Thursday, March 24, 2011

Islamic Art : Dome of the Rock

Dome of Rock Temple Mount completed 691 CE ,Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock is perhaps one of the greatest and more splendid examples of Islamic Art. This sacred building, was built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a place considered holy by Jewish and Muslims alike. It is believed by art historians that this was the very site were the temple of Solomon, that sacred temple inspired of God to King David and built under the supervision of his son Solomon, was erected. This temple was later destroyed and in its place was constructed the Dome of the Rock because Muslims believed that the rocks over which the temple was built actually holds the remains of Adam and Abraham. The need for the Muslim people to build their temple in such a sacred place , compares to the Greeks who would build their temples on specially places , high on the mountain tops , were all the citizens could see the temple from every angle of the city . Early Islamic art was mostly expressed on mosaics and textiles, when expressed on as paintings it would rarely if ever portrayed human beings or animals, this was because of the Sharia Law mentioned in the Qur’an which forbidden human beings to be painted or shown in art, instead Muslims used geometric figures in combination with Calligraphy to create magnificent art of works that would decorate the inside of their sacred buildings and shrines. Often the Art of Calligraphy in their shrines would site pages from the Qur’an and mentioned the name of God to remind his followers of his greatness and magnificent power. It is interesting to notice that Muslims didn’t use human imagery in their art for the fear of becoming idolatrous people and sinning against God, but that did not stop them from finding a new art method that would allow them to worship and venerate their God, or Allah ,without the fear of compromising their beliefs and committing a great sin. Islamic art also employed the use of geometrical shapes and calligraphy to decorate the walls of mosques with floral and vegetal themes, which would serve as a reminded to the faithful that after following the teachings of the Qur’an and the prophet paradise would await for them in the next life. The use of the dome provides the same heavenly qualities the Romans and early Christians tried to achieve by adorning their architecture with dome. The use of the dome would mimic the heavens and give the followers the idea of being closer to heaven. Many aspects of Islamic art were borrowed from roman and early Christian and Byzantine and this can be simply seen by how Muslims vastly used mosaics to decorate their places of worship.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Byzantine:Basilica of San Vitale

Basilica of San Vitale begun ca. 527, Ravenna ,Italy

Perhaps one of the most significant examples of Early Byzantine architecture and arts is the Basilica of San Vitale, which was built during the reign of Justinian, one of the major patrons of the arts during the Byzantine period ; it is estimated that during his lifetime he restored and built about 30 churches. Some of the same traditions of Christian art carried over to Byzantine art, the subject matter still was considered more important than the accurate representation of the figures, biblical subjects were still being used and represented in mosaics and reliefs, painting was also started to be used but it wasn’t as popular as the two mentioned before. In less words, Spiritual matters were more important to  represent even though secular subjects were started to be represented in mosaic as ell. One of the differences of Byzantine art is that it is not as simple as previous art, early Christian art was more simplistic and less elaborate but Byzantine art though religious seemed to be more elegant, and a bit more exaggerated and luxurious. It could be very possible that the legalization of Christianity and allowing early Christians to publicly worship , what lead Christianity to expand and to create architecture, relief and mosaics that would reverence god and would celebrate the divinity of Christ. The Icon was another major “invention” in Byzantine art, an Icon is a painting that represents a holy being and is made with the purpose to be used as method of worshiping that holy being, in the basilica of San Vitale many of these icons can still be seen in many of the mosaics within the building. San Vitale’s Basilica itself it’s a great symbol of worshiping, the simplicity of the outside doesn’t do it justice to the magnificently decorated inside of the church, mosaics representing the lives of the apostles, Jesus and biblical stories cover the walls, also the used of the Dome is something pretty significant, one of the first buildings to use a dome was the Pantheon, or the temple to many gods, the Pantheon’s dome, was build to represent the heavens and proximity to God, perhaps that was the reason of why the Christians took this pagan idea and applied it to their temples, so that the worshipers at the moment they stepped into the temple they would know that this place was a different place, set apart from the world , a place so sacred that it had to resemble the heavens in order for it to make the followers of Christ feel closer to him than before. San Vitale’s dome used pendentives to distribute the weight of the dome evenly, and to give it that sense of space and height. When looking at San Vitale one can see the importance of man on creating such a luxurious building for their God, but one can’t  not ignore thinking that such a magnificent structure could have been used for political purposes also, to show their power to other countries.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Late Antiquity: The Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus ( early christian art)

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus c.359 CE Rome, Italy

Towards the end of the third century a new form of art started to emerge from the secretive places early Christians in Rome would gather to practice their so forbidden religion. In a time when Rome’s main religion involved polytheism and paganism early Christians were persecuted and exterminated, it is perhaps why much of the early Christians’ art has been found in tombs and catacombs. Under the control of Constantine, Christianity was legalized and the early Christians were allowed to build their own places of worship which many of them were build on tomb of existing catacombs as a way to express their sympathy and reverence for the early Christians who had been martyrs and had given up their lives for their religion. By the late 4th century, Christianity had become the main religion under the reign of Theodosius the great. Though Christian art borrowed some aspects of the art that had previously been created by the Greeks and Romans, it didnt not share the same emphasis on movement, realism and accuracy, rather it focused more in the context and the meaning behind the representation of the sculpture, relief or mosaic, which were among the preferred art mediums of early Christian art. Another significant thing to point out is that early Christian art doesn’t focus much on portraying Christ but on portraying histories from the Old Testament that somehow related to the life of Christ, an example of this can be seen on the “Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus” the idea of relief on sarcophagus wasn’t unique to the early Christians, it was a practiced used by Romans  but the Christians also embraced it. On this sarcophagus we can see several biblical stories portrayed, on the bottom left side of the sarcophagus we can see a relief of Adam and Eve, on right bottom side we also see Daniel in the den of lions. Early Christians considered important for them to create relief based on biblical stories because they served as a medium to educate others about these stories and also as a way for them to show reverence and respect to Christ. Truth is that in the book of Exodus, the worshiping of graven images is forbidden but these reliefs weren’t seen as idols but as mean of expression to early Christians. Iconography was also another big aspect of early Christian art, iconography involved the used of symbols to represent Christ and his divinity, among the most popular symbols that were used to represent Christ was the fish, the peacock and the shepherd, very often is Christ portrayed as a shepherd, the good shepherd who has come to save his people and will take care of them. Perhaps, and I don’t know this for a fact, maybe early use of iconography was probably a way to be able to represent their savior in a time in Rome when their religion was not tolerated. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Roman: The Capitoline Triad

The Capitoline Triad ( Minerva , Jupiter and Juno)

The Romans just like the Greeks share a lot of similarities when it comes to religion, both were monotheistic and had numberless amounts of gods to whom people could pray to depending on what it was that they needed , many of the gods the Romans had were adopted from the Greeks and their names where changed to accommodate their culture and beliefs, and example of this can be seen in the Capitoline Triad, which displays Minerva, Jupiter and Juno, Minerva is the equivalent of Athena the Greek goddess , Jupiter is the same as Zeus and Juno would be to whom the Greeks referred to as Hera. In General Romans were able to worship whoever they decided as long as they didn't neglect the main deities of the republic.
In Rome , one of the main  deities of the country was Juno, known for being the goddess of marriage women and the patron of the Roman people ,would often pray to her and offer sacrifices to keep her content. 
Roman gods and goddess just as those portrayed by late classical Greek art, are portrayed in a  idealistic form and elegant garments , as way to show dedication to their gods, they also erected massive constructions and temples , an example of this is the temple the temple of "the Best, Greatest, Capitoline Jupiter" in Capitoline hill , Rome.

The building of great monuments and statues shows us the importance of religious life in Rome.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Greek: Kore of Euthydikos

Kore of Euthydikosc,Athens,Greece 490 BCE

Ancient Greeks, just like other civilizations before them and during their time, were polytheistic, and each god was attributed a certain role, for example Zeus was known as being the god of all the gods and mortals, his daughter Athena, to whom Greeks dedicated the temple of Athena Nike, was known as the goddess of wisdom. During the Archaic period of Greek art, people developed the use of Kores , female statues with the traditional archaic smile that were commissioned by wealthy individuals to represent them before the gods and or serve the gods for them. Kore were usually made to life size and were often portrayed wearing what is call a chiton , a traditional garment of ancient Greece, if we look closely at the chiton one can see more interest from the sculptors in creating more realistic drapery by looking at how the clothing drapes around the body and how it falls on it as well, something truly more realistic and advance than previous sculptures. Artist in the archaic period are drawing closer to the interest in realism and proportionate anatomy that would developed in the Hellenistic period. In fact to add more to its realism Greeks would paint the Kore to make them look more "life-like". The fact that the ancient Greeks designed the Kore to represent them before the gods goes to show again that relationship between deity and mortals, either the ancient Greeks were really concerned with satisfying the gods and be in a good standing with them or perhaps they were making this statues as to show their socioeconomic status and fulfill their social obligations. The Kore as mentioned before were commissioned by the wealthy so it would make sense if the ornamentation and realism  of such figures had to do with this.Another thing to considered is that the Kore always bore the name of the person that it was created for and its purpose. Very similar to what wealthy patrons did during the Renaissance in Italy whenever they would commissioned a portrait of a Saint or Jesus, they often had their name display on the painting or themselves be put in it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Prehistoric Aegean: Minoan Snake goddess

Snake goddess, Knossos Palace (Crete) Greece

The purpose of my blog is to discuss the role of religion among ancient civilizations and the interaction of mortals with deity, yet I'm finding hard to find works that portray my subject in certain civilizations.

Very little is known about the subject of religion during the Minoan period, likewise very little is also known about their life style and rulers but because of the discoveries at the Knossos palace and other archeological sites close to the area many archeologist and historians have developed some theories that might help us understand the significance of some of the objects found at this archeological sites, one example of that is the statue of the "Snake goddess”. 
It is believed that these statue either represented a deity or a priest or priestess worshiping a certain deity, one of the theories that I found very interesting is that one that suggests that because mostly figures of females have been found that the Minoans practiced more of a matriarchal religion, they worshipped fertility goddesses and earth goddesses, perhaps this respect and worshipping of a female goddess is due to the fact that women is known as bearer of life and the means of a civilization to continue growing . The snakes that she holds on her hands could also be seen as the "renewal of life" because snakes after some period of time they shed their skin and reveal a newer skin, it could be very possible that these animals that are disliked in other cultures, were some how admire by the Minoans and thus related them to women, not some much in a bad manner but as if both of them share similarities when it comes to life. Some male figurines have been found but they don’t seem to resemble or hold the same importance as many of the figurines found of the Snake goddess, or other fertility figurines.

It is also important to notice that regardless of the subject matter of the object still shows characteristics of Aegean art, an example of this can be seen on the thin cinched waist of the goddess and the large open eyes, also in this figure we can see an effort to portray a more realistic figure (something the Minoans were concerned with) by showing us what a women would have worn during that time period. More characteristic of Minoan art can be seen at this fresco painting named "Prince of lilies” found at the Palace of Knossos as well, noticed the cinched waist, and though it shows the twisted perspective the Egyptians used, it shows more movement, which makes it a bit more realistic.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Egyptian: Pharoah Akhenaten and his family adoring the Aten

 Pharoah Akhenaton and his family adoring the Aten , Amarna style

Pharaoh Akhenaton, or Amenhotep IV, ruled during the 18th dynasty and became to be known as one of the most revolutionary pharaohs in Egypt's history, he not only introduced a new artistic style known as Amarna art which lasted only for the time that he was pharaoh but also introduced a new religion known as Atenism. At the beginning of his reign, he ordered that all of the temples were destroyed and demanded that only Aton or Aten would be worshiped, this was a drastic switch from polytheism to monotheism, Aton, the sun disks was the only one to be worship, and Akhenaton declared himself as the son and only prophet of Aton.

According to Atenism, Aton was both male and female and just like the son that sheds light and provides life, energy and growth to everything single living thing that is touched by it, so did Aton, he was the provided of warmth, light and growth to Egypt. In the art of Amarna period, Aton is always portrayed as a disk emitting rays that end on a hand shape. The style of this relief if very common of the Amarna period, the shapes still reflect that twisted perspective of the earlier times, where the torso would be frontal and the legs and arms on profile view, but the bodies and are no longer idealized figures, instead, wide hips are emphasized on the Pharaoh and his family members as well as a large saggy stomach, still their clothing is elaborated and so are their head pieces as to remind the viewer that these people are royalty and important figures, this relief , also as the stele of Ur-nammu , shows a mortal ruler interacting with the gods or the main deity of the time and place. In this stele pharaoh and his family receive the rays of Aton, as if they were receiving his grace and approval on the decisions pharaoh does. I believe its interesting that two different civilizations such as the Sumerians and the Egyptians, in this case, knew the importance of portraying their rulers interacting with deity, that not only tell the people that they were called by the gods but that they themselves were supposed to be seem somehow as the gods and respected as such.