Akhenaton Religion and Art

December 25, 2013 at 11:08 pm (Art History) (, , , , , )

The Amarna Period was characterized by governmental and religious reforms with artistic implications that both challenged traditions and defined an era.  Only through luck and perseverance has any evidence of this obscured age been unearthed.

During the eighteenth dynasty, a line of warrior pharaohs reclaimed and expanded Egyptian lands, creating the largest Empire in history.  After the dust had settled[i], the new pharaoh, Amenhotep[ii] III, faced a time of peace and prosperity.  Unfortunately, this security was potentially threatened by the powerful, nearby civilizations of Babylonia, Assyria and Mitanni.  Fearing war, Amenhotep III began diplomatic correspondence with the other Near East rulers.  In 1887, an Egyptian peasant woman found a collection of clay tablets outside the city of Amarna, which were found to be these letters.  According to the tablets, the surrounding lands bestowed the Pharaoh with extravagant gifts and beautiful, royal brides.  The subordinate nations were continually at his mercy because they coveted Egypt’s gold.  Employing his vast riches, Amenhotep III began a substantial building program, which demonstrated his wealth and dominance.  The majority of his focus was on the temple of Amen-Re, the god with whom he attributed most of his success.  The pharaoh chose a Nubian commoner, Tiye, as his queen and they produced two sons, Crown Prince Thutmose and Amenhotep IV.  Eventually, the wealth of the priests of Amen-re rivalled that of the pharaoh and he shifted his focus to Aton, the sun disk.  Amenhotep III died about 1353 BC and his empire was passed on to his only surviving son, Amenhotep IV.

Near the start of his reign Amenhotep IV encouraged a revolutionary shift in artistic style from formal and rigid to “sensual and full of movement (David 2002).”  The limestone relief, A Royal Hand[iii] displays the expressive form and movement characteristic of this period, while A Field of Barley[iv] emphasizes the naturalistic rejection of traditional Egyptian art.

Royal Hand

Royal Hand

Field of Barley

Field of Barley

Representations of the pharaoh, such as the Colossus of Akhenaton from Karnak[v]exhibit distorted and androgynous features believed to reflect the “sexless sun disk (Kleiner 2010).”  These cultural innovations were the first indication of the radical religious changes the pharaoh would introduce.  Considered history’s first monotheist, Amenhotep IV declared Aton, the chosen god of his father, the only true god.  He took the name Akhenaton[vi], closed the temples of the rejected gods and left the capital of Thebes for the barren, desert lands of Amarna.  The new capital[vii] was built on a grand scale with four palaces, wide-open spaces and an airy temple to Aton (David 2002).  In order to expedite construction, Amarna architects used small relief-covered blocks rather than large stones (Press 2007-2013).

Colossus of Akhenaton

Colossus of Akhenaton

The Pharaoh took a primary wife known as Nefertiti[viii].  A royal bust[ix] depicting her beautiful likeness epitomizes the pinnacle of Amarna style.  Her “serpentine neck,” heavy eyelids and elongated head “meet the era’s standard of spiritual beauty (Kleiner 2010).”  Like Akhenaton’s mother, Queen Tiye, Nefertiti shared equal prominence with her husband[x].

Nefertiti

Nefertiti

There are written records of his professed love for her and the family dynamic shown in a stele of Akhenaton, Nefertiti and three daughters[xi] expresses a “rare intimate look at the royal family in a domestic setting (Kleiner 2010).”

Akhenaton, Nefertiti and two daughters

Akhenaton, Nefertiti and two daughters

Another relief, Two Princesses[xii], rendered the royal daughters in an informal embrace (Art 2000-2013).  This recorded sensitivity and humanization of royalty is also central to the art of Amarna.

Two princesses

Two princesses

Thriving in his new capital, Akhenaton created a new type of hymn praising the god Aton.  One example, which was carved above the city, recognized the sun disk as the creator of the world and contained lines potent enough to survive through the Christian bible (David 2002).  In the midst of Amarna’s glory and for uncertain reasons, Akhenaton set aside peaceful praise of Aton in favor of vehement persecution of all other gods.  He had all mention of Amen-re destroyed, including the excision of the start of his father’s name from all tablets and monuments (David 2002).  A yew wood bust of Queen Tiye[xiii]was also altered to cover polytheistic references (Kleiner 2010).

Tiye

Tiye

Some sources believe that Nefertiti may have died suddenly or fallen out of favor just before this time; however there is conflicting evidence that suggests she was still at her husband’s side.  Certainly, the pharaoh was plagued by the death of his mother and one of his daughters (David 2002).  During Akhenaton’s tyrannical campaign for religious purity, the Empire’s lands fell under the control of Hatti[xiv].  The loyal rulers, once appeased by the previous pharaoh, wrote begging for assistance and were ignored.  In 1336 BCE, with the nation on the verge of collapse, Akhenaton died.  Both his city and his religion were abandoned in favor of tradition.

Tutankhaten[xv], Akhenaton’s son by a minor wife, rose to power.  Due to his young age, he was exploited by traditionalists eager to restore order to the empire.  They quickly amended his name to reflect conventional religious values.  The young pharaoh, now Tutankhamen[xvi], issued a decree blaming his father’s rejection of polytheism for the recent chaos.  Hastily, the Egyptians set forth to rebuild the temples of the forsaken gods and the pharaoh attempted to restore the diplomatic relations damaged during his father’s rule.  Tutankhamen died suddenly at age nineteen.  The legacy of his short reign was established by the discovery of his nearly undisturbed tomb in 1922[xvii].  The treasure within was the most lavish ever discovered.  Tutankhamen’s innermost coffin[xviii]is a shining example of a return to traditional Egyptian art.

Innermost Coffin of Tutankhamen

Innermost Coffin of Tutankhamen

Unfortunately, the pharaoh’s rejection of Aton and embrace of convention did not succeed in entirely absolving him of his father’s mistakes.  The minute size of his tomb revealed not only the suddenness of his death, but the nation’s attempt to suppress the memory of such a “heretical” period (David 2002).  In the wake of the boy pharaoh’s death, nearly all references to Aton, Akhenaton and his family were removed from sight, chiseled away in the same fashion as the earlier elimination of Amen-Re.

Though evidence of Akhenaton’s reign was concealed, his failures were remembered and most his innovative influences died with him.  Much of what we theorize today has been gleaned from the Amarna Letters and the abandoned ruins of his desert capital.  It is fortunate that the unfinished city was left to crumble undisturbed and that relief-carved blocks pioneered by Amarna architects were often recycled and used in other projects.  Because some phrases from the pharaoh’s hymns to Aton have permeated the Christian bible, it possible to believe that the monotheistic sects of the Near East may have been influenced by his ideas.  The collective shame of Egypt actually led to the preservation of Amarna works, which remain relevant and fascinating to art historians due to their originality and uncommon beauty.


[i] Around 1386 BCE

[ii] Amun is pleased

[iii] New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1349-1336 BCE

[iv] New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1349-1336 BCE

[v] 1353-1335 BCE

[vi] Effective for Aton

[vii] Known as Amarna or Akhenaton

[viii] A beautiful woman has come

[ix] 1353-1335 BCE by Thutmose

[x] Sometimes debated due to variances in hierarchy of scale

[xi] 1353-1335 BCE

[xii] 1349-1336 BCE

[xiii] 1353-1335 BCE

[xiv] Present day central Anatolia, Turkey

[xv] Living image of Aton

[xvi] Living image of Amun

[xvii] By Howard Carter

[xviii] 1323 BCE

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Late Antiquity

October 28, 2013 at 12:15 am (Art History) (, , , , )

After the Edict of Milan (313 CE) ended Christian persecution, monotheistic religions rapidly dominated Roman society and these burgeoning religious themes were reflected in the art and architecture of Late Antiquity.  Early Christian/Jewish art borrowed immensely from Late Roman styles and vice versa.  The mural, Samuel anoints David (245-256 CE), found in the synagogue of Dura-Europos, Syria shares many attributes with a frieze from the Arch of Constantine, Distribution of largesse (312-315 CE), which employs “mechanical and repeated stances and gestures of puppets [and is] less a narrative of action than a picture of actors frozen in time (Kleiner 203).”  The figures are flat and frontally-facing with “curtain-like” drapery and utilizing hierarchy of scale.  They represent an almost complete departure from classical tradition.

Samuel anoints David, Synagogue at Dura-Europos

Samuel anoints David, Synagogue at Dura-Europos

Distribution of Largesse, Arch of Constantine

Distribution of Largesse, Arch of Constantine

Christian sarcophagi vary from those of Late Empire pagans only in theme.  The Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (359 CE), is virtually identical in style to the Melfi Sarcophagus (165-170 CE).  Although the Bassus exemplar is only carved on three sides, in the Western tradition, and the Melfi coffin utilizes the four-sided, Eastern style, they both feature narratives within Asiatic architectural frames.  While the Melfi sarcophagus depicts “Greek gods and heroes,” the Christian box displays various biblical characters (194).

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

Melfi Sarcophagus

Melfi Sarcophagus

Christians of Late Antiquity appropriated their church designs directly from those of the Roman basilica.  The Pagan, public meeting house was ideal for the growing Christian congregations, which met indoors and rejected the idolatry for which Pagan temples were designed.  The Christian church, Santa Sabina (422-432 CE) shares characteristics with both the Basilica Nova (306-312 CE) and the Aula Palatina (early fourth century CE)—most notably, the timber roofs, clerestory windows and brick exteriors.

Santa Sabina

Santa Sabina

Basilica Nova

Basilica Nova

Aula Palatina

Aula Palatina

Another architectural style, which borrowed heavily from Late Roman innovation, was central-plan building.  These round structures, like the Santa Costanza (337-351 CE), included mosaicked domes with similar construction to the Pantheon.

Santa Costanza

Santa Costanza

Regardless of changing attitudes and styles, some elements of classicism persisted in Christian art.  A set of dichotomous sarcophagi with related iconography are the Late Pagan Sarcophagus of a Philosopher (270-280 CE) and the Early Christian Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus with philosopher, orant and Old and New Testament scenes (270 CE).  Both portray the deceased as a sagacious philosopher with adjacent subordinate(s), a formation often used to demonstrate Jesus with his apostles.

Sarcophagus of Philosopher

Sarcophagus of Philosopher

Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus

Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus

Due to the previously mentioned Christian rejection of idolatry, production of statuary declined during Late Antiquity; however there were a few exceptions.  A marble statuette of Christ seated (350-375 CE) renders a young Jesus in typical Greek/Roman style, with flowing drapery and holding a scroll.

Christ seated

Christ seated

A folio from the illuminated text, Vienna Genesis (early sixth century), personifies a flowing spring as a “semi-nude female,” another classical convention.  One piece, which denies Late Antique principles in both style and iconography, is the Diptych of the Nicomachi and the Symmachi (400 CE).  The two panels exhibit classically fashioned women participating in Pagan rituals.  According to Kleiner, “the classical tradition in art lived on and was never fully extinguished in the Middle Ages (228).”

Diptych of Nicomachi and Symmachi

Diptych of Nicomachi and Symmachi

Late Antique art employs several repeating themes with significance to both Jewish and Christian beliefs.  Stories from Old Testament or Jewish tradition were believed to represent “prefigurations of New Testament persons and events (213).”  One example of this type of comparison, or typology, is the story of Jonah corresponding with Christ’s resurrection.  Jonah’s tale is illustrated by the painted ceiling in a cubiculum in the Catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus (early fourth century) and the Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus.

Painted Ceiling from a cubiculum in the Catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus

Painted Ceiling from a cubiculum in the Catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus

Other common anecdotes include Adam and Eve (Jesus and Mary), presented in the Catacomb of Peter and Marcellinus and the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham (sacrifice of Jesus by God) and the trial of Daniel and the lions (Jesus’ resurrection or victory over death), both displayed by the Bassus coffin.  These stories would have been utilized to promote conversion from Judaism to Christianity and to reinforce religious tenets through stories, which are easily represented by Late Antique abstraction.  Purely Christian iconography is also common.  Jesus is frequently depicted as the “good shepherd” attending to his flock, as in the Catacomb of Peter and Marcellinus, the Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus, and the entrance wall mosaic from the Galla Placidia (425 CE).

Galla Placidia

Galla Placidia

Other important events from the life of Jesus are plentiful, but portrayals of the passion and crucifixion, like folio 8 from the Rossano Gospels (early sixth century) and the Suicide of Judas and Crucifixion of Christ (420 CE) plaque from a luxury item, ivory box, were not customary until later in the period.

Rossano Gospels

Rossano Gospels

Suicide of Judas and Crucifixion of Christ

Suicide of Judas and Crucifixion of Christ

Early Christian artists chose to “emphasize Christ’s divinity and exemplary life as teacher and miracle worker (215).”  This archetype would have indulged the Pagan institutions of philosophy and mythology.  Overall, Late Antique representations reveal their roots in both Early Greek/Roman classicism and Late Empire abstraction, while laying the groundwork for the “otherworldly splendor” of Byzantine art (224).

Miracle of the loaves and fishes

Miracle of the loaves and fishes

Source:

Kleiner, Fred S.  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.  Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.  Print.

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Tour of Severan Rome

October 20, 2013 at 9:41 pm (Art History)

Severan Rome – Late Empire

Welcome to Rome in the Late Empire!  Before we start our tour, we just need to go over a few ground rules.  It is imperative that the group stays together at all times.  Both the Roman economy and authority are crumbling.  Safety can only be assured if we stay together.  Secondly, beware the rhetoric of Eastern zealots, especially Christians.  The religious conviction of many of the city’s inhabitants is also declining.  Ok, now that we’ve dispensed with formalities, on to the tour!  We are now at the start of the Severan dynasty.  Our fearless emperor, Septimius Severus, took power in 193 CE, after a period of civil war.  He aligned himself with the Antonine dynasty by claiming Marcus Aurelius to be his father.  This was an ingenious ploy in a time of civil unrest, just between you and me.  Here is a tempera on wood tondo, or circular portrait, of Emperor Severus and his family from 200 CE.

Tempera on wood tondo of the family of Septimius Severus

Tempera on wood tondo of the family of Septimius Severus

Our emperor is depicted with the loose hair and beard of his declared “father” and the grey highlights of his increasing years.  His family is also pictured—his beautiful wife, Julia Domna and two sons, Geta and Caracalla.  Geta’s face was removed as damnatio memoriae, during the reign of his brother, Caracalla.  Let’s move forward to that time now…

Caracalla became emperor after his father’s death in 211 CE.  As a political maneuver, he had both his brother and wife executed.  The emperor’s distrustful disposition is well demonstrated by this next piece, a marble portrait (211-217 CE).

Marble portrait of Caracalla

Marble portrait of Caracalla

The artist brilliantly captured Caracalla’s inner turmoil through facial expression and tension.  As we move forward within the Severan dynasty, the emperor’s misgivings are substantiated when he is assassinated in 217 CE.  Three more Severan emperors suffer the same fate, culminating with Alexander Severus in 235 CE, but let’s focus on the beauty they left behind.

The most elaborate recreational complex in Rome is known as the Baths of Caracalla (212-216 CE).  They feature monstrous, vaulted chambers for a series of three baths—the tepidarium (warm/3), caldarium (hot/4) and frigidarium (cold/2).  The dome and drum enclosing the caldarium rival those of the Pantheon!

Plan of the Baths at Caracalla

Plan of the Baths at Caracalla

Other amenities include relaxing gardens, lecture halls and libraries (6) for exercising the brain, palaestras (5) for exercising the body and an enormous natatio (1) for swimming.  We’ll take a break here, so you can enjoy the facilities.

Everyone relaxed?  Great!  Now, let’s take a brief detour across the Mediterranean to the origin of the Severan family, Lepcis Magna, in modern day Libya.  The Severans made improvements to the city during the late second and early third centuries, including an updated harbor, forum, basilica and this lovely monument, the Arch of Septimius Severus (203 CE).

Arch of Septimius Severus

Arch of Septimius Severus

The monument’s attics include friezes on all four sides.  Let’s take a closer look at the frieze illustrating the emperor’s chariot procession.

Chariot Procession of Septimius Severus

Chariot Procession of Septimius Severus

As a reaction to the political and economic discord of the Late Empire, the sculptors departed from Classical traditions to adopt stylistic elements usually only seen in the art of freed slaves.  There is very little fluidity to the piece.  The emperor and his sons seem to break the fourth wall by addressing the viewer and the second row of figures appears to float behind the first.  This artistic reform will later become known as the Late Antique Style.

As we return to Rome after the fall of the Severan dynasty, I want to remind everyone to stay with the group and keep your cameras and other articles secure.  We will be navigating through about 500 years of political upheaval.  There is no architectural development during this time, but sculptors and engravers can barely keep up with the ever-changing line of “soldier emperors.”  Each general overthrows the last and the artists scramble to replace existing busts and coinage in order to legitimize the new ruler.  These intricate works, such as this portrait bust of Trajan Decius (249-251 CE), reflect the torment and insecurity of the crumbling empire.

Portrait bust of Trajan Decius

Portrait bust of Trajan Decius

The furrowed lines and appearance of nervous exhaustion are masterfully carved from the marble.  Another relevant piece is this bronze sculpture of Trebonianus Gallus (251-253 CE).  The short-lived emperor’s expression and body type reject the idealized form of earlier, Greek-inspired art.

Heroic portrait of Trebonianus Gallus

Heroic portrait of Trebonianus Gallus

During this troubled century, Romans have abandoned the funerary practice of cremation in favor of burial.  Here are two examples of ornate sarcophagi, which continue to reject Classical conventions and also shed some light on philosophical diversions from troubled times.

Ludovisi Sarcophagus

Ludovisi Sarcophagus

The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus (250-260 CE), as it will later come to be known, depicts a tumultuous battle between the Romans and one of their barbarian rivals.  The figures are literally piled on top of each other with no reference to space or scenery.  The unarmed central figure is believed to be the son of Trajan Decius, who became involved with a mystery cult of Mithras.  Oriental mystery cults grow in popularity as a form of escapism during this period, while other citizens immerse themselves in knowledge and philosophy.

Sarcophagus of a Philosopher

Sarcophagus of a Philosopher

The sarcophagus of a philosopher (270-280 CE) portrays the deceased frontally-oriented and in the role of a sage.  The scholar is between two women, who give him their full attention.  This configuration is very popular during this time and will become common on Christian sarcophagi.

How about a short hiatus from political disorder?  Let’s move forward to the social order of Diocletian’s tetrarchy, 293-305 CE.  In an effort to curb civil unrest, the new emperor Diocletian, names his three greatest rivals co-emperors.  This tetrarchy, known as Augustus of the East and West and Caesar of the East and West, is demonstrated by this porphyry (purple marble) portrait of the tetrarchs (305 CE).

Portraits of the four tetrarchs

Portraits of the four tetrarchs

This piece is interesting because the emperors have lost all sense of individuality.  The virtually identical figures are symbolic of the equal power of the rulers.  Their only distinguishing features are the beards present on the two older Augusti and the somewhat abstract style represents a complete departure from earlier works.  Diocletian retired in 305 CE.  The remaining rulers were unable to maintain political stability and the empire regressed to its previous chaotic state.  There is no need for the tour to enter a dangerous situation again.  Instead, let’s follow Diocletian into retirement in his hometown of Dalmatia (modern Yugoslavia).  The former emperor had an elaborate palace built with fortified walls, major avenues and a colonnaded court.  The whole palace has a temple-like feel  so Diocletian can indulge his innate god complex.

Restored view of Palace of Diocletian

Restored view of Palace of Diocletian

I hope you all have enjoyed our tour of Severan and post-Severan Rome.  Please take the shuttle to your left to join the tour of the Constantine Empire.

Source:

Kleiner, Fred S.  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.  Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.  Print.

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Who were the Etruscans?

October 13, 2013 at 6:50 pm (Art History) (, , , )

Italy’s first civilization, the Etruscans, inhabited central Italy after the first millennium BCE.  Known as Tyrrhenians to the Greeks and Tusci to the Romans, there are many theories as to Etruscan origin.  Herodotus believed that they emigrated “from Lydia in Asia Minor and that King Tyrsenos was their leader,” while Dionysus of Halicarnassus wrote that they “were native Italians (Kleiner 143).”  More current research has implied that they relocated from the North.  According to the Memphis International Cultural Series film, “The Etruscans,” the society consisted of “twelve major city-states with a stratified class structure.”  Women held a higher place in Etruscan society than in Greek and there was “upward-mobility” even for slaves.  As masters of the sea, Etruscans were proficient in both naval protection and trade with surrounding cultures.  These associations were evident Tusci art.

The Etruscans emulated Greek culture in some aspects.  For instance their artistic periods, which mirror those of the Greek, begin with an Orientalizing period.  The Regolini-Galassi Fibula (650-640 BCE) was discovered in a tomb in Cerveteri and featured five Oriental-styled lions.

Regolini-Galassi Fibula

Regolini-Galassi Fibula

During the Archaic Period, Etruscan temples, as described by Vitruvius, utilized columns similar to Greek Doric columns, but they differed in that they were made of wood and limited to the front of the building.  Unlike the Greeks, early Etruscans constructed their temples of impermanent materials, attached most statuary to the roof and housed statues of their primary gods/goddesses in three separate cellas (145).

Model of Etruscan Temple

Model of Etruscan Temple

A stunning example of rooftop, terracotta statuary is the Apulu of Veii (510-500 BCE).  The statue’s smile is characteristic of the Greek Archaic period, but early Etruscan art displays “energy and excitement” through facial expression, gestures and stance (146).

Apulu of Veii

Apulu of Veii

Much of what we know about the Etruscans is exhibited by their tombs and funerary practices.  The Banditaccia necropolis in Cerveteri contained rock-cut tombs covered by tumuli.

Cerveteri Tumuli

Cerveteri Tumuli

The many underground chambers “resembled houses of the living” and the most decorative of these tombs, the Tomb of the Reliefs, was covered with stucco reliefs depicting themes of home and family (148-149).

Tomb of the reliefs

Tomb of the reliefs

These tombs could house many generations and in some cases sarcophagi were fabricated to hold the cremated remains.  The Sarcophagus with reclining couple, found in Cerveteri (520 BCE), is particularly instrumental in depicting Etruscan culture.  It displays not only the dynamic gestures and lack of balance that differentiates Etruscan from Greek art, but the higher status of Etruscan women, who were allowed to dine with their husbands to the horror of their Greek counterparts.

Sarcophagus with reclining couple

Sarcophagus with reclining couple

Rock-cut tombs found at Tarquinia, differ from those at Cerveteri in that they are covered in colorful, mural paintings.  The Tomb of the Leopards (480-470 BCE) displays banqueting couples like those portrayed on the Cerveteri sarcophagus enjoying life under the guard of magnificent leopards.

Tomb of the Leopards

Tomb of the Leopards

Another mural, Diving and Fishing (530-520 BCE) celebrates both life and nature with all the color and vivaciousness of Minoan landscapes (150).  Greeks of this time period typically buried their dead with a “stele or statue” as a marker (147).  Although both cultures put an emphasis on life, the Etruscans clearly respected the permanence of death or afterlife.

Diving and fishing, Tarquinia

Diving and fishing, Tarquinia

The Etruscans “lack of political cohesion” left them vulnerable to the expanding Roman Empire (144).  After the Roman defeat of the last Etruscan king (509 BCE) and the remaining Etruscan fleet (474 BCE), late Etruscan art began to reflect “the economic and political decline of the once-mighty Etruscan city-states” and the influence of Roman culture (154).  The number and intricacy of tombs decreased, but the Etruscans still produced amazing works of bronze and terracotta.  The Capitoline Wolf (500-480 BCE) “capture[s] the psychic intensity of the fierce and protective beast” and was used to represent the legend of Rome’s founder Romulus and his brother Remus (151).  Although it is an Etruscan work of art, it became the emblem of the republic.

Capitoline Wolf

Capitoline Wolf

A similar statue, the Chimera of Arezzo (4th century BCE) embodies the vivacity given to humans in earlier Etruscan art.  The arched gateways later adopted by Roman architects originated with the Etruscans.

Chimera of Arezzo

Chimera of Arezzo

The Porta Marzia (2nd century BCE) brandishes one of these arches accompanied by framing pilasters, which are borrowed from Grecian architecture (153).

Porta Marzia

Porta Marzia

The dismal climate of the late Etruscan period is evidenced by the disparity between the Sarcophagus of Lars Pulena (2nd Century BCE) and earlier sarcophagi.  The subject is alone and his “somber expression contrasts sharply with the smiling, confident faces of the Archaic era when Etruria enjoyed its greatest prosperity (154).”

Sarcophagus of Lars Pulena

Sarcophagus of Lars Pulena

A very late Etruscan statue, the Aule Metele, epitomizes Roman domination, as he dons Roman clothing and is depicted in Roman style.  By the first century BCE, Etruscan culture had been completely absorbed by the Roman Empire.

Aule Metele

Aule Metele

Source:

Kleiner, Fred S.  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.  Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.  Print.

WONDERS: The Etruscans.  Dir. Calvin Dean.  Memphis International Culture Series.  2011.  Film.

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Doryphoros – Epitome of Ancient Greek Character

October 5, 2013 at 11:33 pm (Art History)

Marble copy of Doryphoros

Marble copy of Doryphoros

The dawn of the Greek Classical Period is commemorated by “a sense of Hellenic identity,” which led to victory over the Persians and a clear delineation between Asian and European cultures (Kleiner 104).  Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (Spear Bearer, ca. 450-440 BCE) celebrates Greek culture in style, iconography and philosophy.

The Spear Bearer, like all statuary of the Classical Period, exhibits the “Severe Style”, a system whose attributes depart greatly from those of the Archaic Period.   Facial expressions are serene and expressionless, in contrast to the “archaic smile” of earlier art.  A natural stance is achieved by contrapposto, or counterbalance of the anatomical parts.  Polykleitos takes this technique to a level that realizes “dynamic asymmetrical balance [or] motion while at rest (111).”  The freedom of the statue is made possible by employing a bronze hollow-casting technique.  Statues created with this method are both lightweight and stable without the use of supports (109).  These stylistic conventions carry over into the iconography of Doryphoros.  Together, they are utilized to embody the perfect human specimen.

The representations of Classical Greece reflect the views of Aeschylus, which reject the barbarous characteristics associated with the defeated Persians.  Utilizing the proportional Canon set forth by Polykleitos, The Spear Bearer “epitomizes the intellectual rigor of Classical art” and its importance in Greek society.  These conventions also reflect the earlier work of Pythagoras, who “believed […] that underlying proportions could be found in all of nature, determining the form of the cosmos as well as of things on earth, and that beauty resided in harmonious numerical ratios (110).”   Finally, the principles serve to emphasize the Greek fascination with the beauty of the human form and the almost godlike importance of humankind.  Of all the artifacts uncovered by historians of Ancient Greece, Polykleitos’ Doryphoros best epitomizes Greek character.

Source:

Kleiner, Fred S.  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.  Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.  Print.

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“Sinking Atlantis?”-The Downfall of the Minoan Civilization

October 5, 2013 at 10:30 pm (Art History)

Minoan Octopus Vase

Minoan Octopus Vase

As the first complex civilization of the western world, The Minoans populated the entire island of Crete, along with “other Aegean islands and parts of Turkey (PBS).”  They traded their dynamic art and pottery with both Spain and Mesopotamia and their writing, roads and intimidating naval fleet put the Minoan society centuries ahead of their ancient Greek neighbors.  Confident of their naval power, the Minoans built their cities along the favored coastline without protective walls.  The civilization prospered until about 1600 BCE, when it suddenly, essentially disappeared.  As documented by the PBS special Secrets of the Dead: Sinking Atlantis, a team of scientists, including an archaeologist, a geologist and a tsunami expert, set out to discover the true cause of the Minoan demise.

At the time of Minoan decline, there was a devastating volcanic eruption (Thera) on the island of Santorini.  Minoan settlements “in the shadow of the volcano” were destroyed by lava, but evidence suggests that the disaster also resulted in a series of devastating tsunamis, which all but wiped out the Minoan people of Crete (PBS).  Although this theory contradicts previous assessments, I think the evidence is sound.  The scientific team discovered a geological layer containing an otherwise unexplainable mixture of components, including pottery, building materials, volcanic rock, cattle bones, sea shells and deep sea life.  Radio carbon dating of a cattle bone found in this amalgamated layer verified that it was formed during the same period as the Thera eruption.  Furthermore, the experts found evidence of volcanic pumice at high altitudes around the island and excavated buildings exhibited evidence of “blow out”—entire facing walls wiped away with side walls still intact (PBS).  Severely weakened by this onslaught of water and ash, The Minoans fell prey to their Mycenaean neighbors to the north.  Just as the myth of the Knossos labyrinth and Minotaur are supported by the labyrinthine structures and evidence of cannibalism found on Crete, it is interesting to consider the legend of Atlantis may have also originated with Minoan culture.

Legend of the Minotaur

Legend of the Minotaur

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Imagined Egyptian Funerary Arrangements

October 5, 2013 at 10:18 pm (Art History)

Imagined tomb of Bastetmeses I

Imagined tomb of Bastetmeses I

As Queen Bastetmeses I (to be born of Bastet) of the Middle Kingdom, I was enshrined in a rock-cut tomb in the cliffs of Beni Hasan, Lower Egypt.  Overall, my tomb most resembled that of my close neighbor Amenemhet, but mine was considerably more lavish (Kleiner 52).  The tomb’s decorative porch and entrance hall featured a total of 33 fluted columns carved from “live rock.”  The modest hall displayed simple, repetitive reliefs of god/dess images, but the chamber containing my mummified remains was superbly decorated.  The painted mural behind my jeweled sarcophagus depicted the jackal-god Anubis weighing my pure heart against the feather of Maat and finding the latter to be of a much greater weight.  A mural with similar subject matter was placed in the tomb of Hu-Nefer during the Post-Amarna period of the New Kingdom (62).  The other walls of my royal burial chamber were covered with low reliefs illustrating my many accomplishments and majestic characteristics.  Within them, my form was represented in composite view and superhuman size, while my subjects were naturalistically portrayed.  These reliefs are reminiscent of the scenes found in the tomb of the lowly official Ti of Saqqara (ca. 2450-2350); however my royal deeds were much more remarkable (50). Recesses within the reliefs held statues of my likeness meant to house my ka, in the event that my body was damaged.

That scenario was, of course, unlikely as my corpse was mummified with the greatest of care.  My embalming incision was sealed with the wedjat of Horus and my tight bandages were lined with hundreds of multi-colored scarabs.  Lastly, a scroll inscribed with the Book of the Dead was ceremoniously laid between my feet and the sarcophagus was sealed.  The luxurious burial chamber was lined with ushabtis, who attended to my every whim and jeweled chests overflowed with gowns, linens, coins and foodstuffs.  A large desk was piled high with important papyrus scrolls and ink for recording my triumphs in the afterlife.  An extravagant lounge, laden with pillows occupied a large corner of the room and most importantly, the chamber was guarded by 33 stone cats.  Bastet and her children forbade access to my inner sanctuary until 1923, when its discovery overshadowed that of the boy-king Tutankhamen (61).  Bastet in her wisdom hid the entrance with fallen rock until this time.  Today I am worshipped by all that behold my splendor in National Smithsonian of the United States of America.

Source:

Kleiner, Fred S.  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.  Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.  Print.

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Ancient Near East

October 5, 2013 at 8:34 pm (Art History)

Ancient Near East Map

Ancient Near East Map

Civilization in the Ancient Near East began with the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.  The people of the region established twelve or more independent city-states, which were ruled by combination religious and secular leaders or “priest-kings” and were each associated with a different deity (Kleiner 18).  Influence of these gods was crucial to daily life as evidenced by the White Temple of Uruk (ca. 3200-3000 BCE) and the Neo-Sumerian Ziggurat of Ur (ca. 2100 BCE).

White Temple, Uruk

White Temple, Uruk

These temples, as symbolic city centers, served as both city hall and religious “waiting rooms (19).”  The Sumerians believed that their patron deities would literally appear within the cellas, or central chambers, of these temples.

Ziggurat of Ur

Ziggurat of Ur

Opportunity for division of labor was made possible by advancements in agricultural development and trade with all of Mesopotamia led to the need for the first known complex writing system.  Cuneiform, a wedge-shaped, pictorial-based writing technique was developed by Sumerians not only to track commercial endeavors, but to record historical and even fictional accounts.  Cuneiform inscriptions on the Stele of Vultures (ca. 2600-2500) illustrate the victory of Eannatum along with a series of detailed reliefs, while the first known example of ancient literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh portrays the fantastic deeds of the title king (18, 22).

Stele of Vultures Inscriptions

Stele of Vultures Inscriptions

Flourishing agriculture and trade within the city-states had both positive and negative consequences.  Although there was great wealth amassed, wars were common.  Both of these themes are present in the Standard of Ur (ca. 2600 BCE), which was found in the Royal Cemetery of Ur along with many treasures and sacrificed human attendants, intended to “accompany the [wealthy individuals] into the afterlife (22).”  Another sign of immense wealth were the cylinder seals worn by significant persons and utilized as stamps of ownership.

Standard of Ur - War and Peace Sides

Standard of Ur – War and Peace Sides

Sumerian society differs from Neolithic culture primarily due to its specialization of labor, considerable wealth and establishment of writing, but another relevant divergence involves revolutionary artistic techniques.  Sumerians continue to exploit the Neolithic composite view of the human form; however they abandon the chaotic placement of figures in favor of a more organized narrative design.

Sumerian artists institute many artistic conventions, which are present in subsequent societies.  As seen with the White Temple, Sumerian architecture originates the use of a ziggurat to elevate their temples to the heavens.  They also introduce the bent-axis plan, featuring “two or more angular changes in direction (807).”  Both of these techniques are displayed by the great ziggurat within the citadel of Sargon II of Assyria (ca. 720-705 BCE).   Religious imagery dominated Sumerian art and the Warka Vase (ca. 3200-3000), which depicts the “presentation of offerings to Inanna,” demonstrates three artistic practices of Sumerian design—ground line, hierarchy of scale and friezes (20).  The ground line, a painted, or in this case carved, line functions as “the horizontal base of the composition (21).”

Warka Vase

Warka Vase

It is seen again in later art such as, The Triumph of Shapur I over Valerian (ca. 260 CE) in the new Persian Empire.

Triumph of Shapur I over Valerian

Triumph of Shapur I over Valerian

Hierarchy of Scale is a method by which figures of greater importance (i.e. rulers and deities) are pictured larger and higher than their insignificant counterparts.  Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal appears larger than his attendants in Ashurbanipal hunting lions (ca. 645-640 BCE), a relief exhibiting the leader’s military prowess and control over nature (33).  The Warka Vase also contains friezes or registers, a series of horizontal bands, creating a narrative.

Ashurbanipal hunting lions

Ashurbanipal hunting lions

This style persisted throughout the Sumerian age and was seen again with the Votive disk of Enheduanna (ca. 2300-2275 BCE), an Akkadian princess/priestess (27). 

Votive Disk of Enheduanna

Votive Disk of Enheduanna

Other examples of religiocentric art are the Statuettes of two worshippers, from the Square Temple of Eshnunna.  These figures “offer[ed] constant prayer” on behalf of their benefactors and featured folded hands, large “eternal[ly] wakeful” eyes, heads raised to the heavens and explicatory inscriptions (21).

Statuettes of Two Worshippers, Eshnunna

Statuettes of Two Worshippers, Eshnunna

Similar characteristics are found in the diorite statues of the Akkadian ruler, Gudea (28).  Three final Sumerian artistic contributions are displayed by the Bull-headed lyre found in the Royal Cemetery at Ur.  The sound box of the artifact expresses heraldic composition—symmetrical design elements on both sides of a central figure, composite imaginary figures and anthropomorphic animals.

Bull-headed lyre

Bull-headed lyre

Heraldic composition persisted into Ancient Greek art (Lion Gate, Mycenae ca. 1300-1250 BCE, 66) and beyond (to be discussed later), while composite imaginary figures were common in Mesopotamian art.  The Lamassu guarding the gates at the citadel of Sargon II were “winged, human-headed bull[s] (31). “ According to Kleiner, personified animals became a recurring theme in art throughout history.

Lamassu

Lamassu

Although Sumerian artistic principles were immortalized by later civilizations, these successive groups were often responsible for spontaneous creative innovations.  The Akkadian artist responsible for the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin (ca. 2254-2218 BCE), provided a landscape for his figures rather than placing them in conventional registers.  The same artist broke tradition by rendering a human ruler as a god.

Stele of Naram-sin

Victory Stele of Naram-sin

From Babylonian art came a new attention to detail, as seen in the femininity and grace of the Statue of Queen Napir-Asu (ca. 1350-1300 BCE) and the first known attempt at foreshortening—using angle to create depth, demonstrated by the Stele with law code of Hammurabi (ca. 1780 BCE) (29).

Stele with the law code of Hammurabi

Stele with the law code of Hammurabi

Assyrian artists maintained the conceptual view of animals and figures established by early artists, but they attempted to add even more descriptive information.  The Lamassu are sculpted with five legs, “two seen from the front [and] four seen from the side […to] combine the front view of the animal at rest with the side view of it in motion (32).”  Assyrians also accomplished a level of “documentary detail” never before seen.  The Assyrian archers pursuing enemies relief for the palace of Ashurnasirpal II employs multiple points of view to communicate the most detail (32).  Art and architecture from the Persian Empire integrates stylistic components from all of its conquered lands.  The rounded, high-relief forms of the Processional Frieze (ca. 521-465 BCE) of Persepolis contain details characteristic of Grecian sculpture (35).  Throughout its evolutions, Mesopotamian art and society made a lasting impression on future civilizations.

Processional Frieze, Persepolis

Processional Frieze, Persepolis

Source:

Kleiner, Fred S.  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.  Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.  Print.

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Art Before History

October 5, 2013 at 7:30 pm (Art History)

Art of the Stone Age can be divided into two distinct eras, Paleolithic and Neolithic, with a transitional period known as the Mesolithic Age.  Both the styles and iconography of these ages evolve as the lifestyles and emphases of the people change.

Art of the Paleolithic Age (ca. 30,000-9000 BCE) typically depicted animals drawn, sculpted or carved in complete profile, as this was the most descriptive view.  Features, which would not be visible in strict profile, were manipulated into “twisted perspective” or “composite view” to maintain the “pictorial definition” of the subject (Kleiner 2).  The Hall of the Bulls, a cave in Lascaux, France contains many fine examples of this technique.  These paintings, where the horns of the bulls and other animals are pictured frontally, are believed to originate from 15,000 to 13,000 BCE.  This example is typical of Paleolithic cave paintings found in Western Europe.  The animals are often painted larger than life and there is no sense of “ground line or indication of setting (5).”

Hall of the Bulls, Lascaux

Hall of the Bulls, Lascaux

The Chauvet Cave in Vallon-Pont d’Arc, France has created some controversy because it deviates from these typical elements and there is some debate about the authenticity of the original carbon dating.  If the cave paintings originate from 30,000-28,000 BCE, as originally believed, the established theories must be called into question; however if they are from 15,000-13,000 BCE, as newer data indicates, it may merely constitute a transitional stage before the Neolithic era (8).

Chauvet Cave

Chauvet Cave

There are several theories regarding the illustration of animals by Paleolithic peoples.  Simple decoration seems unlikely due to the “narrow range of subjects or the inaccessibility of many of the representations,” but many scholars believe the images had magical purposes, involving successful hunting or protection of the species (7).  Another practical theory indicates the images were instructive devices for hunters or young people.  The true meaning is still unknown.

Humans were rarely represented in Paleolithic art and most examples of human iconography involved female forms with an overemphasis of the childbearing/childrearing attributes and very little detail given to other features.  A classic example of this style is the Venus of Willendorf (ca. 28,000-25,000 BCE), a small, rounded statuette exhibiting large breasts and belly with a well-defined pubic area, undersized arms and a face without features.  It is commonly believed that these incarnations serve as fertility symbols, homage to the female ability to create life, but again this is only speculation.

Venus of Willendorf

Venus of Willendorf

One divergence from the typical animal or female subjects is another painting from the Lascaux cave, portraying a man with a “prominent penis (9).”  This illustration is also atypical because there seems to be some interaction between the man and a disemboweled bison, thus creating a possible narrative.

Lascaux

Lascaux

Life for the Paleolithic peoples would have focused on hunting, gathering and general survival.  As the Ice Age ended, Neolithic peoples developed an aptitude for both farming and tending livestock.  With their newfound access to plentiful food, societies became more complex and there seemed to be a shift in emphasis toward the importance of man’s role in life and art, beginning with the ancient Near East.  Societies like those in Jericho and Ain Ghazal saw the first forms of monumental architecture and sculpture.  The complex community of Çatal Höyük in Turkey not only demonstrated the first example of a landscape, but contained wall paintings involving groups of humans involved in a narrative, such as the Deer Hunt painting found on Level III (ca. 5750 BCE).  The human figures were depicted in composite view with profile heads and limbs, but frontal torsos.  This design would become the norm for many subsequent eras.

Deer Hunt, Çatal Höyük

Deer Hunt, Çatal Höyük

In Western Europe, megalithic architecture was created.  The art form, which involved carving and manipulation of large rocks, was an unbelievable achievement for the time.  Two particularly notable techniques arose.  The corbeled vault system, seen at Newgrange in Ireland, involved piling megaliths in staggered courses until the two sides met in a domed ceiling, the weight of each side counter-balanced by the other.  The post and lintel system, most famously demonstrated at Stonehenge in England, entailed placing a horizontal, notched lintel upon two vertical posts with corresponding protrusions (14).  Both of these monuments have an emphasis on revering or communing with the dead and although we do not know the true purpose of many aspects of Neolithic art, these complex evolutions in artistic development reflect humankind’s societal and technological advancements and perhaps their budding awareness of man’s significance.

Corbeled Vault, Newgrange

Corbeled Vault, Newgrange

Source:

Kleiner, Fred S.  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.  Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.  Print.

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Wampa Pops Flash Banner

October 5, 2013 at 5:09 pm (Digital Design Projects)

Wampa Pops Flash Banner Still

Wampa Pop Flash Banner Still

I created this animated banner for Interactive Design using Adobe Flash CS6.  Follow this link: http://youtu.be/l_7E25Pr2A8 to view on YouTube.

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