Consider the “Spong Man”. A squat determine crafted by Anglo Saxons in the fifth century, he might not feel like considerably at initial glance. But glance closer, and in his hollowed-out eyes and parted lips, you’ll find an embodiment of existential despair in the Dark Ages. For the sculptor Antony Gormley, Spong is a “cousin” of his most up-to-date piece, which depicts a man overwhelmed by lockdown melancholy.

Spong is the unofficial poster boy for the exceptional new BBC documentary Art That Designed Us. An eight-component series, it tells two powerful tales in tandem. 1 is a sweeping survey of 1,500 decades of British historical past via an impressive array of operates: from literature to tunes, little gems to extensive stained-glass home windows. These transport us back to monumental occasions and give us perception into what daily life was like in these isles all through the eight important “turning points” identified, one particular for each episode.

Antony Gormley in his London studio © BBC/ClearStory/Menace

The other tale that the sequence tells is just one about British lifestyle and identity, how it retains expanding and enriching alone by way of regular “conversations” concerning artists — such as Gormley’s millennia-spanning dialogue with an nameless Anglo-Saxon potter — and viewers from distinct eras.

Every episode engages with the system of contextualisation and re-contextualisation. A dialogue of the historic importance of the Bayeux Tapestry prospects to a reflection on how this type of visual storytelling paved the way for the graphic novels of nowadays. Richard II’s penchant for decadent portraits provokes the issue: would he have designed a splash on social media? And a circumstance is manufactured for Beowulf as a prototypical piece of slam poetry – an creative claim, nevertheless unlikely to encourage an undergrad suffering by means of the in the vicinity of-impenetrable text.

Artwork That Built Us doesn’t talk to the queries you could assume. It is eager to surprise — not the very least with the significant rotation of Huge Assault on the soundtrack — and to challenge our preconceptions about the past. We might use “medieval” as an antonym for “progressive”, but anything from the poetry to the woodcarvings of that time expose concepts about human psychology, women’s legal rights and class conflict that foreshadow our personal. It’s a humbling reminder that fashionable views and tactics aren’t usually all that novel.

★★★★☆

On BBC2 and iPlayer from April 7 at 9pm new episodes weekly