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Art That Made Us

30 March 2022

Cardiff historian contributes to landmark television series telling an alternative history of the British Isles

Cardiff historian Dr Marion Loeffler has shared expertise in the richness of Welsh history in a brand new series hitting screens throughout April.

Through 1,500 years and eight dramatic turning points, the landmark series Art that Made Us presents an alternative history of the British Isles told through art.

Among the cultural historians exploring key cultural works that define each age are Clare Lees, Patrick Wright, Temi Odumosu, Heather Jones, Murray Pittock, John Mullan, Afua Hirsch and Nandini Das.

Leading British creatives including Anthony Gormley, Simon Armitage, Cornelia Parker, Shani Rhys James, Lubaina Himid, Eddie Izzard, and Michael Sheen reflect on the work with a contemporary eye.

The eight-part series explores art from all genres that emerged at some of the most exciting times of crisis and turbulence.
Each hour episode of Art That Made Us explores eight to ten artworks from around the United Kingdom, encountered on location by contemporary working artists. They link the past to the present, revealing the impact of historic works on their own art today.

Reader in Welsh History Dr Marion Loeffler has contributed to the entire series, appearing on screen in various episodes including Lights in the Darkness, Queens, Feuds and Faith and Rise of the City.

The opening Lights in the Darkness episode reveals how the turbulent era that followed the Roman occupation of Britain, once known as the dark ages, was in fact a time of glittering art and extraordinary cultural fusions, tracing how Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Norse peoples fought for supremacy, leaving behind mysterious fragments of art. Dr Loeffler offers historic context as actor Michael Sheen performs Y Gododdin, the seventh century Welsh poem of resistance against the Anglo-Saxons.

She also sheds light on the role of the Welsh Bible in the early modern religious revolution, as Queens, Feuds and Faith tells the story of significant parts of the British Isles turning Protestant. Joined by Dr Lisa Tallis, the episode features the University’s own rare (and well-thumbed) edition of William Morris’ Bible, which is cared for by the Special Collections and Archives team.

In Rise of the City, charting the decisive 19th century shift of power from countryside to the city, the Reader in Welsh History discusses Penry Williams’ attempt to capture the beauty of industry with works like Cyfarthfa Ironworks Interior at Night.

The series sweeps from the battles following Roman dominance and the creative renewal of the Middle Ages to the battle of queens and faith during the Reformation and the bitter Civil War that raged across all the kingdoms. Exploring the consumer boom of the Georgian era and growth of a new conscience about slavery to the explosive growth of the city during the 19th century, the series expands to the artists who imagined better futures amid world wars before considering the expansion of culture, youth, sex and rebellion post 1960.

Art That Made Us is screened on BBC Two across April, with its exciting sister arts festival taking place across the four UK nations.

The university’s Special Collections and Archives is one of numerous sites supporting the UK-wide arts initiative.

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