Dictionary of Art and Artists



 

 


History of

Architecture and Sculpture

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

CONTENTS:

 
 

PART ONE
THE ANCIENT WORLD
PREHISTORIC ART
EGYPTIAN ART

ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN ART
AEGEAN ART
GREEK ART
ETRUSCAN ART
ROMAN ART
EARLY CHRISTIAN AND BYZANTINE ART

PART TWO
THE MIDDLE AGES
EARLY MEDIEVAL ART
ROMANESQUE ART
GOTHIC ART

PART THREE
THE RENAISSANCE THROUGH THE ROCOCO
LATE GOTHIC
THE EARLY RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
THE HIGH RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
MANNERISM AND OTHER TRENDS
THE RENAISSANCE IN THE NORTH
THE BAROQUE IN ITALY AND SPAIN
THE BAROQUE IN FLANDERS AND HOLLAND
THE BAROQUE
THE ROCOCO

PART FOUR
THE MODERN WORLD
NEOCLASSICISM AND ROMANTICISM
REALISM AND IMPRESSIONISM
POST-IMPRESSIONISM, SYMBOLISM, AND ART NOUVEAU

PART FIVE
TWENTIETH-CENTURY
TWENTIETH-CENTURY SCULPTURE
TWENTIETH-CENTURY ARCHITECTURE


INDEX
FIGURES
 

 
 


CHAPTER ONE
 

PREHISTORIC ART
 

THE OLD STONE AGE

THE NEW STONE AGE

 
 


THE OLD STONE AGE

When did human beings start creating works of art? What prompted them to do so? What did these earliest works of art look like? Every history of art must begin with these questionsand with the admission that we cannot answer them. Our earliest ancestors began to walk on two feet about four million years ago, but how they were using their hands remains unknown to us. Not until more than two million years later do we meet the earliest evidence of toolmaking. Humans must have been using tools all along, however. After all, even apes will pick up a stick to knock down a banana or a stone to throw at an enemy. The making of tools is a more complex matter. It demands first of all the ability to think of sticks or stones as "fruit knockers" or "bone crackers," not only when they are needed for such purposes but at other times as well.

Once people were able to do that, they gradually discovered that some sticks or stones had a handier shape than others, and they put them aside for future use. They selected and "appointed" certain sticks or stones as tools because they had begun to connect form and function. The sticks, of course, have not survived, but a few of the stones have. They are large pebbles or chunks of rock that show the marks of repeated use for the same operation, whatever that may have been. The next step was to try chipping away at these tools-by-appointment in order to improve their shape. This is the first craft of which we have evidence, and with it we enter a phase of human development known as the Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age.

 

Cave Art

During the last stage of the Paleolithic, which began about 35,000 years ago, we meet the earliest works of art known to us. These already show an assurance and refinement far removed from any humble beginnings. Unless we are to believe that they came into being in a single, sudden burst, we must assume that they were preceded by thousands of years of slow growth about which we know nothing at all.

At that time the last Ice Age was drawing to a close in Europe, and the climate between the Alps and Scandinavia resembled that of present-day Siberia or Alaska. (There had been at least three previous ice ages, alternating with periods of subtropical warmth, at intervals of about 25,000 years.) Huge herds of reindeer and other large herbivores roamed the plains and valleys, preyed upon by the ferocious ancestors of today's lions and tigers, as well as by our own ancestors. These people liked to live in caves or in the shelter of overhanging rocks wherever they could find them. Many such sites have been discovered, mostly in Spain and in southwestern France. On the basis of differences among the tools and other remains found there, scholars have divided up the "cavemen" into several groups, each named after a characteristic site. Of these it is especially the so-called Aurignacians and Magdalenians who stand out for the gifted artists they produced and for the important role art must have played in their lives.



28. Wounded Bison. Cave painting, 15,000-10,000 B.C. Altamira, Spain


ALTAMIRA AND LASCAUX.


The most striking works of Paleolithic art are the images of animals incised, painted, or sculptured on the rock surfaces of caves, such as the wonderful Wounded Bison from the cave at Altamira in northern Spain (fig. 28). The dying animal has collapsed on the ground, its legs no longer able to carry the weight of the body, its head lowered in defense. What a vivid, lifelike picture it is! We are amazed not only by the keen observation, the assured, vigorous outlines, and the subtly controlled shading that lends bulk and roundness to the forms, but even more perhaps by the power and dignity of this creature in its final agony. Equally impressive, if not quite as fine in detail, are the painted animals in the cave at Lascaux, in the Dordogne region of France (figs. 29 and 30). Bison, deer, horses, and cattle race across walls and ceiling in wild profusion, some of them simply outlined in black, others filled in with bright earth colors, but all showing the same uncanny sense of life.


29. Axial Gallery, Lascaux (Montignac, Dordogne). France

How did this extraordinary art happen to survive intact over so many thousands of years? The question can be answered easily enough. The pictures never occur near the mouth of a cave, where they would be open to easy view and destruction, but only in the darkest recesses, as far from the entrance as possible (fig. 31). Some can be reached only by crawling on hands and knees, and the path is so intricate that one would soon be lost without an expert guide. In fact, the cave at Lascaux was discovered purely by chance in 1940 by some neighborhood boys whose dog fell into a hole that led to the underground chamber.

What purpose did these images serve? Hidden away as they are in the bowels of the earth, to protect them from the casual intruder, they must have been considered far more serious than decoration. There can be little doubt that they were produced as part of a magic ritual, perhaps to ensure a successful hunt.

We gather this not only from their secret location and from the lines meant to represent spears or darts that are sometimes found pointing at the animals, but also from the peculiar, disorderly way the images are superimposed on one another (as in fig. 30). Apparently, people of the Old Stone Age made no clear distinction between image and reality. By making a picture of an animal they meant to bring the animal itself within their grasp, and in "killing" the image they thought they had killed the animal's vital spirit. Hence a "dead" image lost its potency after the killing ritual had been performed and could be disregarded when the spell had to be renewed. The magic worked, too, we may be sure. Hunters whose courage was thus fortified were bound to be more successful when slaying these formidable beasts with their primitive weapons. Nor has the emotional basis of this kind of magic been lost even today. We carry snapshots of those we love in our wallets because this gives us a sense of their presence, and people have been known to tear up the photograph of someone they have come to hate. Even so, there remains a good deal that puzzles us about the cave paintings.


30. Cave paintings. 15,000-10,000 B.C. Lascaux



31. Schematic plan of Lascaux
 

Why did they have to be in such inaccessible places? Couldn't the hunting magic they serve have been performed just as well out in the open? And why are they so marvelously lifelike? Would not the magic have been equally effective if the "killing" had been practiced upon less realistic images? We know of countless later instances of magic which require only the crudest and most schematic kind of representation, such as two crossed sticks for a human figure.

We should regard the Magdalenian cave pictures as the final phase of a development that began as simple killing magic at a time when big game was plentiful but shifted its meaning when the animals became scarce. (There is evidence that the big herds withdrew northward as the climate of Central Europe grew warmer.) At Altamira and Lascaux, then, the main purpose may no longer have been to "kill" but to "make" animals: to increase their supply, perhaps through seasonal rituals repeated year after year. In some of the weapons associated with the animals, images of plants have recently been recognized, ft may well be that the Magdalenians practiced their fertility magic in the bowels of the earth because they thought of the earth itself as a living thing from whose womb all other life

springs. Such a notion is familiar to us from the cults of earth deities of later times; its origin perhaps goes back to the Old Stone Age. If so, this would help to explain the admirable realism of the cave paintings, for artists who believe that they actually "create" an animal are more likely to strive for this quality than those who merely set up an image for the kill.

Another explanation has been advanced which, though controversial, is intriguing. According to this theory, the creatures (and even the plant forms) on cave walls can be divided according to sexual typology, so that bulls, for example, are male and horses female. If so, they can be regarded as the ancestors of the animal divinities, and their half-human, half-animal cousins we shall meet throughout the Near East and Greece. Indeed, how else are we to account for their rise? Such a hypothesis accords as well with the animism found in ethnographic societies the world over. Nor does it necessarily contradict our explanation of fertility magic, of which it can be seen as a late outgrowth.

 

POSSIBLE ORIGINS.

Some of the cave pictures may even provide a clue to the origin of this tradition of fertility magic. In a good many instances, the shape ol the animal seems to have been suggested by the natural formation of the rock, so that its body coincides with a bump, or its contour follows a vein or crack as far as possible. We all know how our imagination sometimes makes us see all sorts of images in chance formations such as clouds or blots. A Stone Age hunter, his mind intent on the big game he depended on for survival, might well have been even more likely to recognize such animals as he stared at the rock surfaces of his cave and to attribute deep significance to his discovery. Perhaps at first he merely reinforced the outlines of such images with a charred stick from the fire, so that others, too, could see what he had found. It is tempting to think that those who proved particularly good at finding such images were given a special status as artist-magicians and were relieved of the dangers of the real hunt so that they could perfect their image-hunting, until finally they learned how to make images with little or no help from chance formations, though they continued to welcome such aid.

A striking example of this process of creation is the remarkable Nude Woman from the La Magdelaine Cave at Penne (fig. 32), one of the rare instances of the human figure in Paleolithic art. (Apparently human fertility was a less pressing problem than animal fertility.) The legs and torso have been carved from natural ledges of the rock in such a way that the shapes seem to emerge almost imperceptibly from the stone. The right arm is barely visible and the head appears to have been omitted altogether, for lack of "cooperation" on the part of the natural surface. What kind of ritual may have centered on this figure we can only guess. The existence of cave rituals relating to both human and animal fertility would seem to be confirmed by a unique group of Paleolithic drawings found in the 1950s on the walls of the cave of Addaura near Palermo in Sicily (fig. 33). These images, incised into the rock with quick and sure lines, show human figures in dancelike movements, along with some animals; and, as at Lascaux, we again find several layers of images superimposed on one another. Here, then, we seem to be on the verge of that fusion of human and animal identity that distinguishes the earliest historical religions of Egypt and Mesopotamia.
 

32. Nude Woman. Rock rving. . 15,000-10,000 B.C. Lifesize. La Magdelaine Cave. Penne (Tarn), France

33. Ritual Dance (?). Rock engraving, 10,000 B.C.
Height of figures 10" (25.4 cm). Cave of Addaura,
Monte Pellegrino (Palermo), Sicily

 

Carved and Painted Objects

Apart from large-scale cave art, the people of the Upper Paleolithic also produced small, hand-sized drawings and carvings in bone, horn, or stone, skillfully cut by means of flint tools. The earliest of these found so far are small figures of mammoth ivory from a cave in southwestern Germany, made 30,000 years ago. Even they, however, are already so accomplished that they must be the fruit of an artistic tradition many thousands of years old. The graceful, harmonious curves of the running horse (fig. 34) could hardly be improved upon by a more recent sculptor. Many years of handling have worn down some details of the tiny animal. The two converging lines on the shoulder, indicating a dart or wound, were not part of the original design. In the end, then, this horse too has been "killed" or "sacrificed."

Some of these carvings suggest that the objects may have originated with the recognition and elaboration of some chance resemblance. Earlier Stone Age people, it seems, were content to collect pebbles in whose natural shape they saw something that rendered them "magic." Echoes of this approach can sometimes be felt in later, more fully worked pieces. The so-called "Venus" of Willendorf (fig. 35), one of many such female fertility figurines, has a bulbous roundness of form that recalls an egg-shaped "sacred pebble." Her navel, the central point of the design, is a natural cavity in the stone. And the masterful Bison (fig. 36) of reindeer horn owes its compact, expressive outline in part to the contours of the palm-shaped piece of antler from which it was carved. It is a worthy companion to the splendid beasts at Altamira and Lascaux.
 

34. Horse, from Vogelherd Cave, 28,000 B.C.
Mammoth ivory, length 2'/2"
(6.4
cm). Private collection
(Photograph copyright Alexander Marshack)

 

36. Bison, from La Madeleine near Les Eyzies (Dordogne).
15,000-10,000 B.C. Reindeer horn, length 4" (10.1 cm).
Musee
des Antiquites Nationales, St.-Germain-en-Laye, France


35. "Venus" of Willendorf.
25,000-20,000
B.C
Stone, height
4 3/8" (11 cm).
Naturhistoriches Museum, Vienna

 
 

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