Too much for your front room?

20th October 2006 at 01:00
Simon Schama provides interesting insights, but you might be better off with the book

Simon Schama's Power of Art. BBC2, Fridays, October 20-December 8, 9-10pm

You know that an academic has achieved popular fame when he gets his name above the title, and historian Simon Schama has undoubtedly made it. In his new, eight-part series he stakes his claim to the power of art, focusing on eight artists who changed the way we see the world and whose work, at the same time, reflects a significant moment in history.

First up is Caravaggio, who arrived on the scene as the Roman Catholic Church was trying to regain the ground it was losing as a result of the Reformation. In the war for souls, Schama tells us, "paintings were not art, they were the heavy artillery".

Michelangelo Merisi, arriving in Rome in 1593 from his home town of Caravaggio, was one of the big guns but also something of a loose cannon, and Schama makes good copy of the young painter's revelling among the low life of the capital. In his art, Schama says, Caravaggio was responsible for a revolution in the way that we see things, which he achieved by using the ordinary people around him as his model for religious subjects and creating "something sacred out of the sordid".

Eventually, wanted for murder, he made a painting of David holding the severed head of Goliath, using himself as the model for Goliath. He never lived to collect the price on his own head, dying of fever before the age of 40.

Next week, we remain in Rome while Schama takes a close look at Bernini's Saint Theresa. The historian's emphatic delivery, good for the lecture theatre, can be irritating in the home, but what he has to say is always interesting.

If you prefer the material without the personality, see the inevitable book of the series (BBC Books pound;25).

South Bank Show: Thomas Hardy. ITV, Sunday, October 22, 11.10pm-12.10am

An exceptionally good South Bank Show this week, in which Melvyn Bragg interviews Claire Tomalin about her biography of Thomas Hardy.

She tells us why she thinks that the death of Hardy's wife helped to make him a great poet, then traces the history of the Hardys' marriage, against the background of the writer's poetry and novels. A few discreet dramatisations and lots of evocative scenes of Dorset countryside make this a fine television portrait and an easy-to-follow introduction to Hardy.

Next week, the strand continues with a profile of the best-selling British author of the 1980s, Sue Townsend, who talks about her failing health and comes out with views on politics, religion and life that readers of Adrian Mole might find surprising.

Boys Allowed: The New Voices of Islam. BBC1, Tuesday, October 24, 11.25pm-12.25am

Seven 8 Six is an American boy band with a difference: their aim is to spread faith through music and to promote a contemporary image of Islam.

However, their popularity and their Western style have seemed to some Muslims to be conceding too much, and this programme discusses the wider issues that this raises, of cultural fusion and identity.

Continues the debate on Islam, multiculturalism, identity and integration.

Julian Worricker Show: Who Cares?. BBC Radio Five Live, Sunday, October 22, 11am-12 noon

Is the present system of public care adequate to protect vulnerable children? Are major reforms needed? Mary Rhodes looks at cases where children have been the victims of physical and sexual abuse, even though social workers had warned that they were in danger.

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