The History of Art

1. Relationship of Humans to Gods. With the flow of time, the attitude of people to things that they worship has changed significantly. Herewith, the way these people describe the objects of idealization in the art of that time has changed. The visual art of ancient Egypt reflected something more than just images of beautiful people in their everyday existence. Thus, according to the canons of ancient Egypt, the real mission of art was to reveal the divine connection between the world of gods and the world of men. For instance, the statue of Great Sphinx (figure 3-11) is the largest one in the ancient Near East and it represents a pharaoh (probably Khafre) as an example of the perfect combination of the immense authority and strength of the king of beasts and human intelligence.

In the art of the Aegean civilization, the faience statue of the so-called Snake Goddess with feline face and snakes in her hands embraced by both mortal attendants and divine prominence appears to be quite famous (figure 4-12). The ancient Greeks described their deities in ancient art as extremely similar to people. Unlike Egyptians and Mesopotamians, Greeks described their gods and goddesses in a manner similar to ordinary men, so that gods had human habits, temper, and emotions (figure 5-38).

2. Roles of Women. The role of women was quite different among various ancient civilizations. For example, the art of ancient Egypt outlined the crucial importance of women in their history. Primarily, such prominent historical female figures include the Great Royal Wives of Egyptian Pharaohs, Nefertiti (figure 3-31) and Tiye (figure 3-32). They regularly appeared in artworks alongside their husbands during their reign and played extremely important roles in public administration.

Moreover, the way women are described in Cretan paintings and sculpture is quite interesting. These women were named by researchers “ladies in blue” or “Parisians”, because they were very slim, good-looking, had intricate hairstyles, sleek tiny arms and small mouths with frozen half-smiles (figure 4-2). At the same time, the art of ancient Greece represented women always clothed, unlike men, and very realistic, sometimes even ugly. Such distinguishing realism was rather unusual for other ancient cultures. Quite often such statues portrayed old men and women from the lowest rungs of society (figure 5-86).

3. Animals. While considering the value of animals within the art of the ancient period of history, the following factors must be mentioned. The animals during the Paleolithic period decorated the vast majority of stories devoted to animals. During this historical period, the animals remained the main theme of art and they were often represented in motion: grazing, lying, running, fighting (figure 1-9).

The animals in ancient Egypt art were described as sacred beings of paramount importance. Egyptians worshiped a great pantheon of gods and goddesses, with the inclusion of a variety of sacred animals. In addition, cats were the most important ones (figure 3-36).

The primal fear of the brutal power of the unknown was present in the Etruscans’ ideology. The famous Capitoline Wolf, a masterpiece of the Etruscan sculpture of V century B.C., was imaged as a magnificently terrible beast. The creature described in the critical realism actually emits an intimidating force of the unforeseen. As an example, the well-known Etruscan statue – the Capitoline Wolf – must be mentioned (figure 6-11).

4. Narrative. The narrative art in ancient historical period developed in various forms. Thus, in ancient Egypt, the narrative aspect of art was implemented vastly. For instance, the scroll from the “Book of Life” which represented the final judgment of the deceased was found in the pharaoh Seti I’s tomb in the Theban necropolis (figure 3-36).

A variety of details of the lively procession was described on the Minoan Harvesters Vase (figure 4-14), while a prominent frieze of soldiers marching off to war was imaged in the Warriors Vase (figure 4-25). Another legendary monumental sculpture depicts Athena battling Alkyoneos on the Parthenon’s East pediment (figure 5-79).

5. Geography and Art. As for Ancient Egypt, it was geographically and politically divided into Upper and Lower Egypt. While Upper Egypt was located south in the upstream part of the Nile Valley, its geographic conditions were more favorable for hunting. On the other hand, the main occupations in northern Egypt were agricultural activities, because there was rich soil from the Nile Delta islands. Thus, due to these specifics, the majority of the artistic productions came from Upper Egypt, especially Hierakonpolis (figure 3-2).

The prehistoric Aegean had three geographic areas, and each of them had its own distinctive artistic identity. However, contrary to the Egyptian example, each area in the Aegean was chronologically divided into the early, middle, and late periods. These geographical changes directly influenced the evolution of the art due to the existing direct link between outgoing conditions of the evolution of art and further results (figure 4-1).

Greece has not represented any single geographic area for centuries. Moreover, each region of Greece has its own terrain features and individual cultural characteristics. The Greeks asserted that true beauty is hidden in the harmony of nature. Therefore, the artists have to reveal it and any connected aesthetic categories to emulate them without any exceptions (figures 5-52, 5-72).

6. Life versus Death. The Egyptians did not distinguish body and soul precisely, which appeared to be of paramount importance for the vast majority of existing religions. However, they believed that from birth each person was accompanied by a kind of other self, the “Ka” (life force), which could in case of death inhabit the corpse and live on. Although, to ensure Ka’s possibility to inhabit a corpse, a special technique of embalming (mummi?cation) was created to retain the body after its death. For instance, one of the greatest Egyptian Pharaoh’s grave was the Great Pyramids of Gizeh (figure 3-8).

The ancient Greeks have asserted that death is inevitable and there is little difference between life and death. Death seemed only a transition to another form or unknown life. The kingdom beyond the grave seemed to them as a continuation of the earthly life (figures 5-28, 5-29). Death for the Etruscans was just a pleasant continuation of life – with jewelry, wine, and music. Even though it was not an ecstatic inspiration of heaven, at the same time it was not the suffering torments of purgatory (figure 6-5).

7. Natural versus Stylized. In the art of the Paleolithic period, human beings were depicted in a quite primitive and rude manner. Any external discrepancies had some hidden meanings. For example, noticeable anatomical exaggerations of Paleolithic women were caused by their child-bearing capabilities ensuring the survival of the species (figure 1-5). As for the Egyptians, they described people in a rather realistic than stylized way (figure 3-30), but a special emphasis was put on the person’s divine origins (figure 3-36).

On the contrary, the sculptors of the Early Cycladic period used to produce marble statuettes displaying simple geometric shapes and at planes (figures 4-2, 4-3). However, the ancient Greek sculptors idealized images of humans in which they appeared more godlike. For example, Kresilas, the author of the Pericle’s portrait, once said that he had made a nobleman appear even nobler (figure 5-41).

8. Architecture and its Monumentality. The main distinguishing features of the architecture of ancient Mesopotamia were the following: massive monumentality, the use of bricks as the main building material, asymmetrical and cross interior placement. The walls of large buildings were often decorated with some kind of ornamentation. As an example, the arc of the Ishtar Gate must be mentioned. It was made of glazed bricks depicting God-Marduk, a dragon, and a bull. What is more, this very gate opened the way to one of the greatest cities of the ancient world – Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar II (figure 2-24).

The Egyptian traditions tended to last very long, especially in architecture. The exceptional age of formal traditions in Egypt is one of the largest marvels of the history of art. It has testi?ed an absolutely unique invention in architecture, and buildings endured in Egypt for millennia in spite of the fact that everywhere else in the ancient Mediterranean world stylistic change was the common denominator (figure 3-24).

Another example of truly grandeur architecture is the Greek’s Parthenon, which appears to be an example of perfect beauty that could be achieved by harmonic proportions (figure 5-44). Additionally, one of the first and finest decorative buildings entitled Acropolis was built near Athens in Greece.

9. Influence. The art of Ancient Egypt and Middle Eastern countries has had a significant impact on the formation and development of architecture and fine arts of different countries of the ancient world. Moreover, the Egyptian influence is clearly evident in early Greek art. In this regard, the convicting circumstance is a special characteristic of the statues of young men. They were depicted as tall and slender figures with the left feet extended a little bit forward, their hands pressed tightly to the fuselage area and their fingers clenched into fists. The Greeks not only repeated the classic pose of Egyptian statues but also obeyed the rules of Egyptian art, especially the “law of proportions”, which was followed by the Egyptian sculptors for over two thousand years. One of the earliest examples of life-size statues in Greece is the marble kouros (“youth“, figure 5-8). This statue copies the stance of Egyptian statues (figure 3-13) and combines Egyptian and Greece styles. The figure is rigidly frontal with the left foot slightly advanced. The arms are held beside the body and the wrists are clenched with the thumbs directed forward.

The art of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome simultaneously had a significant impact on the formation and further development of architecture and fine arts in different countries of the ancient world. Therefore, for example, the influence of Greek art was felt almost all the time in the culture of Etruscans. However, when it came to external influences mainly affecting the outward forms, it became obvious that Greek and Etruscan art are absolutely different.

Despite the fact that Etruscans were deeply inspired and greatly impressed by the Greek art and architecture, their own artistic eagerness overcame that of the Greeks. The distinctive Etruscan temperament always manifested itself. As a result, the vast majority of Archaic Etruscan artworks instantly departed from their original prototypes (figure 6-3).