Ancient art gives you impressions and details into the lives of people that lived so long ago. I gained knowledge about the different artistic periods, about the symbolisms and different reasons for the artwork, about the wonderful sculptures and paintings that were made, and the amazing architecture that still endure into the present. I appreciated the art for both its visual details and for their historical content.
One of the most interesting aspects about much of the art that was covered in my art history class was the use of art for political propaganda. It can be seen in many of the different artistic and historical periods. Often, it was rulers and leaders, through the use of symbolism and the associations with the divine, that used the art to convey their right to rule and their power and strength to the people that they ruled over and to their enemies. The “Stele of Naram-Sin” is rich in symbolism and shows different stylistic techniques. It shows the Akadian ruler Naran-Sin and his victory over a group of mountain people. The stele uses the hierarchy of scale to show the importance of Naram-Sin by making him the largest figure in the scene, which is seen prominently in Egyptian art as well. They also show his importance by making him similar in size to the mountain that is seen in the background. His connection to the divine is made through the symbolisms of the bull’s horns on his head, his well formed and tone body, and the stars in the sky that represents the presence of the gods. What’s also interesting about this stele, is that the fact that it was not only used by Naram-Sin to promote himself, but that it was also used after his lifetime by another ruler, Shutruk-Nahunte. He used it for his own propagandistic purposes and tried to draw an association with Naram-Sin. Other artwork rich in political propaganda included the Babylonian “Stele of Hammurabi”, which contain the written legal codes of Hammurabi and depicts the support of the gods through the offering of the staff, and the Narmer Palette from the early dynastic period in Egypt.
Architecture was widespread and diverse throughout the ancient civilizations and cultures and throughout time. The Ishtar gates are a beautiful example of the New Babylonian period. The blue glazed brick make a dramatic background for the stylized dragons and lions. I like the repetition of the decorative elements, the stylized plants and palm trees, and how the colors contrast with the background and form interesting lines for the eye to follow. I think this would have made a wonderful ceremonial visually and I enjoy how it represents the rebirth and the rejuvenation of the Babylonian culture.
The Great pyramids of Giza are still an impressive feat of architecture. It’s amazing the precision of the calculations that would have been needed to form a perfect pyramid. The other Egyptian architecture that I thought was amazing was the Hypostle Hall of the Great Temple of Amuk. Most of the columns, walls, and cross-beams were decorated with painted pictoral relief and inscriptions. Visually, the eye is drawn up and down the column with the different registers of relief and hieroglyphs, and the many columns create a sense of being in a forest of trees, or in the case with the Egyptians, a swamp of papyrus. The amount of work needed to decorate the columns would have required many skilled artists and a lot of time and resources. It was interesting to learn of the symbolism of the papyrus and lotus shaped columns, and the symbolism of the swamps, which was closely tied into the Egyptian’s religious belief in creationism.
The Parthenon is an amazing building that gives insight into Greeks’ desire for perfectionism and order. Iktinos’s treatise on the Parthenon was meant to use optical illusion to create perfectionism. Some of his methods involved include: the swelling of the columns so that they appeared straight, making the columns on the corner thicker, curving the base of the entablatures to give the impression of a straight horizontal line, and using the ration 4:9 for the relationship of breadth and length and column diameter to the space in between columns.
Based on the use of domes and the basilica plans of the Romans, the Byzantines created a beautiful centrally and longitudinal planned dome called the Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The ring of windows around the dome, which lets in light, creates an aura and halo of light that isn’t seen in the Roman Pantheon. The dome and the light represent spirituality and the heavens. The light and the stylized patterns that decorate the inside of the dome make Hagia Sophia an interesting and beautiful church.
Some of my favorite paintings were the frescoes of the ancient Aegean culture. I enjoyed the bright use of colors in the landscapes, and with the figures, and the whimsical stylization of the hills and the animals. The bright colors and the telling of an important event in Aegean culture, the coming into womanhood, can be seen in the “Girl Gathering Saffron”. The whimsical and stylized animals can be seen in the “Flotilla Frescoe”. The deer leaping in the background over the hills and the dolphins leaping out of the water, in between the flotilla of boats, lends energy to the scene, and the multi colored hills lend a colorful backdrop to the scene.
I learned a lot about the people and the different cultures of ancient civilizations through their art and architecture. It gives me a better understanding of their artwork and an understanding of how much influence cultures had on each other, even our own.