Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Kenneth Clark's Civilisation

I've been reading Kenneth Clark's Civilisation, it's a hoot. It's a hoot in the way that the fluidity of tone perfectly reflects the attributes of the man. Therefore he would make the perfect candidate for a 'Reputations' column in the AR, but somehow I doubt this will happen (Clark is considered well dilettante these days, but back when 'Civilisation' was made in to a twelve part TV series for BBC2 in 1969, it was considered the real deal). This impression is not helped by his son, Alan, who is famous for his diaries, a moat, fast cars, love of dogs, and his womanizing as an MP.
The funniest bit, so far, is his view on the Gothic, which is pretty much in line with his buying a castle, love of moats, love of dogs, courtly love, and so on. But worse is his enchantment with St Francis of Assisi. Personally I am enchanted that he was enchanted with the story of the worst (as far as I can see) of the saints; converting animals and birds to Christianity is a step too far for most of us, and Pasolini made a fabulously funny film , Hawks and Sparrows, poking fun at the whole idea. This lodges in the mind.
Clark loves the story of St Francis, who cast his riches, even his clothes, to the wind. This is as curious as it is compelling, for Clark's father was a very successful capitalist who was reputed to be 'The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo' and retired to the life of the idle rich. Clearly Clark loathed his family's bourgeois success, and couldn't help himself conscientiously striving for aristocracy (the last residue of court). Clearly Clarks cushioned existence lead him toward both personal elevation (social climbing) and to fantasize over it's opposite, and once more cause and effect make themselves evident. His art criticism is lyrical, but also definitively sentimental, and these are the aspects so evident in his appreciation of medieval art, where the two are conveniently combined in myth. Compare with E.H. Gombrich for a good dissertation subject.

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