Faramerz Dabhoiwala at The Guardian:
In the summer of 1520, towards the end of his life, the great German artist Albrecht Dürer travelled from his home in Nuremberg to the Low Countries, to meet his new patron, the Holy Roman emperor Charles V. At the same time, halfway across the world in the middle of the Americas, the Spanish adventurer Hernán Cortés was carrying out his merciless siege of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán. By the time it fell, on 13 August 1521, much of the city lay in ruins, and as many as 100,000 of its inhabitants had already died. Many more were massacred as the victors set about plundering whatever they could lay their hands on. When the first shipment of spoils arrived in Brussels, Dürer was one of those who flocked to examine it. He was blown away. “All the days of my life,” he wrote in his diary, “I have seen nothing that rejoiced my heart so much as these things, for I saw amongst them wonderful works of art, and I marvelled at the subtle ingenuity of men in foreign lands. Indeed I cannot express all that I thought there.”
This vignette of cross-global inspiration is one of the highlights of David Olusoga’s new book, a richly illustrated companion volume to the two episodes he is presenting in the BBC’s new Civilisations. In outline, its format is fairly Eurocentric and conventional. Despite all the fuss that has been made about the TV project’s updating of Kenneth Clark’s 1969 series Civilisation, Olusoga’s own approach is framed in terms that would hardly have shocked audiences 50 years ago: the first half of the book considers contact between civilisations in “the European Age of Discovery” (from the 15th to the 18th centuries), while the second looks at the impact of industrialisation on the art and artists of the 19th century.