Home / A&E / Books / The Face of Britain: A History of the Nation Through Its Portraits (Oxford University Press), by Simon Schama

The Face of Britain: A History of the Nation Through Its Portraits (Oxford University Press), by Simon Schama

Oct. 11, 2016
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Simon Schama became a celebrity intellectual for his PBS series “The Power of Art,” but much of his academic work has concerned British history. With The Face of Britain, Schama brings together both sides of his dual career as historian and art historian in a non-linear account of the U.K. through a selected set of images. Schama ranges widely for examples, choosing the pseudo-iconographic pictures of Elizabeth I, a medieval Jesus found hidden beneath layers of plaster and wallpaper, stately 18th-century portraits of wealth and the devastating mass-produced caricatures that followed—continuing through the age of photography and not disdaining the slightly disturbing portraits by Lucian Freud. The author, writing with his usual punch and panache, skillfully weaves political, religious, cultural and social history into an account approachable by people who fear that British history is little more than a recitation of Roman-numeraled monarchs. 

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