What’s in it for me? Learn what art can tell us about civilization.

Art shapes the way we understand the world around us.

Sometimes it does so in grand ways, as with the pyramids of ancient Egypt – which let everybody know exactly who was in charge. But it can be more subtle than that. For example, a portrait on a wall is a powerful reminder of the people who matter most to us.

Art is, therefore, a great place to start when understanding other places and periods, and can help us to unlock the values and ideas of civilizations. Just as a Damien Hirst installation tells us a great deal about our postmodern society, an ancient wine cooler or a medieval mosque can provide plenty of clues about what people believed in the past.

That’s exactly the approach renowned classicist Mary Beard takes in this far-ranging and fascinating look at the history of artistic representation. From Pharaonic Egypt to Buddhist India and Reformation England, these blinks unpack the ways humans have depicted the world around them and what it all means.

In the following blinks, you’ll find out

  • why Italian Renaissance painters painted Biblical figures in contemporary clothing;
  • how civilizations that rejected images represented the divine; and
  • why the first Chinese emperor was buried with 7000 terracotta soldiers.