Pre-History (before around 3000 BCE)Humans make art. We do this for many reasons and withwhatever technologies are available to us.The oldest known representational imagery comes from theAurignacian culture of the Upper Paleolithic period. The oldestof these is a 2.4-inch tall female figure found in the Hohle Felscave. It dates to around 35,000 BCE.The caves at Chauvet-Pont-dArc, Lascaux, Pech Merle, andAltamira contain the best known examples of pre-historicpainting and drawing.Archeologists that study Paleolithic era humans believe that thepaintings discovered in 1994 in the cave at Chauvet-Pont-dArcdates to around 25-35,000 BCE.What can we really know about the creators of these paintings?
The way we live today, settled in homes, close to other peoplein towns and cities, protected by laws, eating food grown onfarms, and with leisure time to learn, explore and invent is all aresult of the Neolithic revolution, which occurredapproximately 11,500-5,000 years ago. The revolution which ledto our way of life was the development of the technologyneeded to plant and harvest crops and to domesticate animals.The massive changes in the way people lived also changedthe types of art they made. Neolithic sculpture became bigger,in part, because people didn’t have to carry it around anymore;pottery became more widespread and was used to storefood harvested from farms.The Neolithic period is also important because it is when we firstfind good evidence for religious practice.
Ancient Cultures (3000 BCE – 400 CE)Mesopotamia, the area between the Tigris and EuphratesRivers in modern day Iraq, is often referred to as the cradle ofcivilization because it is the first place where complex urbancenters grew.Southern Mesopotamia was known as Sumer. Sumer was not aunified country, but consists instead of many city-states, such asUr and Uruk.The origin of written language was born out of economicnecessity and was a tool of the theocratic ruling elite whoneeded to keep track of the agricultural wealth of the city states.The first fully developed written script, cuneiform, was inventedto account for surplus commodities.
The ziggurat is the most distinctive architectural invention of theAncient Near East. The structure would have been the highestpoint in the city and a focal point for travelers and the piousalike. As the Ziggurat of Ur supported the temple of the patrongod it is likely that it was the place where the citizens of Urwould bring agricultural surplus and where they would go toreceive their regular food allotments.Hammurabi of Babylon conquered much of northern andwestern Mesopotamia and by 1776 B.C.E., he is the most far-reaching leader of Mesopotamian history.Documents showHammurabi was a classic micro-manager, concerned with allaspects of his rule, and this is seen in the famous legal code,which is carved on a stele, or column.The Assyrian empire dominates Mesopotamia and all of theNear East for the first half of the first millennium, lead by aseries of highly ambitious and aggressive warrior kings and anaggressive military culture.
The Assyrian empire comes to an end at around 600 B.C.E.And is replace by the Babylonians. This period is called Neo-Babylonian because Babylon had already risen to power earlierand become an independent city-state.The Neo-Babylonians are most famous for their architecture,notably at their capital city, Babylon. Some of the wondersinclude the hanging gardens and the famous gates into the city,including the Ishtar Gate.Egypts Old Kingdom (c. 2649–2150 BCE) was one of the mostdynamic periods in the development of Egyptian art. During thisperiod, artists learned to express their cultures worldview,creating for the first time images and forms that endured forgenerations. Architects and masons mastered the techniquesnecessary to build monumental structures in stone. Sculptorscreated the earliest portraits of individuals and the first lifesizestatues in wood, copper, and stone.
These images and structures had two principal functions: toensure an ordered existence and to defeat death by preservinglife into the next world. To these ends, over a period of time,Egyptian artists adopted a limited repertoire of standard typesand established a formal artistic canon that would defineEgyptian art for more than 3,000 years.The Kouros, or boy, is one of the earliest Greek marble statuesof a human figure. The rigid stance, with the left leg forward andarms at the side, was derived from Egyptian art. The poseprovided a clear, simple formula that was used by Greeksculptors throughout the 6th century B.C.The marble Kritios Boy shows the Greek artist has mastered acomplete understanding of how the different parts of the bodyact as a system. The statue supports the bodys weight on theleft leg, while the right one is bent at the knee in a relaxing state.This stance is known as contrapposto.
When we study ancient Greek art, so often we are really lookingat ancient Roman art, or at least their copies of ancient Greeksculpture. Basically, just about every Roman wanted ancientGreek art. For the Romans, Greek culture symbolized adesirable way of life—of leisure, the arts, luxury and learning.The Greeks created their free-standing sculpture in bronze, butbecause bronze can be melted down and reused, sculpture wasoften recast into weapons. This is why we often have to look atancient Roman copies in marble to try to understand what theGreeks achieved.Augustus’ most famous portraits is the so-called Augustus ofPrimaporta of 20 BCE. At first glance this statue might appearto simply resemble a portrait of Augustus as an orator andgeneral, but this sculpture also communicates a good dealabout the emperor’s power and ideology. The statue alsoforetells the 200 year period of peace that Augustus initiated,called the Pax Romana.
The Middle Ages (400 CE – 1400 CE)In 330 the capital of the Roman Empire Moves toConstantinople in the East. In 380, Christianity is declaredthe official religion and beginning in c. 400, Rome is sackedby barbarian tribes in Europe. Constantinople will be thecapital of the Roman Empire and Byzantium until c. 1300.By the middle of the fourth century Christianity hadundergone a dramatic transformation. Before EmperorConstantines acceptance, Christianity had a marginal statusin the Roman world. Attracting converts in the urbanpopulations, Christianity appealed to the faithfuls desires forpersonal salvation; however, due to Christianitysmonotheism, Christians suffered periodic episodes ofpersecution. But by the middle of the fourth century,Christianity under imperial patronage had become a part ofthe establishment. The elite of Roman society werebecoming new converts.
In both its style and iconography, the Junius BassusSarcophagus witnesses the adoption of the tradition of Greekand Roman art by Christian artists. Works like this wereappealing to patrons like Junius Bassus who were a part of theupper level of Roman society. Christian art did not reject theclassical tradition: rather, the classical tradition will be areoccurring element in Christian art throughout the Middle Ages.Manuscripts were essential to the practice of Christianity.Medieval Christian missionaries brought books with them asthey traveled from place to place preaching and establishingnew churches. They usually contained the text of the gospels,an essential work for teaching potential converts about the life ofChrist. A series of images illustrating the life of Christ prefacesthe text and each book of the gospels begins with an illustrationdetailing the events unique to that gospel, though some of theseare now lost.
In illuminated manuscripts, words and images worked togetherto inform the medieval reader and occasionally these readersleft their own mark. These books are highly interactive. Nearlyall medieval manuscripts provide ample space in the marginsfor readers notes and comments.Byzantine art can be characterized by the use of mosaic. Theemperor Justinian is immortalized in a very famous example.This mosaic establishes the central position of the Emperorbetween the power of the church and the power of the imperialadministration and military.Like the Roman Emperors of thepast, Justinian has religious, administrative, and militaryauthority.Iconoclasm refers to the destruction of images or hostilitytoward visual representations in general. The word is used forthe Iconoclastic Controversy that shook the Byzantine Empirefor more than 100 years.
Charlemagne, King of the Franks and later Holy RomanEmperor, instigated a cultural revival known as the Carolingianperiod. Carolingian art survives in manuscripts, sculpture,architecture and other religious artifacts produced during theperiod 780-900.Figurative art from this period is easy to recognize. Unlike theflat, two-dimensional work of Early Christian and EarlyByzantine artists, Carolingian artists sought to restore the thirddimension. They used classical drawings as their models andtried to create more convincing illusions of space.After Charlemagne’s legacy had begun to die out, the warliketribes in what is now Germany banded together to elect a kingfrom among their nobility. In 919 they chose Henry theLiudolfing. Henry’s son Otto I became emperor in 962 and lendshis name to the Ottonian period.
Ottonian manuscripts were most often produced of religioustexts, and usually included a dedication portrait commemoratingthe book’s creation. The royal or religious donor is usuallyshown presenting the book to the saint of his or her choice.The remains of Roman civilization were seen all over thecontinent, and legends of the great empire would have beenpassed down through generations.When Charlemagne wantedto unite his empire and validate his reign, he began buildingchurches in the Roman style–particularly the style of ChristianRome in the days of Constantine, the first Christian Romanemperor.For the average European in the 12th Century, a pilgrimage tothe Holy Land of Jerusalem was out of the question—travel tothe Middle East was too far, too dangerous and too expensive.Santiago de Compostela in Spain offered a much moreconvenient option.
Pilgrimage churches can be seen in part as populardestinations, a spiritual tourism of sorts for medieval travelers.Guidebooks, badges and various souvenirs were sold. Pilgrims,though traveling light, would spend money in the towns thatpossessed important sacred relics. The cult of relic was at itspeek during the Romanesque period (c. 1000 - 1200 C.E.).Relics are religious objects generally connected to a saint, orsome other venerated person.The Gothic period (c. 1200 - 1300 C.E.) sees architecturepushing up into the sky, lifting the faithfuls eyes towards heavenas engineering advances make tall spires possible.
The Renaissance (1400 CE – 1600 CE)A revolution is beginning to take place in the early 1300s inthe way people think about the world, the way they thinkabout the past, and the way they think about themselves andtheir relationship with God.The 13th and 14th centuries in Italy are known by a variety ofdifferent names in art history. This period in Italy is whenartists and scholars break from Medieval thought, philosophyand representations in art and begin to embrace the ideas ofHumanism.The artist who takes the biggest step away from the spiritualstyle of the Middle Ages is Giotto. You could say, in fact, thatGiotto changed the direction of art history. Giotto is perhapsbest known for the frescoes he painted in the Arena Chapel.Giotto is interested in representing something (evensomething divine and sacred) in a very familiar way.
Cimabue, Giotto and Duccio are all in fact exploring thepsychology of the figures they are painting and whatever onechooses to call this period in art, it is now evident that the ideasof Renaissance Humanism are taking hold in society.Florence ushered in the 15th-century with what wed now referto as a "juried" competition in sculpture. There was - and is - anenormous cathedral in Florence known as the Duomo, whoseconstruction was begun in 1296 and continued for nearly sixcenturies. Adjacent to the cathedral was/is a separate structurecalled the Baptistery, whose purpose, obviously, was forbaptisms. In the 14th-century, the Proto-Renaissance artistAndrea Pisano executed a pair of immense bronze doors for theeast side of the Baptistery. These were modern wonders at thetime, and became quite famous.
1. The Church, stabilized and unified once again under one Pope,provided artists and architects with a seemingly endless supply ofsubject material.2. Florence was determined to out-do everyone. This meant building,decorating and embellishing what was already there, which meantplenty of gainful employment.3. Humanism, which found a welcoming home in Florence, gavesome major gifts to the arts. Between the new intellectual crowd andthe ideas they introduced to the artistic community, it was a greattime to be an artist in Florence.4. The Medici, who literally could not spend all of their money, fundedall sorts of artists academies and workshops.5. Finally, the "door" contest made it possible, for the first time, forartists to enjoy fame. Artists went from being glorified craftsmen tocelebrities.
Prior to Brunelleschis ideas for the cupola of the Duomo,building a self-supporting structure the size of the dome wasimpossible. The techniques that the Romans had used to buildsuch things as the Pantheon were long forgotten. Despite hissecrecy, they chose Brunelleschis plan, and construction onBrunelleschis dome began. He had an ingenious idea that iscommon practice today, but revolutionary in its time. He createda herringbone pattern with the bricks that redirected the weightof the bricks outwards towards the domes supports, instead ofdownwards to the floor. By observing carefully the curve of thedome as it took shape, Brunelleschi was able to place thisbricks in key areas. The building (1446–ca.1461) would occupymost of his life.Donatello s bronze statue of David (circa 1440s) is famous asthe first unsupported standing work of bronze cast during theRenaissance, and the first freestanding nude ale sculpturemade since antiquity.
The Renaissance in the North of Europe can be characterizedby a strong attention to detail, careful observation of the worldaround us, the discovery of oil paint, strongly codifiedsymbolism, and lack of convincing perspective.During the Middle Ages, official doctrine had placed earthlyrealities on the lowest level of the scale of Creation - if theywere not, indeed, the work of the devil himself. However, by thetime of the Van Eyck brothers. People began to view the entireworld as the work of God, the source of all creation, and presentin its every detail, no matter how small and insignificant.
A the Humanism of the Early Renaissance grows, a problembegins to develop. Painting has become so real, the figures sohuman, that we can hardly tell that these are spiritual figures(except for the faint shadow of a halo). On the other hand, wehave seen that in the Middle Ages, if you want to make yourfigure spiritual then you sacrifice its realism. Leonardo Da Vincichanges this. He invents the technique of sfumato, in smoke, togive his paintings a hazy softness.In the High Renaissance, beginning with Leonardo, we find thatartists are considered intellectuals, and that they keep companywith the highest levels of society.Michelangelo, who was not primarily a painter but a sculptor,was reluctant to take on the Sistine Chapel. The Pope wasadamant, leaving Michelangelo no choice but to accept. Workbegan in 1508 and would not be finished until 1512.