Nature and Us – A History through Art episode 1: In this ambitous series, art historian James Fox tells the story of our ever-changing relationship with nature through the lens of some of the world’s most extraordinary artwork.
In this first episode, art historian James Fox explores the art of the ancient world to reveal the story of our earliest relationships with nature. From the art of prehistoric hunters and the advent of agriculture and our first cities to the arrival the great faiths, including Hinduism and Christianity, James shows how we began to wrestle with our place in nature and tried to control the great forces that shape our world. Along the way, we journey from Arctic Norway to the jungles of Guatemala and the holy city of Varanasi in India.
Beginning with cave paintings of animals and a fascinating 12,000-year-old carving of a reindeer, James shows how we were once much closer to nature. We meet Nils Peder, a contemporary Sami Reindeer Herder in northern Norway. His way of life is still influenced by a belief in nature’s spiritual energy and power. But then as James studies an ancient Egyptian model of cattle, we reach a dramatic turning point in our relationship with nature – the advent of agriculture.
At this point, humans collaborated with nature but ultimately took ‘control’. James takes this a step further with the extraordinary lion hunt carvings from the Assyrian palace of Nineveh. He demonstrates how it was at this time that humans began to set out to conquer nature. James then turns his attention to ways in which religion helped us make sense of the great shifts in our relationship with nature. We see the first human personifications of natural forces: the river Ganga in India and the ancient Greek god of the sky, Zeus. And we see how, in Christian art, nature becomes the backdrop for the very human-focused story of the crucifixion.
In this first great phase in human history, James reveals how we moved from caves to farms, to the emergence of the first civilisations and to global faiths. And through it all, he shows how we struggled to control nature and began to move away from it, no longer living as just one part of the natural world.
Nature and Us – A History through Art episode 1
Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city of Upper Mesopotamia, located on the outskirts of Mosul in modern-day northern Iraq. It is located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River and was the capital and largest city of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, as well as the largest city in the world for several decades. Today, it is a common name for the half of Mosul that lies on the eastern bank of the Tigris, and the country’s Nineveh Governorate takes its name from it.
It was the largest city in the world for approximately fifty years until the year 612 BC when, after a bitter period of civil war in Assyria, it was sacked by a coalition of its former subject peoples including the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians. The city was never again a political or administrative centre, but by Late Antiquity it was the seat of a Christian bishop. It declined relative to Mosul during the Middle Ages and was mostly abandoned by the 13th century AD.
Its ruins lie across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in Iraq’s Nineveh Governorate. The two main tells, or mound-ruins, within the walls are Tell Kuyunjiq and Tell Nabī Yūnus, site of a shrine to Jonah, the prophet who preached to Nineveh. Large amounts of Assyrian sculpture and other artifacts have been excavated there and are now located in museums around the world.