A great and erudite teacher.

I had the most extraordinary case of deja vu the other day, having indulged in the DVD set of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation. I mention this as I have frequently maintained that there is more for photographers to learn from the art of the Renaissance than in any other field of visual rendering. Click on Paintings for more.

The nature of this strange flashback was that, as Lord Clark was extolling the insane abstraction to be found in Giotto’s faces (Giotto died in 1337, so hardly a Johhny-come-lately) I found myself rooting for something on Giorgione and, suddenly, Clark is talking about him. Now I want some Caravaggio and sure enough, up it comes. Then Donatello, Veronese and Michelangelo. What was going on here? My every wish was Clark’s command!

Then it struck me. Civilisation was released by the BBC in 1969, when I was 18 and just getting serious about the Renaissance. Until then I had been fixated for years on the Impressionists, later Cezanne for his nascent cubism and Degas for his perfect sense of line (until Seurat chanced on the scene, that is). The Old was not for me. All those stuffy oils, over framed, in big galleries. Well, the reality is that, unknown to me these 40 years, Lord Clark had been my teacher. So perfect was Clark’s taste, so beautiful his mellifluous use of that most gorgeous of languages, English (it has fallen out of use since) that I sat entranced and overjoyed at this journey of artistic and spiritual discovery.

As a photographer you are interested in images. As a photographer, your education remains incomplete without an appreciation of the Renaissance and there is no better way to gain that than with this series. Sure, Clark doesn’t affect polyester clothing or make any effort to conceal his patrician leanings. On the other hand, he has no cynicism or snobbery in his make up and the whole is simply a delight. I guiltily admit to having put in the first DVD last night and found that I had sat through four episodes before it was time for bed.

I think you may have the same reaction.