A History of Art in Three Colours


Series 1 - Episode 1 Gold



Art historian James Fox may look like the lead singer in a New York rock band (black tie and jacket, jeans and shades), but he sets about his task of illustrating how colours carry deep significance for humans with a vigour and intellectualism that belie his youthful image.

He starts his examination of our timeless obsession with all things golden with a striking scene in the vault beneath the Bank of England, surrounded by 65,000 bars worth £500,000 each. From there it’s a eye-opening jaunt around ancient Egypt, Christian Rome, Byzantium, Renaissance Florence, 17th-century Saxony and 19th-century Birmingham to chart how gold always reflected that which different cultures held sacred.

Fox is a great storyteller, with a lively eye for telling details, and the whole film is suitably suffused with a shimmering golden light. Exquisite.


Art historian James Fox follows up his British Masters series by investigating artists' use of blue, white and gold, and explains how, by choosing these colours, painters have stirred emotions, changed the way people behave and had an impact on the course of history. He begins with gold and its use in early sun worship, before reinterpreting the treasures of the pharaohs, the mosaics of Byzantium and the work of Renaissance master Benvenuto Cellini. He also explores Gustav Klimt's The Kiss and discovers a Birmingham inventor who tried to achieve the alchemist's dream - turning base metals into gold.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Dr James Fox
Director Matt Hill
Executive Producer Jonty Claypole
Producer Matt Hill