Why Do We
We study art because by doing so we learn about our own
creative expressions and those of the past. The arts bridge
the gap between past and present, and may even be the
primary means of exploring a culture that never developed
written documents. For example, the prehistoric cave
paintings dating as far back as 30,000 B.C. reveal the
importance for early societies of hunting. Their wish to
reproduce and ensure the survival of the species is
expressed in faceless prehistoric female figurines whose
breasts and pelvis are disproportionately large. Prehis-
toric structures, whether oriented toward earth or sky,
provide insights into the kinds of gods people worshiped.
Without such objects, which have fortunately been pre-
served, we would know far less about ancient cultures
than we now do.
We would also know less about ourselves, for art is a
window on human thought and emotion. Certain themes,
such as the wish to survive and to define oneself and one's
world (fig. 1.1), persist in very different times and places.
It is through the arts that the unique creative spirit of dif-
ferent peoples-as well as the similarities that bind them
together-begins to emerge.
In the West, the major visual arts fall into three broad
categories: pictures, sculpture, and architecture.
Pictures (from the Latin pingo, meaning " I paint") are
two-dimensional images (from the Latin ¡mago, meaning
"likeness") with height and width, and are usually on a flat
surface. But the discussion of pictures covers more than
painting; it includes mosaics, stained glass, tapestry,
some drawing and printing techniques, and photography.
A sculpture, unlike a picture, is a three-dimensional
image-besides height and width, it has depth.
Architecture, literally meaning high (archi) building
(tecture), is the most utilitarian of the three categories.
Buildings are designed to endose space for a specific
purpose-worship, recreation, living, working-although 1.1 Saul Steinberg, The Spiral, from Steinberg's New World Series.
they often contain pictures and sculptures as well, and 1964. Drawing. Saul Steinberg (b. 1914) is a philosopher in fine. Here
other forms of visual art. The pyramids of ancient Egypt, he has drawn the world-shown as a landscape-and enclosed
himself in a spiral. The artist thus creates, and ¡¡ves in, his own world.
for example, were filled with statues of the pharaoh (king)
His Iine is also his own outline, which renders him inseparable from his
who built them, and their walls were painted with scenes creation-as well as from his creativity. But, because he is an artist,
from his life. Many churches are decorated with sculp- Steinberg communicates his vision to the rest of us.
tures, paintings, mosaics, and stained glass windows
THE VALUE OF ART 15
illustrating stories of Christ and the saints. Likewise, the
sumptuous palaces of western Europe would look bare Chronology
without the decoration provided by paintings, sculptures, The Christian chronological system, generally used in the
and tapestries. West, is followed throughout this book. Other religions
(for example, Islam and Judaism) have different calendars.
Dates before the birth of Christ are followed by the
The Artistic Impulse letters B.C., an abbreviation for "Before Christ." Dates after
his birth are denoted by the letters A.D.-an abbreviation
Art is a vital and persistent aspect of everyday life. But for anno Domini, Latin for "In the year of our Lord." There
where, one might ask, does the artistic impulse originate? is no year 0, SO A.D. 1 immediately follows 1 B.c. If neither
We can see that it is inborn by observing children, who B.C. nor A.D. accompanies a date, A.D. is understood.
make pictures, sculptures, and buildings before learning to Approximate dates are preceded by "c.", an abbreviation
read or write. Children trace images in dirt or sand, and for the Latin circa, meaning "around."
decorate just about anything from their own faces to the
walls of their houses. They spontaneously make mud pies
and snowmen. If given a pile of building blocks, they
usually attempt to stack one on top of another to make a discovered from the Mycenaean civilization of ancient
tower. All are efforts to create order from disorder and Greece (c. 1500 B.C.; see fig. 6.18).
form from formlessness. While it may be difficult to relate It is not only the features of an individual that are valued
a Greek temple or an Egyptian pyramid to a child's sand- as an extension of self after death. Patrons, or people who
castle, all three express the same natural impulse to build. commission works, may prefer to order more monumental
In the adult world, creating art is a continuation and de- tributes. For example, the Egyptian rulers (3000-1000 B.c.)
velopment of the child's inborn impulse. But now it takes spent years planning and overseeing the construction of
on different meanings. One powerful motive for making pyramids, not only in the belief that such monumental
art is the wish to leave behind after death a product of tombs would guarantee their existence in the afterlife, but
value by which to be remembered. The work of art sym- also as a statement of their power while on earth. The
bolically prolongs the artist's existence. This parallels the Athenians built the Parthenon (see p.110) 448-432 B.C. to
pervasive feeling that, by having children, one is ensuring house the colossal sculpture of their patron goddess
genealogical continuity into the future. Several artists have Athena and, at the same time, to embody the intellectual
made such a connection. For example, according to and creative achievements of their civilization and to
Michelangelo's biographers, he said that he had no human preserve them for future generations. King Louis XIV (see
children because his works were his children. Giotto, the p.337) built his magnificent palace at Versaifies in the
great Italian painter of the early Renaissance (see p.229), seventeenth century as a monument to his political power,
expressed a similar idea in a fourteenth-century anecdote his reign, and the glory of France.
which begins as the poet Dante asks the artist how it
is that his children are so ugly and his paintings so beauti-
ful. Giotto replies that he paints by the light of day and
reproduces in the darkness of night. The twentieth- The Value of Art
century artist Josef Albers (see p.495) also referred to this Works of art are valued not only by the artist or patron,
traditional connection between creation and procreation: but also by entire cultures. In fact, those periods of history
he described a mixed color as the offspring of the two that we tend to identify as the high points of human
original colors and compared it to a child who combines achievement are those in which the arts were most highly
the genes of two parents. valued. In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs initiated building
Related to the role of art as a memorial is the wish to activity on a Brand scale. They presided over the construc-
preserve one's image after death. Artists have been com- tion of palaces and temples in addition to pyramids, and
missioned to paint portraits, or likenesses of specific commissioned vast numbers of sculptures and paintings.
people; they have also made self-portraits. "Painting In fifth-century-B.c. Athens, the cradle of modern democ-
makes absent men present and the dead seem alive," racy, artists created many important sculptures, paintings,
wrote Leon Battista Alberti, the fifteenth-century Italian and buildings; their crowning achievement was the
humanist (see p.258). "I paint to preserve the likeness Parthenon. During the Gothic era (c. A.D. 1200-1400;
of people after their death," wrote Albrecht Dürer, the see Chapter 13), a major part of the economic activity of
sixteenth-century German artist (see p.323). Even as early every cathedral tocan revolved around the construction of
as the Neolithic era (c. 7000-4500/4000 B.C.; see p.47) skulls its cathedral, the production of cathedral sculpture, and
were modeled into faces with plaster, and shells were the manufacture of stained glass windows. In fifteenth-
inserted into the eye sockets. In ancient Egypt (see century Renaissance Florence, Italian banking families
Chapter 5), the pharaoh's features were painted on the such as the Medici spent enormous amounts of money on
outside of his mummy case so that his ka, or soul, could art to adorn public spaces, private palaces, churches, and
recognize him. And gold death masks of kings have been chapels. Today, corporations as well as individuals have
16 1 WHY DO WE STUDY ART?
become patrons of the arts and there is a flourishing art
market throughout the world. More people buy art than
ever before-often as an investment-and the auctioning Works of art may be valuable simply because they are
of art has become an international business. made of a precious material. Gold, for example, was used
The contribution of the arts to human civilization has in Egyptian art to represent divinity and the sun. These as-
many facets, a few of which we shall now explore. sociations recur in Christian art, which reserved gold for
Brancusi 's Bird: Manufactured Metal or a Work of Art?
A trial held in New York City in 1927 illustrates just how hard
it can be to agree on what constitutes "art." Edward Steichen,
the prominent American photographer, had purchased a
bronze sculpture entitied Bird in Space (fig. 1.2) from the
Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi, who was living in France.
Steichen imported the sculpture to the United States, whose
laws do not require payment of customs duty on original
works of art as long as they are declared on entering the coun-
try. When the customs official saw the Bird, however, he
balked. It was not art, he said; it was "manufactured metal."
Steichen's protests fe¡¡ on deaf ears. The sculpture was admit-
ted finto the United States under the category of "Kitchen
Utensils and Hospital Supplies," which meant that Steichen had
to pay $600 in import duty.
Later, with the financia) backing of Gertxude Vanderbilt
Whitney, the American sculptor and benefactor of the arts,
Steichen appealed the ruling of the customs official. The ensu-
ing trial received a great deal of publicity. Witnesses discussed
whether the Bird was a bird at all, whether the artist could
make it a bird by calling it one, whether it could be said to
have certain characteristics of "birdness," and so on. The
conservative witnesses refused to accept the work as a bird
because it lacked certain biological attributes, such as wings
and tail feathers. The more progressive witnesses pointed out
that it had birdlike qualities-upward movement and a sense
of spatial freedom. The final decision of the court was in favor
of the plaintiff, and Steichen got his money back. The Bird was
declared a work of art. In today's market a Brancusi Bird would
sell for millions of dollars.
1.2 Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Spoce. 1928. Bronze, unique cast,
54 X 81/2 X 61h in (137.2 X 21.6 X 16.5 cm). The Museum of
Modern Art, New York (Given anonymously). Brancusi objected
to the view of his work as abstract. In a statement published
shortly after his death in 1957, he declared: "They are imbeciles
who cal¡ my work abstract; that which they ca11 abstract is the most
realist, because what is real is not the exterior form but the idea,
the essence of things."
THE VALUE OF ART 17
the background of religious icons and for halos on divine into a depression when they discovered that their statue
figures. Valuable materials have unfortunately inspired the was missing. The subsequent reappearance of the Afo-a-
theft and plunder of art objects down the centuries by Kom in the window of a New York art dealer caused an
thieves who disregard their cultural, religious, or artistic international scandal that died down only after the statue
value and melt them down. Even the monumental cult was returned to its African home.
statue of Athena in the Parthenon disappeared without
a trace, presumably because of the value of the gold and
ivory from which it was made.
Works of art have patriotic value inasmuch as they express
the pride and accomplishments of a particular culture.
Intrinsic Value Patriotic sentiment was a primary aspect of the richly
A work of art may contain valuable material but that is not carved triumphal arches of ancient Rome (see p.150) be-
the primary criterion by which its quality is judged. Its in- cause they were gateways for the return of victorious em-
trinsic value depends largely on people's assessment of the perors and generals. Statues of national heroes stand in
artist who created it and on its own esthetic character parks and public squares in most cities of the western
(that is, the degree to which the viewer experiences it as world.
beautiful). The Mona Lisa (fig. 16.14) is made of relatively But a work need not represent a national figure or even
modest materials-paint and wood-but it is a priceless a national theme to be an object of patriotic value. In 1945,
object nonetheless, and arguably the western world's most at the end of World War II, the Dutch authorities arrested
famous image. Leonardo da Vinci, who painted it around an art dealer, Han van Meegeren, for treason. They
A.D. 1500 in Italy, was an acknowledged genius in his own accused him of having sold a painting by the great
day and his work has stood the test of time. The paintings seventeenth-century Dutch artist Vermeer to Hermann
of the late nineteenth-century Dutch painter Vincent van Goering, the Nazi Reichsmarschall and Hitler's most loyal
Gogh (see p.440) have also endured, although he was supporter. When van Meegeren's case went to trial, he
ignored in his lifetime. It was not until after his death that lashed out at the court. "Fools!" he cried, " I painted it
his esthetic quality and originality were recognized. To- myself." What he had sold to the Nazis was actually his
day, the intrinsic value of an oil painting by van Gogh own forgery, and he proved it by painting another "Ver-
is reflected by its market price, which has risen to as high meer" under supervision while in prison. Van Meegeren
as $80 million. Intrinsic value is not always immediately thus saved himself from being convicted of treason by
apparent, as we can see from the changing assessment proving that he had been guilty of a lesser crime, namely
of van Gogh's works. 1s it art?" is a familiar question, forgery. It would have been treason to sell Vermeer's
which expresses the difficulty of finding a universal defi- paintings, which were (and still are) considered national
nition of "art" and of recognizing the esthetic value of treasures, to Holland's enemies.
an object. Another expression of the patriotic value of art can be
seen in recent exhibitions made possible by shifts in world
politics. Since détente between the Communist bloc and
Religious Value the West, Russia has been lending works of art from its
One of the traditional ways in which art has been valued is museums for temporary exhibitions in the United States.
in terms of its religious significance. From prehistory to In such circumstances, the traveling works of art become
the sixteenth-century Reformation, art was one of the a kind of diplomatic currency and contribute to improved
most effective ways to express religious beliefs. Paintings relations between nations.
and sculptures depicted gods and goddesses and thereby The patriotic feeling that some cultures have about their
made their images accessible. Temples, churches, and works of art has contributed to their value as trophies, or
mosques were symbolic dwelling places of gods and spoils of war. When ancient Babylon was defeated by the
served to relate worshipers to their deity. Tombs ex- Elamites in 1170 B.C., the victors stole the statue of
pressed beliefs in the afterlife. Marduk, the chief Babylonian god, together with the law
During the Middle Ages in western Europe, art often code of Hammurabi (see p.57). In the early nineteenth cen-
served an educational function. One important way of tury, when Napoleon's armies marched through Europe,
communicating Bible stories and legends of the saints to a they plundered thousands of works of art. Napoleon's
largely illiterate population was through the sculptures, booty is now part of the French national art collection at
paintings, and stained glass windows in churches and the Louvre in Paris.
cathedrals. The patriotic value of art can be so great that nations
Beyond its teaching function, the religious significance whose works of art have been taken go to considerable
of a work of art may be so great that entire groups of lengths to recover them. Thus, at the end of World War II,
people identify with the object. The value of such a work is the Allied army assigned a special division to recover the
highlighted when it is taken away. In 1973, the Afo-a- vast numbers of art works stolen by the Nazis. A United
Kom-a sacred figure embodying the soul of a village in States army task force discovered Hermann Goering's two
the Cameroon-disappeared. The villagers reportedly fell personal caches of stolen art in Bavaria, one in a medieval
18 1 WHY DO WE STUDY ART?
castle, and the other in a bombproof tunnel in nearby
mountains. The task force arrived just in time, for Goering
Art and Illusion
had equipped an "art train" with thermostatic temperature Before considering illusion and the visual arts, it is neces-
control to take "his" collection to safety. At the Nurem- sary to point out that when we think of illusion in connec-
berg trials, Goering claimed that his intentions were tion with an image, we usually assume that the image is
nothing if not honorable-he was protecting the art from lifelike, or naturalistic . This is often, but not always, the
air raids. case. With certain exceptions, such as Judaic and Islamic
A contemporary example of the patriotic value of art art, western art was mainly representational until the
can be seen in the case of the Elgin Marbles. In the early twentieth century. Figurative, or representational, art
nineteenth century when Athens was under Turkish rule, depicts recognizable natural forms or created objects.
Thomas Bruce, the seventh earl of Elgin, obtained permis- When the subjects of painting and sculpture are so con-
sion from Turkey to remove sculptures from the Parthenon vincingly portrayed that they may be mistaken for the real
and other buildings on the Acropolis. At great personal thing, they are said to be illusionistic . Where the artist's
expense (amounting to £75,000), Lord Elgin sent the sculp- purpose is to fool the eye, the effect is described by the
tures to England by boat. The first shipment sank, but the French term trompe 1'oeil.
remainder of the works reached their destination in 1816. The deceptive nature of pictorial illusion was simply but
The British Museum in London purchased the sculptures eloquently stated by the Belgian Surrealist painter, René
for just £35,000. Now referred to as the Elgin Marbles, Magritte, in his painting The Betrayal of Images (fig. 1.3).
they are still in the British Museum, where they are a This work is a convincing (although not a trompe I'oeil)
tourist attraction and a source of study for scholars. For rendition of a pipe. Directly below the image, Magritte re-
years, the Greeks have been pressuring England to return minds the viewer that in fact it is not a pipe at all-"Ceci
the sculptures, and the British have refused to do so. This n'est pas une pipe" ("This is Not a Pipe") is Magritte's ex-
kind of situation is a product of historical circumstance. plicit message. To the extent that observers are convinced
Although Lord Elgin broke no laws and probably saved by the image, they have been betrayed. Even though
the sculptures from considerable damage, he is seen by Magritte was right, and illusion does fall short of reality,
many Greeks as having looted their cultural heritage. the observer is nevertheless pleased by its effect. The
Since art continues to have patriotic value, modern pleasure that one receives from illusion is contained in the
legislation in many countries is designed to avoid similar term itself, which comes from the Latin ludere, meaning
problems by making it difficult, if not ¡Ilegal, to export "to play," "to mimic," and "to deceive."
national treasures. International protocols, such as the The pleasure produced by trompe l'oeil images is re-
Hague Convention of 1959, the UNESCO General Confer- flected in many anecdotes, or stories which may not be lit-
ences of 1964 and 1970, and the European Convention of erally true but illustrate an underlying truth. For example,
1967, protect cultural property and archeological heritage. the ancient Greek artist Zeuxis was said to have painted
grapes so realistically that birds pecked at them. In the
Other Symbolic Values
There are other aspects of the symbolic value of art be-
sides religious and patriotic significance. Art is valued for
its ability to convey illusions with which we identify. This
identification leads us to endow art with symbolic power
and to create legends about the origins of art.
Reactions to the arts cover virtually the entire range of
human emotion. They include pleasure, fright, amuse-
ment, outrage, even avoidance. People can become at-
tached to a work of art and not want to part with it, as
Leonardo did alter he painted the Mona Lisa. Instead of
delivering it to the person who had commissioned it,
Leonardo kept the painting until he died. Conversely, one
may wish to destroy certain works because they arouse
anger. In London in the early twentieth century, a suf-
fragette slashed Velázquez's Rokeby Venus (fig. 19.32) be-
cause she was offended by what she considered to be its
sexist representation of a woman. Such examples illustrate
the intense responses to art's symbolic power. The re-
mainder of this chapter considers psychological responses 1.3 René Magritte, The Betrayal o f Images (' This is Not a Pipe"). 1928.
to the symbolic nature of art. Oil on canvas, 231/2 X 281/2 in (55 X 72 cm). Los Angeles County
Museum of Art, California.
ART AND IDENTIFICATION 19
Renaissance, a favorite story recounted that a fellow artist
was so fooled by Giotto's realism that he tried to brush off
a fly that Giotto had painted on a figure's pose. The con-
temporary American sculptor Duane Hanson (see p.519) is
a master of trompe I'oeil. He uses synthetic materials to
create statues which look so alive that it is not unusual for
people to approach and ask them questions. When the un-
suspecting observers realize that they have been fooled,
they are embarrassed by their own mistake, but are
delighted by the artist's skill.
In these examples of illusion and trompe 1'oeil, artists
produce only a temporary deception. Such may not always
be the case. For instance, the Latin poet Ovid relates the
tale of the sculptor Pygmalion, who was not sure whether
his own statue was real or not. Disappointed with the infi-
delities of real women, he turned to art and fashioned a
beautiful girl, Galatea, out of ivory. He dressed her and
brought her jewels and flowers. He undressed her and
took her to bed. Finally, during a feast of Venus (the
Roman goddess of love and beauty), Pygmalion prayed for
a wife as lovely as his Galatea. Venus granted his wish
by bringing the statue to life-something that only gods
and goddesses can do. Human artists have to be satisfied
Traditions Equating Artists with Gods
The fine line between illusion and reality, and the fact that 1.4 God as Architect, from the Bible Moralisée, Reims, France, fol. I v.
gods are raid to create reality while artists create illusion, Mid- 1 3th century. Illumination, 81/3 in (21.2 cm) wide. ósterreichische
has given rise to traditions equating artists with gods. Nationalbibliothek, Vienna.
Both are seen as creators, the former making replicas of
nature and the latter making nature itself. Alberti referred
to the artist as an alter deus, Latin for "other god," and
Dürer said that artists create as God did. Leonardo wrote Some legends endow sculptors and painters with the
in his Notebooks that artists are God's grandsons and that power to create living figures. In Greek mythology the
painting, the grandchild of nature, is related to God. sculptor Daedalus was reputed to have made lifelike stat-
Giorgio Vasar¡, the Renaissance biographer of artists, ues that could walk and talk. Prometheus, on the other
called Michelangelo "divine," a reflection of the notion of hand, was not satisfied with merely lifelike works. Since
divine inspiration. Even as recently as the nineteenth cen- the ancient Greeks believed that human beings were made
tury, the American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler of earth (the body) and fire (the soul), Prometheus knew he
asserted that artists are "chosen by the gods." needed more than clay to create living figures. He stole fire
Artists have been compared with gods, and gods have from the gods, and they punished him with eternal torture.
been represented as artists. In ancient Babylonian texts, This story illustrates the fact that there is an ultimate dif-
God is described as the architect of the world. In the ference between artists and gods: no matter how skilled
Middle Ages, God is sometimes represented as an archi- artists are, they can only create illusions.
tect drawing the universe with a compass (fig. 1.4).
Legends in the Apocrypha, the unofficial books of the
Bible, describe Christ as a sculptor who made clay birds
and then breathed life into them. Art and Identification
The comparison of artists with gods, especially when
artists make lifelike work, has inspired legends of rivairy Reflections and Shadows:
between these two creators. Even when the work itself is
not lifelike, the artist may risk incurring divine anger. For Legends of How Art Began
example, the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel Belief in the power of images extends beyond the work of
describes the dangers of building too high and rivaling human hands. In many societies, not only certain works of
God by invading the heavens. God's reaction to the tower art, but also reflections and shadows are thought to em-
is illustrated in a sixteenth-century painting by the Dutch body the spirit of an animal or the soul of a person. These
artist Pieter Brueghel the Elder (fig. 1.5). ideas appear in numerous superstitions throughout the
20 1 WHY DO WE STUDY ART?
1.5 Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Tower of Babel. 1563. Tempera on water-and compared the art of painting to the reflected
panel, 3 ft 9 in X 5 ft 1 in (1.14 X 1.55 m). Kunsthistorisches Museum, image. He also quoted the Roman writer Quintilian, who
identified the first painting as a line traced around a sha-
dow. An oriental tradition recounts that Buddha was un-
able to find an artist who could paint his portrait. As a last
resort, he had an outline drawn around his shadow and
world. For example, in some European countries, seeing filled it in with color himself. A Greek legend attributes the
oneself in a mirror that is in the same room as a dead first sculpture to a woman who traced the shadow of the
person is read as a warning of death. In certain South man she loved. Her father, a potter, used clay to fill the out-
Australian tribes, a man's shadow falling on his mother-in- line on the wall where the shadow had fallen, fired it, and
law is cause for divorce on the grounds of incest. The the sculpture emerged. These legends indicate that works
shadow is taken for the man himself and embodies his of art are inspired not only by the impulse to create form,
sexual potency. In other cultures, the absence of a shadow but also by the discovery or recognition of forms that al-
can indicate sexual impotence or even impending death. ready exist and the wish to capture and preserve them.
The danger of losing one's shadow is evident in Peter
Pan's anxiety at the loss of his, and the lengths to which he
went to recover it. Image Magic
Even though reflections and shadows are not art, The belief that a likeness substitutes for a real person (or
ancient traditions trace the origin of painting and sculp- animal), who will experience what is done to the image, is
ture to drawing a line around a reflected image or a found in many different cultures. In sixteenth-century
shadow. Alberti recalled the myth of Narcissus-the Greek England, Queen Elizabeth I's advisors became alarmed
youth who fell in love with his own image in a pool of when they discovered her wax effigy stuck through with
ART AND IDENTIFICATION 21
pins. They immediately summoned the renowned astro- replica may actually contain the soul of what it represents,
loger, John Dee, to counteract the effects of witchcraft. has sometimes led to an avoidance of images. Certain reli-
During the French Revolution of 1789, mobs protesting gions prohibit their followers from making pictures and
the injustices of the royal family destroyed statues and statues of their god(s) or of human figures. In Judaism, the
paintings of earlier kings and queens because of their making of graven images is expressly forbidden in the
association with the ancien régime. Many nineteenth- second commandment: "Thou shalt not make unto thee
century Native Americans objected to having their por- any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in
traits painted by the artist George Catlin, whose memoirs heaven aboye, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is
recorded their suspicious and sometimes violent reactions. in the water under the earth" (Exodus 20:4). When the
In 1989 and 1990, when eastern Europe began to rebel Israelites blatantly ignored this, Moses berated them for
against communism, the protestors tore down statues of worshiping the golden calf they had made. Years later, the
the communist leaders. prophet Jeremiah declared both the pointlessness and the
Portraits are images which can create a particularly dangers of worshiping objects instead of God.
strong impression. The most famous portrait in the west- In Islam, as in Judaism, works of art are meant to avoid
ern world, the Mona Lisa, depicts a woman who is virtually the human figure. Muhammad condemned those who
unknown, and her personality is one of the most persistent would dare to imitate God's work by making figurative art.
riddles in the history of western art. Later artists have sati- As a result, Islamic art is, for the most part, nonfigurative;
rized her (fig. 28.1) and incorporated her image into their its designs are typically geometric or floral (see p.178).
own work. Thousands of articles, books, poems, and During the Iconoclastic Controversy in the eighth and
songs have been written about her. As a result of her ninth centuries, Christians argued vehemently over the
image, she has become a household word. potential dangers of creating any images of holy figures
In 1911, the Mona Lisa disappeared from the Louvre. (see p.176). Those wishing to destroy existing images and
Two years later, the police recovered her from under the to prohibit new ones believed that they would lead to idol-
bed of a house painter in Italy. She toured Europe by train atry, or worship of the image itself rather than what it
and was accorded a heroine's welcome upon her return to stood for.
France. In the 1960s the painting was loaned to New York's In the modern era, as societies have become increas-
Metropolitan Museum. On this occasion, the Mona Lisa ingly technological, traditional imagery seems to have lost
traveled from France by boat in a first-class stateroom ac- some of its magic power. But, no matter how sophisti-
companied at all times by an armed security guard. The cated we become, we are still personally involved with
painting has achieved the status of a world ¡con, demon- images. For example, when complimented on the famous
strating that an image can have as much meaning and portrait of his mother, Whistler merged the real person
appeal as a living celebrity. with her picture: "Yes," he replied, "one does like to make
On an individual level, some people have actually fallen one's mummy just as nice as possible" (fig. 1.6). Other
in love with images. In the sixteenth century, King Henry kinds of images evoke different responses. A peaceful
VIII of England agreed for political reasons to take the landscape painting can provide respite from everyday ten-
German princess, Anne of Cleves, as his fourth wife sions as we contemplate its rolling hifis or distant horizon.
without having met her. He commissioned the artist A still life can remind us of the beauty inherent in objects
Hans Holbein (see p.328) to paint her portrait and was we take for granted. Even works that contain no recogniz-
enchanted with the result. When Anne landed in England, able objects or figures-nonfigurative or nonrepresenta-
Henry could not contain himself and traveled incognito to tional art-may engage our attention as we identify with
meet his bride. But, alas, in this case illusion proved better the movement of their lines or the mood of their colors.
than reality. Henry was sorely disappointed by the real Contemporary images, many in electronic media, exert
Anne; he went through with the marriage but reportedly power over us in subtle ways. Movies and television affect
never consummated it. our tastes and esthetic judgments. Advertising images in-
The nineteenth-century English art critic John Ruskin fluence our decisions-what we buy and which candidates
fell in love with an image on two separate occasions. He we vote for. These modern media use certain traditional
became so enamored with the marble tomb effigy of the techniques of image-making to convey their messages
young Ilaria del Caretto in Lucca, Italy, that he wrote effectively.
letters home to his parents describing the statue as if it
were a living girl. Later, when in a more delusional state,
Ruskin persuaded the Accademia, a museum in Venice, to Architecture
lend him the painting of the sleeping St. Ursula by the As is true of images, architecture evokes a response by
sixteenth-century Italian artist Carpaccio. He kept it in identification. A building may seem inviting or forbidding,
his room for six months and became convinced that he gracious or imposing, depending on its exterior forro and
had been reunited with his former fiancée, a young Irish structure. One might think of a country cottage as wel-
girl named Rose la Touche, who had merged in Ruskin's coming and picturesque, or a haunted house as endowed
mind with the image of the young saint. with the spirits of former inhabitants who could inflict
The ability to identify with images, and the sense that a mischief on trespassers.