50:08 | Visual arts

Face of Britain by Simon Schama

The Face in the Mirror  |  Season 1  |  Episode 5  |  Smooth/Arts

In this film, Simon Schama explores the complex motivations behind some of our most intriguing self-portraits, looking at what they say about both the creative minds of the artists who produced them and the human condition. From Tracy Emin's bed, a relic of our confessional age, to Lucien Freud's searing examinations of his ageing body, the film explores how all self-portraits stand on a knife-edge between self-indulgence and self-scrutiny. Schama explores the daring first glimmers of self-portraiture in a 13th-century manuscript, and how the incarceration of artist Gerlach Flicke led to the creation of the first English self-portrait that looks us straight in the eye. He shows how the frustrated potential of artist Isaac Fuller led to a self-portrait of unprecedented poignancy, and how the romantic imagination of Samuel Palmer created works of visionary beauty. Laura Knight's use of her own image to defy the male-dominated art establishment, and William Orpen's painted search for his own identity during World War I reflect the complex motivations that have driven artists to make themselves the subject of their work. Visiting the hundreds of figures that make up Antony Gormley's monumental sculpture Another Place, Schama reflects on this collective self-portrait that inspires us all to contemplate our place in the world.

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