Middle Ages


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Middle Ages

  1. 1. Of Apes and Men
  2. 2. The greatest mistake that a teacher can make is to transmit information in an isolated manner by having a subject appear so specialized and self-contained that it exists outside the scope of every other subject. Sadly, that is exactly the error committed by too many art history professors. Is it any wonder that students often dread art history as a boring litany of seemingly unrelated images, titles and dates? Who can blame them? The history of visual communications is of necessity the history of the human condition: a story of greed, lust, hate, love, nobility, courage, cowardice, fear, adventure, invention, imagination, opportunity, wanderlust, curiosity, generosity, faith, skepticism and all the extremes of baseness and potential that comprise the accumulated experience of the greatest of the great apes. Homo Erectus: upright man Homo Sapiens: wise man The lovely Latin names given to our species reflect our collective conceit as well as our fear of returning to the trees from which we fell. Our “wisdom” is questionable in light of two world wars, ongoing genocide and environmental destruction on a planetary scale. As for the ability to walk upright—well, it is a privilege of youth destined to collapse under the weight of age and gravity. It is interesting to note that the one enduring and primal characteristic that distinguishes us from our furry cousins is image making, yet there is no Latin name for Man/Woman the Image Maker. Why?
  3. 3. Lastly, if the Middle East is the “Cradle of Civilization,” then China is the cradle of the modern world. Few, if any, historians would agree with such an assertion. They would argue that the conceptual basis of modernity began in Europe, and—philosophically speaking—they would be correct. But philosophy without a material basis is as useful as silent movies for the blind. China provided that material basis in the form of inventions that made possible Europe’s rise to global hegemony. The horizontal treadle loom Paper Printing Gunpowder Rockets Paper money The magnetic compass According to Guns, Germs and Steel , China was also the bacterial and viral hothouse that gave Europeans an immune system capable of withstanding and spreading some of humanity’s deadliest diseases. Germ warfare proved far more efficient in the subjugation of Native Americans than the primitive guns carried by the Spanish and English predators of the 15- and 1600s. Therefore, let us begin in China and travel west through the lands where we are now at war with wayward elements of a civilization that unwittingly contributed to the creation of the United States, the world leader in visual communications.
  4. 4. China, Islam and the Conception of the Modern World a 1,500 year gestation
  5. 8. Paper, Printing and Gunpowder The Great Chinese Trinity
  6. 9. 1389 depiction of a treadle loom
  7. 10. Florentine weaver weaving brocade
  8. 11. Chinese papermaker with vat and three-sheet mold Late nineteenth, early twentieth century According to Chinese records, the imperial court eunuch Ts’ai Lun “invented” paper in the year 105 A.D. “ Under the reign of Ho Ti (89-105 A.D.), Ts’ai Lun of Lei’yang, conceived the idea of making paper from the bark of trees, discarded cloth, and hemp well prepared; the paper was then in use in the entire universe.”
  9. 12. “ Chinese chop. The traditional Chinese identification stamp is inscribed into the bottom of a small decorative sculpture carved from soft stone.” A History of Graphic Design
  10. 13. “ Chinese relief tomb sculpture and rubbing, Northern Qi Dynasty (A.D. 550-577). Illustrative images from the life of the deceased are captured in stone and with ink on paper.” A History of Graphic Design
  11. 14. “ Chinese woodblock print, circa A.D. 950. A prayer text is placed below an illustration of Manjusri, the Buddhist personification of supreme wisdom, riding a lion.” A History of Graphic Design
  12. 15. The Dangers of Political Correctness According to A History of Graphic Design : “ Gunpowder, which fueled a warlike aspect of the human temperament and changed the nature of war, was used by the Chinese for fireworks instead of for weapons…Europeans adopted these Chinese inventions and used them to conquer much of the world: The compass (which may have been developed independently in Europe) directed early explorers across the seas and around the globe; firearms enabled Europeans to subjugate the native populations of Africa, Asia, and the Americas; printing on paper became the method for spreading European language, culture, religion, and law throughout the world.” While it is true that China invented many of the tools that allowed Europe to expand, the Chinese were far from passive victims. Not only did they invent gunpowder, they also quickly realized its potential for war and did not hesitate to use it. Most military histories credit China with the invention and first use of firearms. According to Gunpowder , a recent book on the history of the explosive: “ The earliest guns appeared in China in the late 1200s—the oldest extant hand cannon is tentatively dated 1288. The gun arrived in evolutionary steps, just as other Chinese gunpowder weapons had. The earliest were small, crude variations on the fire lance. A Chinese bronze hand cannon from 1332 is only a foot long and weighs eight pounds. Hundreds of larger artillery pieces have survived from the 1350s. They fired both stone and iron balls.” Prior to firearms, the Chinese had invented the trebuchet, the most destructive form of catapult artillery in the Middle Ages. The Chinese Imperial Army had been using crossbows as an important infantry weapon since the beginning of the Common Era. Trebuchets and crossbows were not toys.
  13. 16. Gunpowder later describes how the Ottoman Turks, an Islamic military power and empire, used artillery to destroy the walls of Constantinople in 1453. The Turks repeatedly tried to conquer Europe. They held Greece and the Balkans until the nineteenth century. Yet A History of Graphic Design —an excellent book written by an exceptional scholar—gives the impression that Europe invented war and conquest and overlooks the Huns, Mongols, Ottomans, Arabs and Berbers who repeatedly tried to subjugate Europe and succeeded mostly in teaching the Europeans better ways to retaliate. No one has clean hands. No group has a monopoly on vice or virtue. We have a responsibility to assess the facts as accurately as possible while remembering that today’s victim is often tomorrow’s victimizer.
  14. 17. “ There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His prophet.” The glory of Islamic civilization from the Arabian Peninsula to India and Spain
  15. 18. While fasting in a cave in the year 610 Muhammad received a visitor who said, “Oh Muhammad! thou art the messenger of Allah, and I am Gabriel.” Thus was born Islam, the third faith in the Abrahamic triad that began with Judaism. By the year 711, the new and most radically monotheistic of the three monotheistic religions had invaded Germanic Spain and seemed on the verge of conquering Europe. Islam means submission. Armed with the most advanced science, mathematics and technology of their day as well as the preserved knowledge of Ancient Greece and Rome, the newly converted Arabs swept out of the Arabian Peninsula into Syria, Palestine, Egypt and North Africa. They challenged the might of the Byzantine Empire, converted Persia and eventually met their match under the Frankish Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732. To this day Osama bin Laden refers to all Europeans, including Americans, as “Franks.” The Caucasian Semites who embraced and spread Islam regarded Jews and Christians as “People of the Book.” With few exceptions they shied away from persecuting their fellow monotheists. The Christians did not return the favor. By the 1200s Spain was well on its way to achieving the Reconquista —the re-conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by Christians of Gothic descent who formed the heart of Spanish nobility and chivalry. In 1492, under the leadership of the Catholic Monarchs King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, Christian forces expelled the last Muslim rulers from Granada. Al-Andalus, as the Arabs called the peninsula, became España , and the remaining Muslims found themselves in danger of being burned at the stake. Unable to recover from the Mongol assaults of the 1200s and the increasing strength of Western Europe, the Muslim world entered a period of prolonged decline that contributed to the frustrations of today’s demagogues and terrorists. Ironically, Islamic civilization facilitated the Renaissance and the rise of Europe. Arabic words are embedded in every Western language, and Indo-Arabic numerals made modernity possible. Islamic architecture finds expression in Gothic arches while musical instruments from the violin to the guitar trace their origins to the Arabs. Without the al-kimiya modern chemistry may never have been born. Indeed, the Western debt is large.
  16. 19. “ A princely hunt from a Shahname made for Shah Isam’il II Iran, Qazvin, 1576-7” Islamic Art and Culture, A Visual History
  17. 20. “ Doublure (lining) of a book cover of lacquered papier-m âché board signed by the painter Muhammad Hadi Iran, Shiraz, 1815” Islamic Art and Culture, A Visual History
  18. 21. “ Portrait of Husayn ‘Ali Khan by the painter Abu’l-Hasan Ghaffari Iran, Tehran, 1853-54” Islamic Art and Culture, A Visual History
  19. 22. “ The Mughal dynasty from Timur to Awrangzeb India, circa 1707-12” Islamic Art and Culture, A Visual History
  20. 23. Pantheon Rome, Italy Begun in 118 C.E. and completed between 125 and 128
  21. 24. Pantheon Rome, Italy Begun in 118 C.E. and completed between 125 and 128
  22. 25. Greco-Roman Mummy Portrait Encaustic Fayum, Egypt 2nd century A.D.
  23. 26. Hagia Sophia (Saint Sophia or Holy Wisdom) Constantinople, Byzantine Empire (modern day Istanbul, Turkey) Built by the Emperor Justinian I from 532 to 537
  24. 27. Hagia Sophia (Saint Sophia or Holy Wisdom) Constantinople, Byzantine Empire (modern day Istanbul, Turkey) Built by the Emperor Justinian I from 532 to 537
  25. 28. Hagia Sophia (Saint Sophia or Holy Wisdom) Constantinople, Byzantine Empire (modern day Istanbul, Turkey) Built by the Emperor Justinian I from 532 to 537
  26. 30. The Ambrosian Iliad Ink and tempera on vellum Byzantine, circa 500 A.D. Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy
  27. 31. If philosophers and theologians could grasp how much pain they cause to those who experience the implementation of their ideas, they might reconsider sharing them. In the year 725, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III, inspired by the example of Caliph Yezid II, issued the Eastern Church’s first iconoclastic decree. The theological and historical complexities that led to the decree lie outside the scope of this paper. The key point, however, is that the cruelty with which it was executed reveals the depths to which a word-inspired legalistic ideology could sink. Leonard Shlain refers to the actions of the iconoclasts as “madness” and emphasizes that it did not spread to “illiterate western Europe.” Between 725 and 843, the Iconoclasts destroyed both religious and secular works of art, killed monks, priests and owners of icons and even blinded or murdered the artists. The early Protestants went on similar rampages during the Reformation, and the latest incident of word-driven iconoclastic violence occurred when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in 2001. Interestingly enough, the plural Taliban derives from the singular Talib, a student “who seeks knowledge.” Alain Besançon, The Forbidden Image, An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 114-115. Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), 276. Alain Besançon, The Forbidden Image, An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 115. Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), 276. Alain Besançon, The Forbidden Image, An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 173-174. BBC News, November 13, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1654085.stm (accessed July 5, 2008). Ahmed Rashid, Taliban (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 22-23.
  28. 32. The Lindisfarne Gospels Eadfrith, Abbot of Lindisfarne Ink and tempera on vellum 687-698 A.D. British Museum, London, England
  29. 33. David Slays Goliath and Cuts off his Head illuminated manuscript circa 1245-50 ink and tempera on vellum French Pierpont Morgan Library, New York The page includes Hebrew and Arabic writings.
  30. 34. Oni of If é (Oni: king) thirteenth or fourteenth century A.D. cast brass 13.5” high If é Museum, Nigeria “ The Ifé artist’s interest in surface decoration can also be compared to that of Medieval Europeans…The Ifé examples reflect the general (but not invariable) tendency in Africa toward naturalism in the art of politically centralized societies. Such heads as these are often effigies of rulers and are presumably designed to stress the temporal aspects of power. Indeed, it may well be that the Medieval people of Ifé had an elaborate political organization such as is characteristic of the Yoruba who occupy most of Western Nigeria today…” Art in Perspective
  31. 35. Head from the Tomb of the Inscriptions, Palenque Seventh or eighth century C.E. Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City stucco
  32. 36. Buddha second century C.E. India stone
  33. 37. The Burning of the Sanj o Palace (detail of scroll) anonymous middle of the Kamakura period, 1185-1333 gouache on paper 16.75” high
  34. 38. Christ in Majesty Surrounded by the Elders of the Apocalypse Possibly completed by 1115 tympanum of the south portal, abbey church of Saint-Pierre Moissac, France
  35. 40. Notre Dame Cathedral 1163-1270 Paris, France
  36. 41. Top two images Exterior and interior of the mosque of Shaykh Lutfallah, Isfahan, 1602-19 Bottom left Portal and qibla iwan of the Masjid-i Shah, Isfahan 1612-30 Bottom right Tilework of the Masjid-i Shah, Isfahan 1612-30
  37. 43. Death of the Virgin tympanum of the south transept portal circa 1235 Strasbourg Cathedral, France
  38. 44. Cimabue Enthroned Madonna and Child circa 1280 egg tempera and gold leaf on panel 11’ 7’’ x 7’ 4” Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
  39. 45. Giotto Lamentation 1305-06 fresco Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy
  40. 46. Arabian Peninsula Atlantic Ocean Canada China Egypt England France Greece Iberian Peninsula India Indian Ocean Italy Japan Korean Peninsula Mediterranean Sea Mexico Morocco Nigeria North Africa Pacific Ocean Persia/Iran Persian Gulf Peru Spain United States