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Adoration in the Forest

   2010    Art
Painted over five centuries ago, Filippo Lippi's nativity is like none other: it shows the birth of Christ in a dark, wooded wilderness. There are no shepherds, kings, ox, ass – there is no Joseph. Its beauty inspired Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. But it also conceals a deeply personal story. It was painted for Cosimo de Medici, a wealthy banker who feared that his money was dragging him straight to hell. The artist's life was equally surprising. One of the most celebrated painters of his day, Filippo Lippi was also a Carmelite friar, but he was no stranger to the temptations of the flesh, to which he frequently yielded. Shortly before painting his Adoration, he caused uproar by seducing a twenty year-old nun. His paintings rejoice not only in divine beauty, but in the beauty of women. In later times, the Adoration's history was interwoven with that of rulers and dictators. It became a bargaining chip after Napoleon's allies seized twenty merchant ships. And in the 20th century, it was hidden by the Nazis in a potassium mine, where specialist american officers, known as Monuments Men, stumbled upon it. they were now told to get it ready to be shipped out. In an unprecedented turn of events they refused. This is the only known case in the whole of the Second World War of American officers refusing an order. It was sent to the National Gallery of Art, but in 1949 Lippi's Adoration was returned to Germany.
Series: The Private Life of a Masterpiece

Battle for the Himalayas: The Fight to Film Everest

   2015    History
Between the 1920s and the 1960s the world's great powers sent vast military-style expeditions to conquer the peaks of the Himalayas, with Everest at their head. This was a great game played - camera in hand - by Imperial Britain, Nazi Germany and superpower America. As a result, Himalayan mountaineering's most iconic, epic and tragic moments didn't just go down in history, but were caught on film - from the deaths of Mallory and Irvine on Everest in 1924, to Everest's final conquest in 1953 by Hillary and Tensing. Using footage never before seen on British television, this is the story how of how film-makers turned the great peaks into great propaganda.

Caligula

   2013    History
Two thousand years ago one of history's most notorious individuals was born. Professor Mary Beard embarks on an investigative journey to explore the life and times of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus - better known to us as Caligula. Caligula has now become known as Rome's most capricious tyrant, and the stories told about him are some of the most extraordinary told about any Roman emperor. He was said to have made his horse a consul, proclaimed himself a living God, and indulged in scandalous orgies - even with his own three sisters - and that's before you mention building vast bridges across land and sea, prostituting senators' wives and killing half the Roman elite seemingly on a whim. All that in just four short years in power before a violent and speedy assassination in a back alley of his own palace at just 28-years-old." But how much of his story is true? Travelling across the Roman world - from Germany and Capri in the bay of Naples to the astonishing luxury of his life in imperial Rome - Mary attempts to peel away the myths. Some stories are difficult to get to the bottom of as they were written by hacks long after his death, but there is plenty of surviving evidence where the 'real' Caligula can be glimpsed. Such as in the extraordinary luxury of his private yachts outside Rome; in the designs he chose for his coins when he became Emperor; in an eye-witness account of Caligula's withering humour written in 41AD; the trial documents covering the mysterious death of his father when he was just seven-years-old; and even in a record of his imperial slaves - from the palace spy to his personal trainer. Piecing together the evidence, Mary puts Caligula back into the context of his times to reveal an astonishing story of murder, intrigue and dynastic family power. Above all, she explains why Caligula has ended up with such a seemingly unredeemable reputation. In the process, she reveals a more intriguing portrait of not just the monster, but the man.

Dream and Machine

   2010    Art
Andrew Graham-Dixon continues his exploration of German art by looking at the tumultuous 19th and early 20th centuries, and how artists were at the forefront of Germany's drive to become a single nation. Andrew travels to the north and the coastal town of Griefswald, the birthplace of Caspar David Friedrich, the most influential of the German Romantics, to discover how the Baltic coast impacted his mysterious paintings of the German landscape. He also visits Berlin and explores the art of the powerful Prussian state, which would spearhead the unification of Germany in 1871. The episode ends with the outbreak of World War I and the attempts of the artists Franz Marc and Otto Dix to rationalise the catastrophic experiences of the world's first technological war, a war driven by the Prussian innovations.
Series: The Art of Germany

Expanded Horizons

   2018    Science
Dr Hannah Fry travels down the fastest zip wire in the world to learn more about Newton's ideas on gravity. His discoveries revealed the movement of the planets was regular and predictable. James Clerk Maxwell unified the ideas of electricity and magnetism, and explained what light was. As if that wasn't enough, he also predicted the existence of radio waves. His tools of the trade were nothing more than pure mathematics. All strong evidence for maths being discovered.
But in the 19th century, maths is turned on its head when new types of geometry are invented. No longer is the kind of geometry we learned in school the final say on the subject. If maths is more like a game, albeit a complicated one, where we can change the rules, surely this points to maths being something we invent - a product of the human mind. To try and answer this question, Hannah travels to Halle in Germany on the trail of perhaps one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, Georg Cantor. He showed that infinity, far from being infinitely big, actually comes in different sizes, some bigger than others. This increasingly weird world is feeling more and more like something we've invented. But if that's the case, why is maths so uncannily good at predicting the world around us? Invented or discovered, this question just got a lot harder to answer.
Series: Magic Numbers
Becoming Human
Becoming Human

   2010    History
Seven Ages of Rock
Seven Ages of Rock

   2007    Art
Life in the Undergrowth
Life in the Undergrowth

   2005    Nature
Wild South America
Wild South America

   2005    Nature
The Men Who Built America
The Men Who Built America

   2012    History
Space Deepest Secrets
Space Deepest Secrets

   2019    Science
Conversations with Dolphins
Conversations with Dolphins

   2016    Science