Category: Art
Western Art History: Late Antiquity, Byzantium and the Islamic World

Art has been constantly changing with respect to the current dynamics. Indeed, there has been a huge revolution marking the connection between ancient artistic designs and the present ones. However, contemporary artists have developed new techniques, unlike ancient ones. For instance, glass art is represented by a renowned artist called Louis Comfort Tiffany, a specialist in the design of famous paintings, who remains predominantly eminent in U.S. history. His successor specializing in the same artistic line, Mr. Dave Chihuly, used advancements in glass art left by the previous designs created by Tiffany. It was the development of the artwork by Tiffany, but not a new invention altogether. As a matter of fact, there have been various revolutions in the field of art, which have influenced the design of the current artworks.

Late Antiquity

Use of Iconography

The use of iconography appropriated from Roman pagan images was a tradeoff between the progress that Christianity had made in the move to express its dominance and a huge Islamic influence. Indeed, icons acted as a benchmark for plans aimed at strengthening the Christian faith, as the Christians expressed their strong opposition towards physical objects prohibited by their faith. Consequently, a versatile role of the church could be further diversified into being a coherent foundation, upon which Christianity grew and flourished.

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Additionally, the appropriation of iconography from Roman pagan illustrations was a clear demarcation of the sharp contrast between Christian and non-Christian believes, and pagan ones in particular. Therefore, the clear mounting of imageries with portraits borrowed from the Roman pagan sect made an irrefutable contribution towards the enlightenment of the ‘weak Christians’ on a strong faith among contradicting ones. It was a formidable emblem aimed at the avoidance of non-Christian believes. Therefore, these images boosted the Christian faith, though not absolutely.

Trip to Rome

Referring to The Ancient Churches of Rome, Caput Mundi in Rome is claimed to be the world’s historical backyard of Christianity and related art. Indeed, being the esteemed capital of the Roman Empire, it has been central with respect to artistic development from the time of antiquity, playing a significant role in the account of Christian art. Indeed, there is no other known city that has such immense Christian artworks in the entire world.

Artworks range from paintings in underground catacombs within the scope of the town to ancient basilicas with other mosaic decoration (Museo Pio Cristiano, n.d.). The article The Ancient Churches of Rome (n.d.) on the site, therefore, includes the listing of early Christian artworks within the Roman city of Caput Mundi in Rome. Indeed, there is a stunning huge list of the earliest Christian churches and artworks of the medieval period dating back to above 1000 years ago. Furthermore, there are splendid old column basilicas with colorful mosaics and old rotundas with magnificently decorated cloisters. Indeed, it marks the strenuous exploration of churches in Rome.

Jewish art during the late antiquity period, Rome. During the first centuries, the entire Jewish community was widely scattered throughout the Roman Empire. It extended from Sardis in Turkey to Ostia in Italy. Furthermore, the Jewish community could be found from Hammam-Lif in Tunisia to Intercisa in Hungary. It is evident that Jewish people were an integral part of the urban landscape of antiquity. This aspect is clear from the literal attestation of over 150 synagogues, as well as archeological remnants stretching across the Roman Empire. It also unveiled an irrefutable fact that Jewish existence went far beyond the precincts of Roman Palestine.

Asia Minor comprised a wide range of Jewish communities. During the third century, similar to Christian churches and synagogues within the Roman Empire, the Persian Shrine for god Mithras was adorned with a vast sumptuous painting. Indeed, there were fabulous murals accompanied by narrative scenes quoted from the Bible texts, covering the walls. Furthermore, the painting portraying zodiacal symbols basically ornamented the synagogue’s ceiling. There were plaques containing dedicatory inscriptions with respect to donators towards the construction of the synagogue. Additionally, Jews frequently employed the Greco-Roman practice of using an elaborate mosaic in the pavement of the floor. It, however, presents the affirmative understanding of the Second Commandment against idol making, which may otherwise surprise the current generation. The above are some prominent features of the time with regard to artworks in the western and eastern parts of the Roman Empire.

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Over and above, there were some drastic changes in art with the turn of centuries and the integration of Renaissance painters and the concrete ancient Greek art trend. Indeed, art included various vases, sculptures, and huge architecture. Greek art had undergone vigorous dynamism until the outcomes of the Greek-Roman Battle of Actium during 31 BC. Some phases included Mycenaean and sub-Mycenaean art, which took place approximately between 1550 and 1200 BC within the Greek territory. The Mycenaean people and Greeks claimed to have a different cultural heritage. However, the two had occupied the same territorial land for some time. Consequently, Greeks underwent various mechanisms of growth with respect to art. In particular, it concerned the construction of gates and tombs, which marked further advancements in the artwork.

Besides architectural exploration in the period of late antiquity that included Cyclopean masonry, as well as ‘beehive’ mausoleums, the artists of Mycenae were an awe-inspiring goldsmith and renowned potters. It was marked by the advancement of pottery works from the mere functional level to splendid decors segueing from the age of bronze to the use of gold. Indeed, scholars suggest that the Mycenaean people were extremely affluent and therefore could not be satisfied with the modest alloy. However, in about 1200 and prior to the fall of Troy, the culture of Mycenae dwindled and diminished. It led to the inception of a new phase called sub-Mycenaean, which was popularly termed as the ‘Dark Ages’. This period lasted from 1100 BC to 1025 BC. It saw further advancements in the previous Mycenaean artistic performances and the continuity of the later phase.

Between 1025 and 900 BC, the pro-Geometric phase started, which was characterized by the decoration of pottery by means of the use of plain shapes and black bands intermingled with wavy streaks. Besides this, the two techniques employed for the creation and decoration of pots underwent refinery processes. Consequently, this period saw the entry of the Geometric phase of art development. It prominently lasted from 900 to 700 BC. As the name suggests, this form of art resulted in the creation of geometric endowed artistic figures. During this period, the decoration of pottery advanced from plain shapes to the inclusion of animals and humans as well. However, everything was rendered using simple decorative geometric patterns.

Between 700 and 480 BC, further advancements were witnessed at the Orientalizing stage (735-650 BC). At this particular point, other components of civilization began to penetrate into Greek art. However, the most eminent elements portrayed the outlook of Near East despite the fact that the world was comparatively small in terms of the population and scope. Indeed, later advancements in archaic art, in particular, saw the inception of the real depiction of humans, as well as monumental stone sculptures. During this particular period, the depiction of a male and female limestone kouros and kores respectively were made. These represented young, naked and smiling persons. They marked a green light in the development of artworks from ancient to middle-age and modern ones, particularly the present Chihuly’s artwork.

Later innovations in artworks and the industry at large within the late antiquity period led to the development of classical art between 480 and 323 BC, commonly called the Golden Age. This period was mapped between the period of the rising prominence of Athens and its great expansion to the time of the death of Alexander the Great. At this particular phase, human statues became intrepidly proportioned. Such features as the nobility of mankind and probably the desire to resemble gods were portrayed through artworks. Besides, in this period, metallic chisels used for work with marble were invented.

Lastly, in late antiquity, Hellenistic Art developed between 323 and 31 BC. After the death of Alexander and the consequent chaos in Greece resulting from the breaking out of his empire, Greek sculptors had already created marble figurines. Indeed, this made them carve incredible heroic humans. However, these sculptures were faulted, since they looked awfully being symmetrical human figurines contrary to the actual appearance of humans in real-life situations. However, this explains why a sculptor remains prominent even after such a long time. Furthermore, Greek artworks had existed in the form of vases, architectural figurines, and sculptures for about 1600 years covering a vast period of time.

Synthesis of Classical Values

The Mosaic of Christ as the Good Shepherd portrayed at the entrance of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia was present in Roman catacombs during early centuries. However, there were various improvements in this version owing to art developments. Indeed, this mosaic shows a shepherd with a huge golden halo, other than a typical countryman, wearing a majestic purple shroud placed side by side with a golden tunic and clenched to a soaring cross. Additionally, there are also sheep portrayed in groups of three on both sides looking peaceful and focused on their shepherd. The artwork further represents Christ touching the nose of one of the sheep.

Different from the Mosaic of Christ as a Good Shepherd, the Mosaic of the Miracle of Loaves and Fishes at Sant' Apollinare Nuovo depicts Christ in a naturalistic manner and uses the traditional Hellenistic-Roman artistic technique. Indeed, these artworks were left immutable by Catholics, who took over the church in 560 despite minor cruciform changes in haloes on Christ’s head. There are Disciples of Christ depicted on both sides near Christ with two doves below their platform, upon which their feet rest. There are sarcophagi in catacombs with many inscriptions, which make the most important collections around the globe. Many statues include third century Good Shepherd portraits and early Christ representation in subsistence, which remains the world’s most antique statue of Christ.


Style of Byzantine Icon Painters

Byzantine museums with post-Byzantine icons comprise the largest and the most significant requisite collections. Additionally, they contain large artworks and a variety of iconographies progressively covering the entire chronological spectrum of the Byzantine and post-Byzantine artistic periods. Indeed, icons come from Greece, Russia, and Asia Minor. Besides this, the initial collection emanated from icons found by the Christian Archeology Society (XAE), which was leisurely constructed using artifacts grouped under the title Refugees’ Heirlooms, which arrived in Greece following the disaster in Asia Minor in 1922, and the consequent change in respective populations in 1923. Byzantine artists depicted the history of regions, and it was quite significant for mapping destinations of artworks and political instances in general.

Byzantine artists continue to work exclusively on the conservative style established during the Justinian’s reign. Consequently, modern experts in the field of art continue to sideline these artists on the basis of currency or contemporary issues. Indeed, this is considered unfair, as the latter just preserve ancient striking features with respect to geometry leading to the asymmetrical appearance of their images and artworks in general. Some features preserved are quite significant, as they act predominantly as a historical emblem, which sheds light to the present and the future. Therefore, a complete shift from the past to the present means a loss of the past vital features of art and design.

Russian Icon Painting

From the historical perspective, the Byzantine art of painting has evolved into Russian icon art that denotes advancements. The first icon represents Jesus the Savior, where he holds the Holy Book, dressed in a traditional purple-colored tunic. Additionally, this icon carries a biblical view of Jesus and meanings that are somehow hidden. As a matter of fact, the appearance of the image is unnatural denoting historical degeneration and taking into account Christ’s immortal nature. There are three more icons representing John the Baptist, St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker, and the Virgin Eleousa of Vladimir.

Innovations Introduced by Byzantine Architects

Ignoring the Byzantine art period and its culture cannot be justified as it means ignoring the immense contribution of Byzantine to the current advancements. The Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire introduced a variety of innovations that saw further advancements in artworks and the entire development of art. It portrayed the continuation of the Roman Empire to the East. These innovations included a cross-in-square building, pendentive dome, and pointed arch bridge.

In particular, cross-in-square was the main feature characterizing the architectural structure of mid-Byzantine churches, while a pendentive dome allowed the construction of a circular dome on a rectangular flat plan. Furthermore, a pointed arch bridge was the earliest identified bridge resting on a pointed archway. Besides these, there were also other innovations, such as Greek fire, hand-trebuchet, and counter-weight trebuchet among others. These marked further developments in art and the appearance of the general landscape.

The Islamic World

The early years of the most capable and highly prolific Ottoman engineer, Sinan, are quite mysterious. After his vigorous training, Sinan served as a military engineer and used to accompany his ultimate senior Suleyman during various campaigns before becoming the chief imperial architect in 1536 in the Ottoman capital and its environment with elegantly presentable building structures. Indeed, Sinan is credited with about 81 mosques with respect to their design and general appearance.

Sinan considered his wife to be the main patron of his work. After having finished his work on the Suleiman Mosque in Istanbul, he established another structural design despite considering the former as his masterpiece. Furthermore, he dedicated his work to his wife as a gratitude to her. Indeed, Sinan is considered to be a supreme architect of the classical time comparative to Michelangelo. Being trained as an army engineer, he used a practical approach towards art and architecture in particular rather than taking a theoretical one, which made him exemplarily competent.

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Birth of Islam and the Nature of Islamic Art

The Islamic religion developed owing to the prioritized nature of Islamic art. On account of this, Muhammad (570-632), who came as a Judeo-Christian prophet, played a significant role in the re-invention of Islam from divine revelation and the knowledge of art, which he posted in among Muslims. Indeed, every Muslim had an irrefutable believe that the word of God, which was God’s will, was revealed to the prophet by angel Gabriel in the Arabic saying, “Recite in the name of thy Lord”.

Consequently, through Islamic art, the words were coded in Islamic artistic works and later on in the Islamic holy book, Qur’an. The latter has always acted as the foundation of the Islamic faith and has played the irrefutably significant role in the foundation and consequential birth of Islam. As a result, it re-affirmed the faith of the Islamic community through Muhammad’s revelation and consequential inscription in the Islamic natural artistic code.

Cultural Contributions of Islam to Western Europe

Finally, the Islamic religion had a far-reaching effect on the West. It was commonly referred to as the “Islamization of the West”. It describes the manner, in which the Islamic culture diffused and encountered vigorous assimilation in this region. Indeed, Islamization refers to the conscious mode of accepting and implementing the ideal culture of Islam with regard to various patterns for non-Muslims, as well as nominal Muslims. Furthermore, the Islamization of the Medieval West began in the mid-eleventh century. It happened concurrently before translations from Arabic languages for western linguistic perfection. Moreover, the crossover was possible through the inscription of such translations on medieval tabs via natural Islamic art. The presence of Muslims in western countries enhanced, even more, the Byzantine situation. Additionally, a deep-rooted Islamic civilization in the western region enabled further diversifications of living styles and restructured people’s ways of thinking.

Western historic art can, therefore, be mapped up by a variety of factors with a huge contribution of Islam via social interrelations. However, the firm establishment of Christianity during the overstretching Islamic influence is inevitably crucial in benchmarking a versatile effect of art in the Middle Ages. These among other factors explain why art is considered quite significant for the development of a state.

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