Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Comparing Egyptian and Minoan works of art

            When we compare the an example of Minoan culture, “Bull Leaping” on fresco, and an example of Egyptian art, “Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt”, they both show the unique styles associated with their respective cultures.  They also show similarities in some of their perspectives and painting styles, which could suggest the possible influence of Egyptian culture Minoan art.

            “Ti Watching a Hippotamus Hunt” is a painted relief found in the tomb of a government official, c. 2450 – 2325 BCE.  The relief depicts Ti watching a hippopotamus hunt while servants are posed in different action shots.  There are different depictions of stylized animals and papyrus that are at the bottom and at the top of the picture.  The fresco of the Minoan “Bull Leaping” depicts two stylized women and an acrobat leaping over a bull and there is a decorative border of abstract shapes surrounding the subjects, c. 1550 – 1450 BCE.

            The stylization of the people and animals are seen in both the fresco and the relief carving.  In the Egyptian relief we can see that the main figure of Ti is rendered following the Egyptian conventional composite pose for people in the upper levels of societal status.  His head is in profile view, along with his feet and arms, while his eye, torso and shoulders are in frontal view.  Hieratical status is shown by the fact that Ti seems to looms larger in size compared to all the other figures in the relief.  The hunters in the scene follow a more naturalistic and realistic viewpoint, which is similar in style to the Minoan figures in the “Bull Leaping” fresco.  The Minoan painters also depicted their figures in profile poses, but they kept the figures with a more naturalistic pose by keeping the rest of the body in profile as well. An unnatural stylizing that is a characteristic of Minoan art is the narrowing and tapering of the waists.  The bull’s legs are also tapered unrealistically.  The Minoan fresco also has a decorative border of geometric shapes.

            The Egyptian relief shows a confusing array of perspectives, while the Minoan fresco shows a lack of grounding of the subjects.  Along with the different perspectives that make up the Egyptian conventional composite pose, we can also see changes in perspective with the water and the animals in the water and in the papyrus.  The artistic depicted the waves in a surface view of the water, and a profile view of the animals within the water.  The animals within the water are all depicted in profile view, but the birds among the papyrus flowers and stalks are portrayed in different naturalistic poses and follows more closely to a natural perspective.  The Minoan fresco doesn’t have the confusing array of perspectives of the Egyptians, but the subjects (the people and the bull) show a lack of any grounding, since there doesn’t appear to be any ground that is represented.  It appears that the subjects are just floating in the air.

            The Egyptian relief was done in limestone.  In relief the picture is drawn and the background is then carved away from the subject matter.  This helps to give emphasis on the subjects, and on the relief of Ti, it gives a repeating pattern in the background that draws the eye to the people in the boat and the animals in the water and connects to the animals in the papyrus above them.  The Minoan fresco is painted on plaster and has a very 2-dimensional feel compared to the Egyptian relief.  The painting style for both the relief and the fresco are very similar.  Both the Egyptian and Minoan artists filled in contours of their work with solid color and without use of shading.  They used a repetition of line work, either painted or carved, to show details, such as the lines of hair on the Minoan bull and the geometric shapes framing the subject matter, and the repeating lines used for the stalks of papyrus in the Egyptian relief.

            The subject matters both show important events occurring and have symbols of power.  In the bull fresco, the bull is a symbol of strength, virility, and fertility and also connected to religion.  The strength of the bull is depicted in its large shoulders and strong neck and the sense of power and movement seen in the pose of the body.   The scene with the woman and the man leaping over the bull could be a depiction of a rite of passage or of an initiation or it could just be showing a form of entertainment. The repetition of the geometric forms on the border could represent the lunar calendar as well.  The Egyptian relief also have symbols of power.  By making Ti the largest form in the picture we see his power over everything in the picture and it symbolizes the power of Ti.  It is more a form of propaganda Ti’s representation of his own power and importance.  The hippopotamus symbolizes the god Seth who represents chaos, so by showing Ti hunting and killing the hippopotami, he is reigning in chaos and restoring order.

            Both works of art, the relief and the fresco show similarities and differences but they both have unique characteristics that separate them from each other and other cultural pieces of art.  The Egyptian and Minoan artists both shared similar painting styles, the technique of filling in contours with solid color and the use of profiles views when depicting the people.  The use of the conventional composite view, hieratical scale, and the use of conventional measurement and proportions for the body are unique to Egyptian art and can be seen in their art for thousands of years.  The Minoans style can be seen in the narrowing and the tapering of the waists, the tapering of the legs on the bull, and the flying gallop pose with the bull and which shows up on other pieces of work.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Comparative Analysis of the ziggurats of Mesopotamia and the Pyramids of Giza

            The culture and the religious beliefs were very different between the Sumerians, the people that built the ziggurats, and the Egyptians, who are well known for building the great pyramids of Giza.  The ziggurats and pyramids had differences in structure and in function, but they did share similarities in the symbolism of the structures.
The first ziggurats of Mesopotamia were built by the Sumerians circa. 3300-3000 BCE.  The Anu ziggurat and the white temple is one of the earliest temples built, while the Nanna ziggurat of Ur was built by the Sumerians after they had forced out the Guti and the fall of the Akkadian Empire, circa. 2100-2050 BCE.  The Egyptian Pyramids of Giza were comissioned by three successive Egyptian kings: Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure in the Fourth Dynasty, 2575-2450 BCE.

The architecture and scales are very different from one another.  The ziggurats were big stepped structures that often had a temple or shrine on top.  The base was rectangle shaped and had three platforms and stairs that converge on the first platform.  The Egyptian pyramids at Giza were massive structures and formed a perfect pyramid shape with a square base and four sloping sides that perfectly meet at a point at the top.  There was also a huge difference in scale.  The Nanna ziggurat at its base was 205 ft. by 141 ft.,  (28,905 square feet) and might have been a 100ft. tall.  The largest pyramid of Khufu takes up an area of 13 acres (566,280 square feet) at its base, and would have been 481 feet tall. 

The ziggurats are solid structures with only the temple at the very top providing an covered structure.  Since there were no burial remains found at the ziggurats it is assumed that were used only for worship and not for burial.  The pyramids were mostly solid but they did have burial chambers and passages.  One important function of the pyramids was as a burial site and tombs for some of the  kings of Egypt.

The structures were made of different materials, but because of the mud bricks used by the Sumerians, it helped to create some of the similar lines seen in the pyramids, but also created difference in the outward appearance as well.  The mud bricks might have been more susceptible to erosion than the limestone and granite that the Egyptians used to create the pyramids.  The platform walls slope outward which might have been to prevent rainwater from eroding the mud brick pavement.  These sloping lines reflect the sloping walls of the pyramids and draw the eye towards the top of the structure. 

Symbolism played a very important role in the ziggurats and the pyramids and they both shared similar meanings to the people and the message the kings were trying to convey.  King Urnammu commissioned the Nanna Ziggurat be dedicated to the moon god Nanna.  Ziggurats provided a place of worship and glorification of a particular god and a way to proclaim a ruler’s wealth, prestige, and stability to its people.  They often rose high above the flat plains around them and were symbols of “the bridges between the earth and the heavens – a meeting place for humans and their gods”.  The pyramids too were the Egyptians claims to wealth and prestige.  They required a huge labor force for the building and construction of the structure, the quarrying and transportation of the 2.5 ton stones, and the skilled designers and overseers of the pyramids who would have needed to do complicated calculations.  It shows a huge wealth that would have been necessary to pay for the workers over the period of time that was needed to build the structure and to pay for the materials, such as the gold to cap at the top of the pyramid.  The angled sides could have been to represent the rays of the sun, and it was believed that deceased kings climbed the rays of the sun to join the god Ra, thus the pyramids too provided a meeting place of man and god like the ziggurats.

 Even with the difference in structure, the Sumerians through their building of the ziggurats and the Egyptians with the pyramids, share a belief that their structures symbols of their kings’ power and prestige and symbols of their gods.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Analysis of the votive statue of Gudea

The votive statue of Gudea is from Girusu, c. 2090 BCE, depicts a man (Gudea the ruler of Lagash) standing tall and holding a vessel that has water flowing from it. The man wears a circular hat on his head and a robe filled with text that leaves one shoulder bare. The statue is 29 inches tall and made of diorite.

The viewpoint suggested by the statue is one that centers on the front of the body. Even though we assume that the statue was done in the round, the position of the face, the alignment of the body, and the detailed writing gives emphasis to the frontal view. The face is very straight forward, looking directly at the viewer. The body posture also reflects this frontal view. The shoulders and hips are perfectly straight and show no signs of being turned or pivoted in any way. The arms rest in front of the body instead of off to the side and the feet are perfectly aligned to the front. Intricate writing covers the front of the robe from his hands all the way down to his feet, which would force the viewer to look at the front of the figure in order to read the writing.

The lines and the frontal view point do not encourage the viewer to move around the statue to view it from different angles. The composition of the lines are very vertical, even the detailed marks done on the round hat are very straight and vertical. The lines of the water flowing and the vertical columns of writing all encourage the eye to stay on the frontal view of the figure. There are not many lines that are horizontal or that even encourage the eye to move around the figure. The arms and the line of the garment over the one shoulder are some of the few lines that aren't completely vertical. Even those lines force the eye back to the front of the figure. The left arm becomes obscured by the garment and the lines of the flowing water draw the eye down to the writing instead of around the figure. The elbow on the right arm is at a very sharp angle and bends the upper part of the arm up and draws the eye to the vessel being grasped in both hands. Again the the lines of the water draw the eye down to the writing and up to the face.

The arrangement of the body is very static with very little tension created. The body is very straight and erect and seems relaxed. There are no turns or twists to the neck, shoulders, or hips to suggest impending movement. The feet are both firmly planted flat on the ground facing forward and close together. The muscles are well defined on the figures right arm, but they are not bulging in tension, which suggests a relaxed and easy hold of the vessel and that the vessel was not a heavy burden for the man. The hands hold the vessel in both hands and close to the body, in a pose that requires less energy and creates less tension than holding the vessel out from the body. The face shows a very neutral expression with the muscles around the eyes and cheeks looking relaxed. The eyes do create some intensity, though. They appear to be wide open. looking straight ahead, and staring intently at the viewer.

Diorite, a very hard stone, was the material used to make the statue and was very hard to carve. Probably due to the hard nature of the material, the statue is very compact and appears to have been carved from one piece in the round. Even though it was carved in the round it still maintains a very blocky look to it. The shoulders and the body are very square and the shape of the robe is very straight and block like. It is very solid with very little negative space. The only noticeable negative space is created by the feet. There is a rectangular space that has been carved at the hem of the garment and allows the viewer to see the feet. The space does not go all the way through the stone, so instead creates a dark space where only the toes are visible.

The sculpture emphasizes both a sense of flatness and volume. The garment the statue is wearing, the shoulders, and the figures left arm, don't protrude out beyond the ventral, or front, plane of the body. This makes them seem very flat and two-dimensional. The roundness of the hat and the face help add some depth to the statue, along with the roundness of the statue's right arm and the deep groove at the bend in the elbow. The shadow by the elbow and by the deep carving by the feet help lend the statue more of a three dimensional appearance. Even with those shadows, there is little in the sense of drama and the way the light plays over the figure leaves little hidden from view. The face is in full view and we can see the relaxed face and the text on his clothing is fully visible. Only his feet remain in deep shadow but because of the their position being flat to the ground and close together, there is is no expectation of hidden movement.

The color of the statue is a very monotone grey, and adds to the two-dimensional affect. Instead of emphasizing areas that are in higher relief and and lower relief, it causes the statue to appear more flat. The gray doesn't add any contrast between areas and it gives the appearance of less depth.

The lines and grooves of the hat, the water, and the text on the clothes give the otherwise smooth sculpture some texture. Texture is given to the hat by a series of grids, which may have been carved to give the appearance of fleece on the brim of the hat. The grooved lines for the water help to give some texture to the upper part of the body and help to frame the text on the front of the clothing. The main bulk of the texture, though, is added through expanding columns of text that have been scratched or carved on the front of the statue. Unlike the series of parallel lines created on the rest of the statue, the text creates interesting patterns and helps to draw the attention and the eye of the viewer. This could have been the artist's intentions, to have the viewer see the man, but more importantly learn about him through the text.