Treasures of Ancient Egypt (Ep 1); The Art of the Vikings

There's a new series just started called Treasures of Ancient Egypt, so of course we're watching it not long after it airs (the day after, actually, but because of the way I've scheduled my blog posts this post has gone live 8 days after). The series is presented by Alastair Sooke, and is similar in format to the Treasures of Ancient Rome series that he did a while ago (post). It is a chronological survey of the art of Ancient Egypt from the early pre-dynastic through to Cleopatra, each episode will have 10 "treasures" and this first episode covered the period up till the end of the Old Kingdom.

I'm not going to name check each piece of art, but he covered quite a wide range of types and styles. Some were well known iconic pieces (like the Great Pyramid or the Narmer palette), and some were less well known. Although having said that, I think we thought we'd seen most (but not all) of the items in the flesh - we have seen rather more than the average number of Egyptian museum collections tho! He started with petroglyphs out in the Sahara dating from before the Sahara was a desert, which pre-dates the association of the people who will later become the Egyptians with the Nile. But he was able to point out features in this carvings that anticipate the later art style we expect (like figures with front facing torsos but legs in profile). Because he was looking at each piece as a piece of art rather than in terms of what it tells us about the historical context there were things I'd not thought of before. For instance he used the Meidum geese (a personal favourite of mine) to illustrate how the Egyptian artists used small variations in their strict symmetry to stop it looking sterile and boring - so with the geese there are differences in tail position etc that keep it interesting. There were also a handful of segments with modern Egyptian artists working in the same mediums as the ancient artists, which to be honest I found less interesting.

The next episode will cover the Middle Kingdom & the New Kingdom - so I imagine we'll have Akhenaten-era stuff and something of Tutankhamun's as our well known items.


Amongst the other programmes we watched over the week was a one-off programme presented by Janina Ramirez about Viking art, called The Art of the Vikings (part of the Secret Knowledge series, which are all one-off half hour programmes, I only recorded this one). Ramirez was showing us the Viking items from an exhibition in Edinburgh, and giving us some context for them - demonstrating that the Vikings weren't solely the destroyers of popular culture. There wasn't particularly any new information (to me), but it was nice to see the objects. Especially fine was a large silver brooch (for holding a cloak shut), and I also liked the bead necklaces.

But I mostly mention this programme because it was somewhat startlingly amateur. Ramirez was a good presenter as she generally is, and the filming was also good - but the sound was very variable, with some bits sounding like Ramirez was recorded in a bathroom. And the onscreen titles were dreadful - the chosen font/layout had really weird spacing between the letters, with every "i" seemingly suspended in space making words like "Ramirez" read more like "Ram i rez".


Other TV watched this week:

Episodes 1 & 2 of Strange Days: Cold War Britain - series about Britain and British culture during the Cold War, presented by Dominic Sandbrook.

Episode 2 of Rise of the Continents - series about the geology of the continents and how that's shaped them and their wildlife (and us) presented by Iain Stewart. This episode was about Australia.

Episode 5 of Tudor Monastery Farm - part re-enactment, part documentary about what life would be like living on and running a farm in 1500.

Episode 1 of Sacred Wonders of Britain - Neil Oliver visits several sacred sites in Britain dating from prehistoric times through to the Reformation.

The Truth About Immigration - one-off programme presented by Nick Robinson about immigration into the UK. He talked to immigrants, Brits, employers & politicians, and got across how complicated the subject is and how little it's actually debated in an informed fashion.