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Picturing Paradise

Series 1 - Episode 3 Picturing Paradise



This week’s theme is landscape art, which Simon Schama attacks with all his passion and eloquence, telling us at the start that the genre “has always been an antidote to the anarchy wrought by the hand of man” and is about upholding “that most terrifying and thrilling of all truths: our place in the cosmos”.

So having given us plenty to think about, he takes us on a grand tour of masterpieces across the ages. We begin in 10th-century China and end with Ansel Adams’s stirring black-and-white photographs of Yosemite in the American West.

Along the way, there’s a lovely section on Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his busy paintings of peasant life – “compendious, visually inexhaustible masterpieces… an encyclopedia of human comedy” – and a trip to a sunlit Italian villa that looks, from the depths of a British winter, like heaven.


Simon Schama explores the artistic depiction of nature. He discovers that landscape painting is seldom a straightforward description of observed nature but rather a projection of dreams and idylls. His journey takes him from 10th-century China, where he looks at the scrolls of the Song dynasty, to the country villas of the Renaissance. He also travels to America and Holland, finding landscapes that are respectively expansive and confined, revealing a kind of earthly paradise and a sense of nationhood.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Simon Schama
Director Ian Leese
Executive Producer Denys Blakeway
Executive Producer Michael Jackson
Series Producer Melanie Fall