Simon Schama’s Power of Art by Simon Schama - review by Jane Rye

Jane Rye

Art From the Edge

Simon Schama’s Power of Art


BBC Books 439pp £25

Simon Schama’s Power of Art accompanies a television series of the same name to be shown this autumn, and sets out to capture 'moments of high-wire tension in the drama of creativity ... masterpieces made under acute stress'. The masterpieces are by Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrandt, David, Turner, Van Gogh, Picasso and Rothko, and the (somewhat questionable) idea seems to be that the very greatest masterpieces are produced through a process of 'heroic self-dramatisation' in times of personal crisis.

Caravaggio, on the run for murder, full of remorse, longing for redemption, paints The Beheading of St John the Baptist ('one of the most sublime outcries against cold power'), signing his name – in itself unusual at the time – in the blood flowing from the martyr's neck. Bernini, discovering

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