In 1336, the Italian poet Petrarch climbed Mont Ventoux. It was a strange pilgrimage, undertaken five hundred years before the start of alpinism, and an adventure of the intellect as much as of the body. Petrarch took with him a miniature copy of the Confessions of St Augustine, having been inspired by a passage in which Augustine warns that while men might admire the ‘circumference of the ocean and the revolution of the stars’, they might yet neglect that equally vast landscape within their own minds.
John-Paul Stonard relates this story halfway through Creation, his formidable history of art since the origins of humanity. Petrarch’s sense of the macrocosmic and microcosmic orders of things is reflected in the ranging nature of the book. Stonard traverses the sweep of human history, moving between cultures and hemispheres,