Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ancient Art - Persia (6th century B.C. to 7th century A.D.)

Region traditionally known as Persia is now called Iran. The term ancient Persia is used to refer to the period before the advent of Islam in the 7th century A.D. The high plateau of Iran has seen the development of many cultures, all of which have added distinctive features to the many styles of Persian art and architecture.

Early works
   Although earlier civilizations are known, the first archaelogical finds of artistic importance are the superb ceramics from Susa and Persepolis (c.3500 B.C.). The choice of biological subjects, simplified into patterns, may be called the formative principle of Persian art. Much of 4th-millennium Iranian art is strongly influenced by that of Mesopotamia. The 3d-millennium art of Elam, found at Sialk and Susa, also follows Mesopotamian styles, and this trend is
continued in the less well-known Elam and Urartu art of the 2d millennium.
   Beginning at the end of the 2nd millennium to the middle of the 1st millennium a great florescence of bronze casting occurred along the southern Caspian mountain zone and in mountainous Lorestan. Probably dated 1200-700 B.C., harness trappings, horse bits, axes, and votive objects were made in large quantities and reflected a complex animal style created by combining parts of animals and fantastic creatures in various forms.

Achaemenian period
(550-330 B.C.)
   A unified style emerges. Luxurious works of decorative art were produced. The Achaemenids evolved a monumental style in which relief sculpture is used as an adjunct to massive architectural complexes. Remains of great palaces reveal plans that characteristically show great columned audience halls. The style as a whole and the feeling for space and scale are distinctive.
   In the sculpture is shown ordered clarity and simplicity. Heraldic stylization is subtly combined with effects of realism. Typical are the low stone reliefs and friezes executed in molded and enameled brick, a technique of Babylonian-Assyrian origin. The great care lavished on every stone detail is also found in the fine gold and silver rhytons (drinking horns), bowls, jewelry, and other objects produced by this culture.
   After the death of Alexander the Great (323 B.C.), there was turmoil in Iran until the rise of the Parthians (c.250 B.C.). Theirs is essentially a crude art, synthesizing Hellenistic motifs with Iranian forms.

Sassanian Period
(A.D. 224 - 651)
   Of far greater artistic importance is the the Sassanian art. Adapting and expanding previous styles and techniques, they rebuilt the Parthian capital at Ctesiphon. There a great palace with a huge barrel vault was constructed of rubble and brick. Sassanid architecture is decorated with carved stone or stucco reliefs and makes use of colorful stone mosaics.
   Sassanian metalwork was highly developed, the most usual objects being shallow silver cups and large bronze ewers, engraved and worked in repoussé. The commonest themes were court scenes, hunters, animals, birds, and stylized plants. The largest collection of these vessels is in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. The Sassanids recorded their triumphs on immense outdoor rock reliefs scattered throughout Iran, often using the same sites that the Achaemenids had covered with reliefs and inscriptions. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ancient Art - Mesopotamia (9000 - 500 B.C)

 This is the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which roughly comprises modern Iraq and part of Syria. The most ancient civilizations known to man first developed there writing, schools, libraries, written law codes, agriculture, irrigation, farming and moved us from prehistory to history. It's giving Mesopotamia the reputation of being the cradle of civilization. The name does not refer to any particular civilization using that name. It includs non-Semitic Sumerians, followed by the Semitic Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. Over the course of 4000 years, the art of Mesopotamia reveals a tradition that appears, homogeneous in style and iconography.

   Art became decorative, stylized and conventionalized at different times and places. Gods took on human forms and humans were combined with animals to make fantastic creatures. Large temples and imposing palaces dotted the landscape. History and poetry for the first time was recorded and set down to music. Lyres, pipes, harps and drums accompanied their songs and dances.

   The soil of Mesopotamia yielded the civilization's major building material - mud brick. Stone was rare, and certain types had to be imported for sculpture. Variety of metals, as well as shells and precious stones, were used for the finest sculpture and inlays.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ancient Egypt (3500 - 1000 B.C)

   The history of Ancient Egypt, long more than 3000 years, is divided into 8 or 9 periods, sometimes called Kingdoms. The Ancient Egyptians themselves rather seem to have developed the notion of dynasties throughout their history. It developed along the river Nile, in Eastern Africa.

   The importance of religion and the respect for death ruled their art. They built mostly temples, graves and adopted strict canons controlled by the priests. Our knowledge of Egyptian civilization rests almost entirely on them and their contents since they were built to endure forever. Conventions of ancient Egyptian believes and culture strongly affected the art. The Pharaoh (King) considered divine. Representation of the figure presented the most reflexive view of each part of the body. Preparation for the afterlife was of extreme importance. The body must be preserved if the soul or ka is to live on in the beyond in a same body. They built great tombs for their Pharaohs (kings), who were not only the supreme rulers but gods. Tombs contained everything the deceased might want or need in the afterlife and much of our knowledge of the culture comes from tomb paintings. After Pharaoh's death, his body was laid right in the centre of the huge mountain of stone, along with many weapons and food. Even his servants were buried to help him on his journey to the other world.

Pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic Period (3500-3000 B.C.) 

From about 5000 BC to 3000 BC, Egypt was not a unified nation and that time is known as the Pre-Dynastic period. Around 3000 BC, Upper and Lower Kingdom conjoined and lands along the Nile River were united under one ruler and the Dynastic period began.

The Old Kingdom (2700-2200 B.C.) 

The old kingdom is an important period in political and cultural development of Ancient Egypt. Centuries of uninterrupted rise, established one of the most powerful cultures of the ancient world. During this period Hieroglyphic writing reached its sophistication. The techniques of crafts developed to a high professionalism. King Djoser, builder of the step pyramid at Saqqara, is the first and most celebrated king of the third dynasty. The works of Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinus, the creators of the three pyramids at Giza represents the peak of achievements in the architectural field. A strong centralized government, as well as a divine kingship characterizes this period. Towards the end of the period, central authority disintegrated and the country fell into a state of rapid decline.

The Middle Kingdom (2050-1800 B.C.) 
The middle kingdom started with the re-foundation of the Kingdom under single administration by Mentuhotep II. It was an epoch of restoration of the Egyptian culture. The kings of the following dynasties enlarged their control over the land, promoted the economic and political development. Egyptian trade flourished, and a developed irrigation system was re-established. Pyramid building was also revived, but much humbler then in the old kingdom. This rise was followed by the ultimate downfall and the country fell into the hands of foreign rulers.

The New Kingdom (1550-1080 B.C.) 

During this period Egypt reached the zenith of its power. Egypt extended further south in Africa and into the Middle East under these rulers. Tutmosis III was among the pioneers in the military field. The degree of refinement of this age is clearly manifested in the architectural heritage. Under the rule of queen Hatshipsut, the artistic revival began. The reigning monarchs of this period showed a genuine interest in art and architecture. Khenaton, the heretic pharaoh, reached the peak of artistic innovations with his unique art style that accompanied his religious reformation.

Late Period (after 1080 B.C.)
The late period was a period of deterioration. Kingship suffered a decline in prestige, and the political and social systems were unstable. Egypt was now ruled from two separate capitals, one in the north and one in the south. Large foreign colonies developed and Egypt for the first time opened its borders to the foreigners who settled in the delta.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Prehistoric Art (Neolithic): 10,000 - 5,000 BC

  The Neolithic period, also called New Stone Age, began when men first developed agriculture and settled in permanent villages. It ended with the discovery of bronze. The prime medium of Neolithic art was pottery. Other important artistic expressions were statuary of the universally worshiped Mother Goddess and megalithic stone monuments.

   Free standing sculpture had already begun by the Neolithic, the earliest being the anthropomorphic figurines, often embellished by animals from the very beginning of the Neolithic discovered in Nevali Cori and Göbekli Tepe near Urfa in eastern Turkey, dating to ca. 10th millennium BC. The mesolithic statues of Lepenski Vir at the Iron Gorge, Serbia and Montenegro date to the 7th millennium BC and represent either humans or mixtures of humans and fish.

   In Central Europe, many Neolithic cultures, like Linearbandkeramic, Lengyel and Vinca, produced female (rarely male) and animal statues that can be called art. Whether the elaborate pottery decoration of, for example, the Želiesovce and painted Lengyel style are to be classified as art is a matter of definition.

   Megalithic monuments are found in the Neolithic from Spain to the British Isles and Poland. They start in the 5th Millennium BC, though some authors speculate on Mesolithic roots. Because of frequent reuse, this is difficult to prove. While the most well-known of these is Stonehenge, were the main structures date from the early Bronze age, such monuments have been found throughout most of Western and Northern Europe, notably at Carnac, France, at Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands, in Portugal, and in Wiltshire, England, the area of Stonehenge, the Avebury circle, the tombs at West Kennet, and Woodhenge. One tomb found in New Grange, Ireland, has its entrance marked with a massive stone carved with a complex design of spirals. The tomb of Knowth has rock-cut ornaments as well. Many of these monuments were megalithic tombs, and archaeologists speculate that most have religious significance. 

Prehistoric Art (Mesolithic / Archaic): 10,000 - 5,000 BC

 The Mesolithic is the period of middle Stone Age, from about 10,000 - 5,000 BC years ago. It corresponds to period of primarily nomadic hunting and gathering which preceded the adoption of domesticated plants and animals.

   The term Mesolithic is used to characterize that period in Europe and, sometimes, parts of Africa and Asia. That stage is usually called the Archaic in the Americas and in the rest of the world, it's usually characterized by Microliths.

   This was a period when humans developed new techniques of stone working. At that time, people stayed longer in one place and gave increased attention to the domestication. There is a gap in the artistic activity of people of that epoch. Most of what has survived from the Mesolithic era is small statuette size works and paintings in shallow shelter caves.

   The rich art of the Paleolithic is replaced by a Mesolithic art that is quite different. There are many changes in style as well as meaning. Upper Paleolithic cave art depicts colored drawings and expressive features of animals. A full range of color is used. Mesolithic art in contrast is schematic; no realistic figures are present and only the color red is used. This form is also found in North Africa and the northern Mediterranean.

Pre-Historic Art (Paleolithic): 2 million years ago-13,000 BC

Paleolithic or "Old Stone Age" is a term used to define the oldest period in the human history. The Paleolithic or Palaeolithic - lit. old stone from the Greek paleos=old and lithos=stone. It began about 2 million years ago, from the use of first stone tools and ended of the Pleistocene epoch, with the close of the last ice age about 13,000 BC.

   Subdivisions of the Paleolithic include the: Lower Paleolithic (Oldowan, Clactonian, Abbevillian, Acheulean), Middle Paleolithic, the time of the hand axe-industries (Mousterian) and Upper Paleolithic (Châtelperronian, Aurignacian, Solutrean, Gravettian, Magdalenian). The Paleolithic is followed by the Mesolithic or Epipaleolithic.

   The Lower spans the time from around 4 million years ago when the first humans appear in the archaeological record, to around 120,000 years ago when important evolutionary and technological changes ushered in the Middle Palaeolithic.

   In Europe and Africa the Middle Paleolithic (or Middle Palaeolithic) is the period of the early Stone Age that lasted between around 120,000 and 40,000 years ago. It was the time when early humans gained increasing control over their surroundings and later saw the emergence of modern humans around 100,000 years ago. Stone tool manufacturing developed a more sophisticated tool making technique which permitted the creation of more controlled and consistent flakes. Hunting provided the primary food source but people also began to exploit shellfish and may have begun smoking and drying meat to preserve it. This would have required a mastery of fire and some sites indicate that plant resources were managed through selective burning of wide areas. Artistic expression emerged for the first time with ochre used as body paint and some early rock art appearing. There is also some evidence of purposeful burial of the dead which may indicate religious and ritual behaviors.

   The Upper Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic) is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age as it is understood in Europe, Africa and Asia. Very broadly it dates to between 40,000 and 8,500 years ago. Modern humans, who had begun migrating out of Africa during the Middle Paleolithic period, began to produce regionally distinctive cultures during the Upper Paleolithic period. The earliest remains of organized settlements in the form of campsites, some with storage pits, are encountered in the archaeological record. Some sites may have been occupied year round though more generally they seem to have been used seasonally with peoples moving between them to exploit different food sources at different times of the year. Technological advances included significant developments in flint tool manufacturing with industries based on fine blades rather than cruder flakes. The reasons for these changes in human behavior have been attributed to the changes in climate during the period which encompasses a number of global temperature drops. Artistic work also blossomed with Venus figurines and exotic raw materials found far from their sources suggest emergent trading links.

   Paleolithic Art, produced from about 32,000 to 11,000 years ago, falls into two main categories: Portable Pieces (small figurines or decorated objects carved out of bone, stone, or modeled in clay), and Cave Art.