciously classical style and is noticeably different from other Olmec statues, yet, real or fake, it was used to illustrate the sophistication of the Olmec civilization. As Beard emphasizes the power of the context in which we look at and interpret art, she ultimately suggests that civilization itself is a leap of faith. Beard is having fun in this joyfully accessible primer, backed with a robust appendix, for all interested in a new perspective on religion, art, and history. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2018 April #1
In a glittering tome meant as an accompaniment to the "How Do We Look" and "The Eye of Faith" portions of BBC/PBS's Civilisations, celebrated classicist Beard offers a wide-angled look at history through art. Part 1 focuses on Mesoamerica's Olmec heads, the massive statues of pharaoh Amenhotep III, and classical Greece's nudes, while Part 2 considers religious imagery from Angkor Wat to Islamic calligraphy to Venice. How we look at ourselves.
Copyright 2018 Library Journal.
LJ Reviews 2018 July #1
Beard (classics, Cambridge; SPQR) desires to shift the focus of art history from the artist to the viewer in this brief book, which serves as a companion to the PBS show Civilizations. Using extensive illustrations of painting, sculpture, and architecture from around the world and throughout history, the author explores how people looked at the human body and how they considered the divine through their art and how their expectations shaped such art in return. This work is successful in complicating the reader's understanding of how and why art functions rather than in providing any specific interpretations, particularly with respect to gender and authority issues. The multiple chapters on Greco-Roman sculpture are the strongest; the reader becomes a joint viewer with the author. Elsewhere, the brevity and the broad scope may prove challenging (or tantalizing): the reader gets only a brief glimpse or a quick thought in some sections. VERDICT Recommended for fans of this popular author, the Civilizations program, and those looking for brief foray into an alternative form of art appreciation.—Evan M. Anderson, Kirkendall P.L., Ankeny, IA
Copyright 2018 Library Journal.
PW Reviews 2018 June #2
Beard (Women & Power: A Manifesto) examines how people historically have interpreted art in this disjointed two-part narrative. Part one looks at depictions of the body in ancient art from around the world, including an enormous 3,000- year-old stone head that sits in a jungle in Mexico and ancient Chinese emperor Qin's tomb in China. In Greece, the sculpted, well-toned male body in statuary and painted pottery images of women performing domestic tasks convey a message about ideal living, which Beard likens to advertisements of the 1950s. Part two focuses on depictions of the divine in art as they appear in the Hindu temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia; cave art at Ajanta, India; a mosaic of Jesus at the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy; the Sancaklar Mosque in Istanbul; and elaborately illustrated Jewish Bibles that have sparked "human controversy and conflict, peril and risk." Beard's clear and often witty prose is on full display and, as usual, her book is filled with historical detail, but the two sections fail to come together. There are enough intriguing morsels to satisfy longtime fans of Beard, but the book as a whole feels underdeveloped. Illus. and photos. (Sept.)
Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.