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Communication with the spiritual in ancient to modern art

This collection will examine examples of art as a form of communication between the human and spiritual worlds. These forms of communication may include examples of direct communication — in which an individual or group uses art to speak to and influence the spiritual world — as well as examples that serve to document practices, beliefs, and the place of spiritual practices in society at large.

The form and focus of these communications expressed through art can help to explain the values of particular cultures or individuals, or may serve to question or enforce certain cultural beliefs. This type of art may be the expression of the needs of a social group or culture, such as prehistoric cave paintings that might have functioned in rituals to ensure successful hunts or plentiful game. It may serve to enforce a political agenda such as the Law Code of Hammurabi. Or it may express an individual's personal interpretation and experience of spirituality such as the illustrated poetry of William Blake. However, form does not always imply the expected function: the 19th century English painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti sometimes drew on religious subjects or themes and much of his work has a mysterious and mystical atmosphere. Yet Rossetti, describing his spiritual beliefs, called himself an “art Catholic,” implying that if he engaged in a spiritual dialog through his art, it was with art itself (Faxon, 1989).

This collection will look at examples from the prehistoric era through the early 20th century. These examples help to contextualize the inner lives of individuals, and the collective inner life of the cultures, their environments, wants, needs, and values, to foster a greater appreciation of and respect for these peoples and cultures.

Although there is only limited firm evidence of the purpose of cave art found at sites such as Lascaux, Chauvet, and Les Trois-Frères, scholars generally agree that it served some religious purpose. Various theories have been proposed to provide more specific explanations. Cave art, particularly Paleolithic cave art, depicts almost exclusively animals. Hunting was crucial to the survival of early humans, and it is possible that the images were created as part of hunting rituals. Images of animals superimposed over each other many have represented fertility rituals aimed at increasing the amount of game animals. Some images appear to have been deliberately scratched or gouged with spearheads — in some cases blood was painted flowing from these wounds — suggesting that the images may have been intended as a type of sympathetic magic giving hunters power over and protection from large and dangerous animals (Benton & DiYanni, 2012).

Other images are less easy to explain and have given rise to controversial theories such as the bird-faced human figure in the Lascaux Shaft Scene, that combine elements of humans with other animals in a single figure. The Shaft Scene appears to describe a narrative although the exact meaning is not completely clear. A wounded bison stands ready to charge; the animals intestines appear to be pouring out of its abdomen and a spear is shown near its hindquarters. In front of the bison is a stick figure human with a bird's face. The human figure appears to have fallen or been knocked over. Just below this odd figure is a line topped by a bird, perhaps an object belonging to the bird-faced man. This figure and others that combine humans and other animals into one figure such as The Sorcerer in Les Trois-Freres may document early humans' mythology, and could suggest the origins of certain beliefs and practices (Curtis, 2006).

The meaning of the Law Code of Hammurabi is less ambiguous — the spiritual and the legal/political aspects of the culture are united. The stele dates to approximately 1760 BCE and is divided into two sections. The lower section, which takes up the majority of the stele, consists of the code of laws in effect at the time. The relief at the top depicts the Babylonian king Hammurabi receiving the laws from the god Shamash. The implication is clear: the law itself is a religious document and the social rules it describes are the will of the gods — and Hammurabi whose authority is bolstered by the approval of the gods (Benton & DiYanni, 2012).

The spiritual is not always a numinous experience in a cave. Some early laws and social codes were framed as divine communications that enforce social norms and rules — even now, witnesses in courts are generally sworn in by placing their hand on a Bible. Communication with the spiritual in examples such as the Law Code of Hammurabi is aimed at establishing and enforcing order and lending it a weight of legitimacy. It is as critical for the members of an urban culture, such as Babylon, to abide by rules to maintain peace with their neighbors as it was for the Paleolithic peoples to ensure successful hunts. And, kings such as Hammurabi believed it was critical to protect their power. By aligning themselves with gods, they could borrow some of the gods' power in the minds of the people and make rebellion or betrayal a kind of sacrilege. Hammurabi, in fact, was declared a god in his own lifetime (Van De Mieroop, 2005).

Music may also function as a form of communication between gods and humans. In pharaonic Egypt, religious festivals appear to have prominently involved music and dance. Music may have been used in religious rituals to communicate with the gods, invoke deities, or as a medium to transmit offerings. Some instruments were associated with specific deities: the sistrum with Hathor and Isis and the tambourine with Bes. Sistrums may have been played during rituals associated with Hathor to invoke her — and to placate her. Although images of deities playing musical instruments are relatively rare in Egyptian art, Bes is frequently depicted dancing and playing a tambourine. Unlike the other gods, Bes used music to communicate with humans. Bes was associated with the home and family — the front rooms of Egyptian homes appear to have contained shrines to Bes — and he remained a popular deity among the people throughout Egypt's history. Bes was believed to protect people, particularly women in childbirth, by playing music to frighten away evil spirits. Amulets of Bes dancing and playing a tambourine appear to have been a common type of protective amulet worn around the neck. It is worth noting that depictions of Bes differ markedly from depictions of most other Egyptian deities: he is represented in lively motion. In contrast to the image of Egyptian religion based primarily on royal tombs and, therefore, focused on death and the elite members of society, Bes was closely tied to life and the lives of common people (Simmance, n.d.).

Composed by the poet Valmiki in India the fifth century BCE, the Rāmāyana relates the deeds and adventures of Rama, an avatar of Vishnu. According to J. L. Brockington, in Indian tradition the Rāmāyana is designated the ādikāvya, which may be translated as “the first poetic work,” and is regularly referred to as being sung as opposed to spoken in contrast to the Mahābhārata. In one version of the framework story introducing the Rāmāyana, Rama is described as the perfect human being. His behavior is therefore worth emulating, and it is likely that as early as the first millennium BCE that was in a sense being done literally through plays and dances reenacting the story (Brockington, 1998). In that sense, the Rāmāyana represents a complex, evolving dialog, a lived experience of both artistic and spiritual expression.

Euripides' tragic drama The Bacchae is another example of theater acting as a complex dialog between the human and the spiritual worlds. The plot of The Bacchae revolves around the arrival of the god Dionysos in the city of Thebes where his ecstatic worship is opposed by Pentheus, the king of Thebes. As Segal writes, the play is morally ambiguous and may have been designed to implicate the audience in the action. Although Dionysos is a disturbance to Thebes, Pentheus' response is heavy-handed and unsympathetic. However, as the drama unfolds, the audience that may have been rooting for Dionysos is confronted with a climax that sees the god orchestra Pentheus' gruesome death. It is important to note that Dionysos was a well-established and liked god in Athens and that Classical Greek drama was written to be performed during annual festivals in Dionysos' honor. As Vellacott writes, during the festival a statue of Dionysos was brought from a shrine to the amphitheater to watch the plays. As Segal notes, it is unlikely that the play is meant to be critical of Dionysos (his actual worship was much more restrained than depicted in the play or the myths it was based on) but its presentation, at a fundamentally religious festival with the god literally in the audience, could not but have sparked another dialog within the audience, a reflection on their relationship to the god and the sometimes overwhelming forces he represents.

The Temple of Isis at Pompeii declares both the strength of her worshipers' belief and the endurance of her cult in the face of repeated official sanctions. The temple was damaged in an earthquake in 62 AD but was rebuilt by the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD; in fact, it was the only civic building in that area of Pompeii that had been completely rebuilt (Hackworth, 2006). The apparent preference for a foreign goddess in a Roman city is all the more significant in light of imperial persecutions and prohibitions against her worship dating back to Augustus and coming to a head in 19 CE when Emperor Tiberius exiled thousands of freedmen who were adherents of the religion (Heyob, 1975). However, the cult of Isis continued to flourish. By the time of Pompeii's destruction, her worship appears to have included individuals from all classes of society, from members of the imperial family and municipal officials to freedmen and slaves (Takacs, 1995). The remains of the temple can still be seen on the original site and at the nearby Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. Although Egyptian decoration was incorporated in the design of the temple and cult objects, the plan of the building and the style of the frescoes was Roman (Moorman, 2011). The navigium Isidis fresco appears to show a distinctly Egyptian scene, Isis resurrecting her husband-brother Osiris, but in a purely Roman style. The Pompeiian worshipers of Isis were part of Roman culture but may have been seeking an opportunity to engage in personally meaningful spiritual communication outside of the state-sectioned venues and deified emperors (Hackworth, 2006).

Early Buddhist art avoided direct representations of the Buddha. The first iconic representations of the Buddha were likely not created until approximately the 2nd century CE in the area of Gandhara, in modern-day Pakistan, under the influence of the Kushan emperors. After their conversion to Buddhism, the Kushan produced distinctive images of the Buddha that drew on Greco-Roman traditions while creating an iconographically unique image that was clearly identifiable as the Buddha (Benton & DiYanni, 2012).

Many of these early sculptures of the Buddha depict a serene, sublime figure, perfectly proportioned and untouched by time or the rigors of his life. However, a small group of statues presents a radically different image of the Buddha. One of these statues, Fasting Buddha, created between the 2nd and 4th centuries CE, depicts the physical effects of the Buddha's forty-five days of fasting and meditation before achieving enlightenment. In an interview with Hyperallergic in 2016 when Fasting Buddha was seen publicly at an Auctionata sale, Dr. Arne Sildatke, Auctionata's head of Asian art, explained that although the Fasting Buddha and similar images can be compared to depictions of the crucified Jesus Christ, the Buddhas are not images of death and resurrection. Instead, they are meant to communicate to followers Buddhism the concepts of self-empowerment and the overcoming of suffering, according to Sildatke. Despite the figure's protruding bones, sunken stomach, and hollow face, the image expresses the strength of the Buddha's will (Voon, 2016).

The Ajanta caves in Maharashta state, India, contain some of the finest examples of Indian Buddhist art and represent several centuries of complex artistic spiritual expression. The caves were created as a monastery and decorated in the Gupta style of sculpture and painting. The Gupta style moved away from the Greco-Roman influence and embraced a more fully Indian style in which characteristics of physical beauty associated with Indian art are adapted to symbolize spiritual beauty (Benton & DiYanni, 2012).

The monks' work on the caves was likely supported during its later phase by wealthy patrons, including the 5th century CE Emperor Harisena and his courtiers. These patrons sponsored the construction and ornamentation of specific caves to honor the Buddha and earn religious merit, as well as worldly praise, for themselves. According to Spink, Cave 1, created in the late 5th century CE, was sponsored by Harisena. Cave 1 contains some of the most sumptuous and well-preserved murals in Ajanta. It is likely that these images, including the Bodhisattva Padmapani, are so well-preserved because Cave 1 was never used for worship. Spink theorizes that Cave 1 was not used because Harisena died suddenly before the cave could be dedicated. An undedicated cave could not be used for worship; therefore, if the cave was indeed left undedicated, Harisena would not have achieved the religious merit he desired (Spink, 2008). In that case, Harisena's attempt to communicate with the spiritual, to have his faith validated, and his attempt to communicate his spiritual virtue to the human world were both left unfulfilled.

Rich ornament and stylization was also used to signify spirituality in European Christian manuscript paintings. As Christianity spread through Europe, representations were adapted to the local Celto-Germanic styles, which bore more in common with the luxurious, symbolic, and stylized Byzantine art than the naturalistic Greco-Roman tradition. The Book of Kells is an illuminated gospel created c. 800 CE by Irish monks. A figure of St. John on one folio is an exercise in elaborate stylization, a purely two-dimensional figure made up of patterns of decorative lines, emphasizing the image's spiritual rather than physical reality (Benton & DiYanni, 2012).

An illuminated gospel such as the Book of Kells was not merely a book — as the chalice used in Mass is not merely a cup — it was created as a sacred object (Calkins, 1983). Like the images in Chauvet cave or the ceremonial sistra used in Egyptian religious ceremonies, it formed part of the necessary accouterments of communication with the spiritual. And, therefore, its form and image took precedence over its physical practicality (Calkins, 1983). In that light, the entire object itself, not only individual folios, can be seen as a translation of spiritual experiences and a vehicle for spiritual communion.

Liturgical music has been a key part of Christian ritual since the earliest days of the religion. Most early Christian music was woven into the services and often consisted of chants based exclusively on scripture. Over time, the scope of music in Christianity grew and original pieces were composed. One notable composer in the Early Middle Ages was Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). Beginning in early childhood, Hildegard experienced intense visions. She entered a community of nuns when she was eight and became a poet, composer, and playwright (Benton & DiYanni, 2012).

Hildegard also wrote several books detailing her mystical visions and theological instructions derived from them. One of these, Scivias, contained sections that Hildegard later adapted to the Ordo Virtutum, a sacred music drama (King-Lenzmeier, 2001). The plot revolves around the struggle between the devil and the Virtues for a human soul. The Ordo was not written to be performed as part of the Mass or liturgy and does not depict biblical events: the allegorical story is adapted directly from her personal visionary experiences (Potter, 1986). When performing the Ordo, the nuns were embodying and participating in Hildegard's visions by bringing these invisible spiritual experiences into the human world (Davidson, 1992).

The Unicorn Tapestries were made in Brussels c. 1500 and depict the hunt, capture, and death of a unicorn. The tapestries may have been made as a wedding gift and may have been intended to communicate a multilayered message that combined romance and fertility with Christian doctrine (Benton & DiYanni, 2012). The chivalric tradition of courtly love had introduced the idea that romantic love was a symbol of God's love: Marie de France's Eliduc employs this symbolism to suggest that when two individuals loved each other completely they could leave each other for God, separating to live in different religious communities (Potkay, 1994). In The Unicorn Tapestries, Margaret B. Freedman explores the complex interweaving of secular and religious messages encoded in the tapestries, including references that syncretize polytheistic deities into Christian mythology. For example, the fountain in the tapestries may be a symbol of the Virgin Mary, who was compared to a fountain in many medieval hymns, as well as Venus and Cupid, who were frequently depicted holding court in gardens dominated by a fountain. The highly detailed flora in several of the tapestries also simultaneously references Christ and Venus. In Freedman's analysis, the tapestries can be understood as symbolizing and communicating the doctrines and values of the overlapping Christian god of heaven and the god of love, a concept that was well-established by the late medieval period. In the context of the tapestries as a wedding gift, this dual meaning is perfectly appropriate to express, reminding the newlyweds of their spiritual, personal, and social duties and rewards.

In 15th century Florence, a renewed interest in and availability of Classical Greek and Roman scholarship fueled the development of Neoplatonism, a new school of philosophy that sought to merge the principles espoused by the Classical Greek philosopher Plato and the Roman philosopher Plotinus with Christian spirituality. Platonism and Christianity are dualistic and perceive a separation between the physical and the spiritual that humans should strive to breach. According to Neoplatonist thought, this could be done by recognizing the spark of the divine — the work of God — in beautiful things in the physical world; therefore, the love of beauty was a form of worship (Benton & DiYanni, 2012). Florentine Renaissance ideals of beauty were heavily indebted to Greco-Roman traditions that emphasized harmony, rationality, and balance. Therefore, in art and architecture, this could be performed by using geometry as a symbol.

The elaborate geometrical floor pavings in the Medicis' private chapel, the Chapel of the Magi, may be a deliberate geometric code that communicated Neoplatonic ideals and functioned as a type of devotional communication. Cosimo de' Medici, who commissioned the chapel, and several of the artists and architects involved in the design and construction of it were closely involved with the founding of the Accademia Platonica in Florence, an influential group of scientists, artists, and philosophers and which was the cradle of Neoplatonism. The chapel's pavings following distinctive, complex geometrical patterns and ratios tied to Neoplatonic thought. The chapel was constructed for the use of the Medici family and those close to them — it was not intended as a place of worship for the public. Therefore, the Medicis and the artists, scientists, and intellectuals close to them could freely express in a precise geometric language certain beliefs and modes of thinking that were not completely orthodox. In the carefully measured, sumptuous marble pavings of the chapel, they could demonstrate theories of elevated scientific and religious though: divine harmony communicated through mathematics (Bartoli, 1994).

The 17th century English poet John Donne combined sexual language and spiritual subject matter to express his concept of ecstatic love. In this concept, an individual achieves unity of body and soul and reaches spiritual truths through sexual union with another individual they love. The soul is capable of awareness and growth only through love, and during sex the souls of the individuals mingle, each soul gaining greater knowledge of itself in relation to the body. The individual is then a complete self: a being that is a synthesis of its physical and spiritual aspects (Thommen, 2014).

This concept is described in Donne's poem "The Extasie":

We see by this it was not sex,
             We see we saw not what did move;
But as all several souls contain
           Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mix’d souls doth mix again
         And makes both one, each this and that

“The Extasie,” therefore, communicates Donne's own understanding and experience of spiritual communion. Like the Neoplatonics, Donne's efforts to interact with the spiritual are focused on resolving the perceived conflict between the physical and the spiritual by seeking the divine in the physical — but uniting body and soul by being united with another individual.

Communication with the spiritual is also blended with sensuality in Gianlorenzo Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1645-52). The subject of the sculpture, St. Teresa of Avila, was famous for her ecstatic visions as described in her writing, particularly her c. 1567 Autobiography. Teresa described a process of mental prayer that resulted in spiritual union with God and produced visions and intense physical and emotional responses. As quoted by Thommen, Eleanor McCann pointed out that St. Teresa and Donne's descriptions of communication with the spiritual through the experience of physical ecstasy and union are, despite the author's differences, remarkably similar.

Bernini's sculpture is based on the episode from St. Teresa's Autobiography when an angel appeared to her and thrust a golden spear into her heart, producing an intense pain and an “infinite sweetness” that she described as the “sweetest caressing of the soul by God” (Benton & DiYanni, 2012). The sculpture, therefore, is in the interesting position of relating mystical communication third hand. Unlike the nuns in Hildegard of Bingen's community, Bernini had no direct contact with St. Teresa and his translation of her experience was inevitably colored by his own experiences and personality and the preferences of his patron. Although Bernini emphasized the sensuality of St. Teresa's experience, the sculpture occupies a supernatural sphere, distinct from the related sculpturing groupings that are placed firmly in the physical world and the space occupied by the viewer (Wittkower, 1980). The viewer is invited to witness the point of contact and communication between the physical and the spiritual (Boucher, 1998).

In The Book of Urizen, published in 1794, English poet and painter William Blake communicated a profoundly personal, visionary spirituality that expressed his major moral and philosophical concerns. Blake, like Hildegard of Bingen and St. Teresa of Avila, experienced visions. He saw himself as a prophet and believed that the duty of a poet was “To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought” (Benton & DiYanni, 2012).

The Book of Urizen is a creation myth structured along the lines of Genesis but with Blake's Urizen in place of God. Urizen is a god of reason and logic and law — a deity of pure materialism, enslaved and enslaving who creates the world so that he may have something to rule. Urizen represents both dogmatic, essentially materialistic religious laws and Newtonian reason. To Blake, these were both forces that blind humans to the spiritual by trapping and circumscribing human imagination, thereby preventing them from communicating with the spiritual, creative world that would otherwise be their birthright (Frye, 1990). By creating The Book of Urizen and his other illuminated books of poetry and painting, Blake attempted to communicate his experience of the spiritual and warn of the consequences of either rejecting personal communication with the spiritual and imagination or of ceding that direct, personal experience to a higher, worldly authority.

Communication between the human and the spiritual is not always easy nor does a familiar form always imply the expected function. These points are illustrated in the works of the English poet Christina Rossetti and her brother the painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Christina was deeply religious and often used her poetry to explore both the rewards and struggle she associated with faith. Unlike St. Teresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, or William Blake, Christina's experience of the spiritual was not mystical. Rather than communicating with the spiritual through ecstatic visionary experiences, Christina's efforts to communicate and achieve union with the spiritual were the result of the effort of her faith, and that effort, and her doubts, are expressed in her poetry. In “Alas, my Lord,” (1874), Christina describes the difficulty of this process and expresses her doubts as well as her desire for spiritual affirmation — some communication, a response from the spiritual, that her efforts are not in vain (Avery, 2014).

      Alas my Lord,
How should I wrestle all the livelong night
With Thee my God, my Strength and my Delight?

      How can it need
So agonized an effort and a strain
To make Thy Face of Mercy shine again?

      How can it need
Such wringing out of breathless prayer to move
Thee to Thy wonted Love, when Thou art Love?

In contrast, her brother Dante Gabriel was not a practicing Christian, although he used Christian iconography and language, particularly in his early works. Dante Gabriel referred to himself as an “Art Catholic,” implying that his interest in the imagery of encounters with the spiritual was largely aesthetic (Faxon, 1989). In addition, he often used Christian iconography and language in the context of secular love poems (Roe, 2010). In Dante Gabriel's art, such as The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1848-1849), representations of the spiritual were not strictly religious but rather an iconographical shorthand for the artist's sincere, personal communication with their imagination. Particularly in his early career when he identified as a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he believed that medieval art was more sincere, more closely connected to the natural world, in opposition to the British Academic tradition embodied by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which he believed was formulaic and insincere (Faxon, 1989). Therefore, the religious subject matter so prominent in medieval art took on a new meaning and the spiritual was transferred from the Christian God to the artist's quest for genuine inspiration.

The Dream of Geronitus, Op. 38, composed by Edward Elgar in 1900, is a powerful sonic portrait of an encounter with the spiritual. Set to the text of a poem by John Henry Newman, it describes the death of a man, Gerontius, and his soul's journey to the throne of God to receive judgment. A dramatic and technically challenging piece, it explores communication with the spiritual as a psychologically complex, and not always pleasant, experience. The rapture Gerontius experiences is counterpointed by the appearance of devils and his own doubts that his soul is worthy to face God. The Judgment scene, in fact, depicts that ultimate communication with the spiritual as an almost unbearable experience. For the scene when Gerontius beholds the glance of God and receives judgment, the score instructs: “For one moment, must every instrument exert its fullest force.” (Burton, 2003).

In 1974, The Dream of Gerontius figured heavily in Penda's Fen, a film written by David Rudken and directed by Alan Clarke for the BBC. The film's protagonist Stephen, writes about The Dream of Gerontius in the beginning of the film, which then unravels his nationalist and orthodox Christian certainty through visionary experiences that lead him to reject his former beliefs. Stephen's encounters with the spiritual challenge the priggish patriotism and the national and moral myth he embraced, embodied by a middle-aged couple who have successfully campaigned to ban a film exploring Jesus as a man rather than as a god. At one point Stephen plays the Judgment scene from The Dream of Gerontius on the organ in his father's church, triggering a vision of cracks appearing in the church floor, the crucified body of Jesus, and a voice commanding Stephen to unchain Jesus from the strictures of conservative Christianity. Later, he experiences a vision of King Penda, the last pagan king of England, and, grasping that his culture is ultimately a hybrid one comprised of a mingling of various religions, languages, and peoples, rejects his former beliefs (Sandhu, 2014). The experience is as unsettling for the viewer as it is for Stephen. in Penda's Fen the spiritual intrudes on assumptions and certainties and by irrupting reality leads both Stephen and the viewer to question their assumptions and demands that they take part in a wider, richer communication with the spiritual and the world.



References

Avery, S. (2014). Christina Rossetti: Religious poetry. Retrieved from https://www.bl.uk/romantics-an...

Bartoli, M. T. (1994). A Neoplatonic pavement. In The Chapel of the Magi: Benozzo Gozzoli's frescoes in the palazzo Medici-Riccardi Florence (p, 25-28). New York: Thames and Hudson.

Benton, J. R. & DiYanni, R. (2012). Arts and culture: An introduction to the humanities. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Boucher, B. (1998). Italian Baroque sculpture. London: Thames & Hudson.

Brockington, J. (1998). The Sanskrit epics. Boston: Brill.

Burton, J. (2003). The Dream of Gerontius - Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934). Retrieved from http://www.choirs.org.uk/prognotes/Elgar%20Gerontius.htm

Calkins, R. G. (1983). Illuminated books of the Middle Ages. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Curtis, G. B. (2006). The cave painters: Probing the mysteries of the world's first artists. (2006). New York: Knopf.

Davidson, A. E. (1992). Music and performance: Hildegard of Bingen's Ordo Virtutum. In The Ordo Virtutum of Hildegard of Bingen: Critical studies (p. 1-29). Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University.

Faxon, A. C. (1989). Dante Gabriel Rossetti. New York: Abbeville Press.

Freeman, Margaret B. (1983). The Unicorn Tapestries. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Frye, N. (1990). Fearful symmetry. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hackworth, P., L. (2006). The freedman in Roman art and art history. Oxford: Cambridge University Press.

Heyob, S. K. (1975). The cult of Isis among women in the Graeco-Roman world. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

King-Lenzmeier, A. H. (2001). Hildegard of Bingen: An integrated vision. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press.

Moorman, E., M. (2011). Divine interiors: Mural paintings in Greek and Roman sanctuaries. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press.

Potkay, M. B. (1994). "The Limits of Romantic Allegory in Marie de France's Eliduc," Medieval Perspectives, 9 (1), 135-145. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/55697230/limits-romantic-allegory-marie-de-frances-eliduc

Potter, R. (1986). The “Ordo Virtutum”: Ancestor of the English moralities?. Comparative Drama, 20 (3), 201–210. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41153244

Roe, D. (2010). Introduction in The Pre-Raphaelites from Rossetti to Ruskin (p, xvii-xxxvi). London: Penguin.

Sandhu, S. (2014). Penda’s Fen: A lasting vision of heresy and pastoral horror. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com

Segal, C. (2001). Introduction. In Euripides, Bakkai (3-32). New York: Oxford University Press.

Simmance, E. (n.d.) Communication through music in ancient Egyptian religion. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 2/4/2019 from https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/connections/Essays/ESimmance.aspx.

Spink, W. (2008). Ajanta lecture: Korea 2008. WatlerSpink. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from https://www.walterspink.com/ajanta/ajanta-lecture

Takacs, S., A. (1995). Isis and Sarapis in the Roman world. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Van De Mieroop, M. (2005). King Hammurabi of babylon: A biography. Hoboken: Blackwell Publishing.

Vellacott, P. (1959). Introduction. In Aeschylus, The Orestian trilogy (9-40). New York: Penguin.

Voon, C. (2016). The raw expression of a rare, emaciated Buddha. Hyperallergic. Retrieved February 21, 2019, from https://hyperallergic.com/3448...

#AHMC2019

Nicole Votta
22
 

Evolution of religion through art

From the beginning of mankind, since our lives began on this earth, humankind has preserved its norm of following a system of faith and worshiping something, whether it be some deity or something materialistic existing in the world with us with hopes of some kind of personal gains. Religion has certainly evolved massively from the beginning of our existence in this universe, and art has had and still has a significant impact on our relationship with religion and it helps us make connections between the belief in some kind of God, atheism, and all other forms of beliefs. It helps to understand religion in ancient times versus modern ways of following religion.

This collection will be looking at the evolution of religion through the perception of art in various forms, throughout the different ages of mankind and the way religion has developed over the course of time. It is specifically going to focus on the religion Islam, a religion that hasn't started too long ago compared to Hinduism, the oldest religion that mankind follows, as we navigate through the collection. It starts from various ways in which the belief in religion started, to how Prophet Muhammad (SM) started the religion Islam, which is now the youngest of the world's major religions.

#AHMC2019 #Arts&Religion

Fariha Hashmi
18
 

Investigating: Civil War Portraits

In this student activity, students will investigate nine portraits of people involved in the Civil War, both from the Union and the Confederacy. Through these portraits, students will gain an understanding of: experiences of people on both sides of the war; why these people are seen as historically significant; and how portraiture can communicate how a person wanted to be seen, or how others wanted them to be seen. Included with each portrait is a video that explains the historical significance of the person depicted.  Activity extension ideas can be found by clicking "Read More."

Big Ideas: 

  • Why are these people, and the developments they shaped, seen as historically significant? 
  • How does portraiture communicate how a person wanted to be seen, or how others wanted them to be seen?

Keywords: thomas stonewall jackson, william tecumseh sherman, john pelham, elmer e ellsworth, george armstrong custer, jefferson davis, abraham lincoln, clara barton

Tess Porter
10
 

Visual Connections between Buddhism and Ancient Greece

Using the Project Zero Visible Thinking routine "See Think Wonder," this activity investigates the cultural connections between Ancient Greece, Rome, and Gandhara* as seen through a sculpture of the Buddha created in the 2nd century CE. Buddhist sculptures from Gandhara are significant not only because they show the extent of Alexander the Great's influence on Asia, but also because they are some of the first human depictions of the Buddha in the history of Buddhist art.

Even without a deep knowledge of the art of this period, students can make visual observations and comparisons that reveal the blending of Asian and Greco-Roman culture in this particular region.

*Gandhara is a region in what is now modern Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Keywords: greek, kushan, mathura, india, inquiry strategy, classical, roman, gautama, siddhārtha, siddhartha, shakyamuni, lakshanas, signs of the buddha

#visiblethinking

Tess Porter
6
 

Museum Curation Project: America and the Holocaust

When Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi party, took power in Germany, the nation undertook an effort to purge itself of non-Aryans in order to "purify" the German state. In the process, 11 million people belonging to minority groups, 6 million of which were Jews, were exterminated in one of the worst genocides in human history. What became known as the Holocaust was addressed differently by the nations of the world. For various reasons, the United States' public attitudes and foreign policy decisions demonstrated a general attitude of indifference towards the Jewish genocide. Widespread anti-Semitism bred contempt for the Jewish cause, while the media called little attention to the genocide, and public opinion remained apathetic to the refugee cause. Worse still, official United States government and foreign policy was at best indifferent and at worse actively hostile to aiding rescue efforts. Although some Americans made heroic efforts to save  persecuted European Jews and aid their immigration process to the United States, their work, while by no means insignificant, is sadly not a reflection of the United States as a whole. The country had great power to make a difference, but unfortunately it did not act on it.

Jeremy Grunat
16
 

Roman Architecture's Influence on Future Civilizations and the Evolution of Style

The focus of this collection is architecture around the world. Ancient Roman architecture in particular, has influenced the way more modern architects design buildings all around the world. My interest in architecture comes from the time I spent in Italy in 2016. I visited Rome, Florence, and all around Tuscany. As I saw during my stay there, and also what we have learned in class, is that the most important features in Roman architecture were arches, columns, and very thick walls. Columns were erected to show victories in wars and arches were pivotal in Rome’s success. Without arches, they wouldn’t have been able to build expansive buildings or roadways from Britain to the Middle East. Aqueducts contain arches which serve as a nice physical feature, as well as hold a strong material in place for many many years. Romanesque style influenced Gothic style, which contained high pointed vaulted and a more vertical appeal. There is so much detail in every piece of architecture and every building tells an individual story. Much of the architecture standing where we are today, tells a story of what we know about Romans. 

#AHMC2019


Sydney MacPherson
18
 

Goryeo Period Celadon Etched and Inlaid Decorative Techniques Translated into Watercolor Painting

Korean Goryeo period (918-1392) celadon  has famously elegant surface decorations. The delicate flowers, birds, and fish are incised with thin perfection into the clay pots and accented by inlaid white and black slip. Then the whole design is softly but beautifully highlighted by the glass like jade-green glaze. Using this six part lesson plan, students will research Goryeo celadon, compare its decorative techniques to other similar etched techniques, experiment with unique watercolor techniques to create similar effects, plan their own art work using a celadon like look, create their masterpiece, and evaluate whether they have achieved the desired goal of reproducing the look of Goryeo celadon decoration in watercolor. Completing this process, they will have created a painting that they could not have imagined before they began the exploration into  Goryeo celadon pottery decoration. In the first addendum students will be introduced to techniques using acrylic paste and pouring mediums which can produce an even more realistic appearance of Goyreo celadon incised and inlaid decoration.

Here in part 1. are some examples of green glazed, incised ceramics from Korea's Goryeo period. They are from the Freer Art Gallery's collection. Sort them into three groups according to their type of decoration. Then determine if the type of decoration is related to the time period in which they were created.  Next, take time to explore where this particular decoration style originated and how the Goryeo period potters in Korea perfected the technique. In part 2, compare these pieces to other types of art that are made using  similar etching techniques, such as scrimshaw and leather stamping, Then compare them to watercolor paintings of similar subjects to determine how to reproduce the Goryeo celadon look in watercolor painting. One goal of this learning lab is that students will make connections between different mediums and periods and in that process, discover new ways to use the mediums that they are familiar with. Later, in parts 3 and 4, students will be using the Goryeo celadon designs for inspiration when they practice new techniques and plan their own artwork which they will create in step five of the learning lab. In step 6 the students will evaluate their art works to see if they have achieved their goal of making a painting with the look of Goryeo celadon decoration. Addendum 1.  is not intended to be part of the watercolor lessons because of the time required to do the activities and the considerable mess involved, but it introduces the student to Acrylic mediums that can be used to make pictures that not only look like incised and inlaid Goryeo celadon, but are made with very similar techniques. #AsiaTeachers, #Watercolor, #GoryeoCeladon, #Ceramics, #NewAndCombinedPaintingTechniques. #Etching, #StudentArtProjects, #KoreanHistory, #ScratchedAndImpressedWatercolorPaper. #AcrylicPouringMedium, #AcrylicPasteMedium.

Elizabeth Anne Cox
88
 

Weather

Students will categorize the sources by the corresponding weather.

Amanda Dashler
17
 

Discovering Four Asian Countries Through Celadon Ceramics

In this collection, beautiful celadon ceramic pieces are used to help students explore the art of Celadon. While learning more about the ceramics students will also
 explore the following things: kingdoms, personal objects of value, burial practices, cultural similarities and differences, religious and ceremonial pieces, political influence, kings and noble men,  dynasties, artistry, skilled craftsmanship, treasures, geography and the continent of Asia.

This collection is not comprehensive but hopefully will serve as a starting point to encourage students to research and study  more  about some aspect of Asian-related ceramics, arts, geography, history, cultures, customs or trade . Hopefully  it will encourage interest and value in  field trips to Museums such as the Smithsonian Freer Gallery, as well as short-term /long-term study abroad trips to Asian countries.


Eniola O
14
 

"We the People": Flash Card Activity and Template

This collection includes a variety of resources on the theme, "We the People," a template document  for teachers to create their own  flashcard activity with Learning Lab images, and strategies to use them.

This collection was created for the 2018 cohort of the Smithsonian-Montgomery College Faculty Fellowship Program on the theme, "We the People: America's Grand and Radical Experiment with Democracy." But anyone can use it.

Strategies: Begin by selecting your own set of images. (Feel free to copy this collection and then adapt as you like.) When creating your flashcards, use the template from the last learning tile, and add relevant text diagonally below the object. Print double-sided flipping on the SHORT side.

After distributing the cards, have students select one or two that speak to them. Then have them discuss the following questions in groups and share out.

Supporting Questions:
What themes do you see?
Do you see these themes across the objects and over time?

Essential Questions:
Using these images, define American Democracy.
What other resources might you use to tell a fuller story?


Keywords: #MCteach


Philippa Rappoport
50
 

Welcome to Mars

A collection of videos, articles and artifacts related to the chemistry of the Red Planet.

#MCteach

Virginia Miller
21
 

National Parks Research Project

National Parks are for us to explore. The goal is to learn about the National Parks of your choice and find out as much information as possible. As we explore the national parks remember to preserve the ecosystems and wildlife along the way.

Angela Caschera
12
 

Deciphering the Code: Understanding Messages Through Symbol Exploration

This collection provides opportunities for students to uncover the complexity behind symbols found in art and artifacts.  Curiosity and wonderment are sparked as students use close looking strategies to precisely describe what they see.  Students can then apply these findings to reveal a deeper meaning behind the symbols and the identities of the designer and users.  Students will be inspired to create their own stamps as they explore how symbols share messages and bridge connections to people and diverse cultures.

Andrea Croft
31
 

One Fish, Two Fish

Lesson plan


#TWUTech

Yasmin Arias
4
 

DBQ: Dust Bowl

Answer the questions based on the documents. Remember to observe the picture/writing first and then move toward analysis. 

Keywords: poverty, rural, urban, new deal, inquiry strategy, global context, 1930s, 30s, dust bowl, 

Mary Godley
5
 

Weather and Climate (Earth and Space Systems)-- Lesson Plans and Information

What does the weather do to the ocean currents?

Ocean water and currents affect the climate. It takes a greater amount of energy to change the temperature of water than land or air; water warms up and cools off much slower than land or air does. As a result, inland climates are subject to more extreme temperature ranges than coastal climates, which are insulated by nearby water. Over half the heat that reaches the earth from the sun is absorbed by the ocean's surface layer, so surface currents move a lot of heat. Currents that originate near the equator are warm; currents that flow from the poles are cold.

The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt

The great ocean conveyor belt is an example of a density-driven current. These are also called thermohaline currents, because they are forced by differences in temperature or salinity, which affect the density of the water.

The great ocean conveyor belt begins as the coolest of all currents - literally. At the beginning of the conveyor belt:

The Gulf Stream delivers warm, and relatively salty, surface waters north to the Norwegian Sea. There the water gives up its heat to the atmosphere, especially during the frigidly cold winters. The surface waters cool to near freezing temperatures, at which time they become denser than the waters below them and sink. This process continues making cold water so dense that it sinks all the way to the bottom of the ocean.

During this time, the Gulf Stream continues to deliver warm water to the Norwegian Sea on the surface. The water can't very well pile up in the Norwegian Sea, so the deep cold water flows southward. It continues to flow southward, passing the Equator, until it enters the bottom of the Antarctic Circumpolar current. It then drifts around Africa and Australia, until it seeps northward into the bottom of the Pacific.


Jamie Mauldin
10
 

Irish Poetry and Painting: Yeats and Yeats

This collection examines the poetry and art of two brothers, William Butler Yeats and Jack B. Yeats. 

As a group use the visual thinking strategy Beauty and Truth to analyze the artwork Irish Cottage.  Discuss common perceptions or misperceptions that students may have of Ireland.

Students should read and discuss "The Isle of Innisfree" by W.B. Yeats.  Use the visual thinking strategy See / Think / Wonder with either The Singing Horseman or The Liffey Swim by Jack B. Yeats.  Concepts of personal/local/national pride or freedoms may be discussed.

Afterwards, read and discuss the poem "An Irish Airman Foresees his Death"  followed by a See / Think /Wonder of the painting Men of Destiny.  Student may continue to discuss the meaning of freedom and destiny.  What has changed since the previous two discussions?

Student may research different aspects of Irish history by reading stories on the EPIC Irish Emigration Museum website.  This interactive museum recently opened to explain the reasons why 10 million people left Ireland.  Students should select a story to read from the link provided and make connections to the artwork and poetry discussed. 

Afterwards, ask students if their perceptions of Ireland from the initial discussion of Irish Cottage have changed?  Why?  How do the Yeats brothers change our thinking about people and history?

 


Yolanda Toni
10
 

Arizona State Museum Donald Cordry Photographs of Mexican Indian Costumes

The Donald B. Cordry collection contains photographs of Mexican mask-makers and textile weavers. Many of these photographs appear in his two books Mexican Masks and Mexican Indian Costumes.

#LatinoHAC

Arizona State Museum
55
 

Image Analysis: "Girl at Gee's Bend, Alabama" by Arthur Rothstein

Developing an inquiry-based strategy to support students can allow them to investigate objects and images as historians do. In this example, students try to reveal the story behind the image. They raise questions for their own further research. Because the image has only a title, the photographer's name, the "sitter"'s name, the place and the date, students have to rely on their own analysis of evidence in the image, rather than someone else's interpretation. When they read the expert's analysis, they will have already considered many of the elements that the expert highlights and can compare their interpretations.

"Girl at Gee's Bend, Alabama" is a provocative photograph that can be used in discussions ranging from history of the South during the Great Depression, to social justice.

Ashley Naranjo
3
 

Exploring Mickalene Thomas's Portrait of Mnonja

In this activity, students will explore Mickalene Thomas's process, artistic influences, and art historical context. Students will examine Thomas's Portrait of Mnonja (2010, Smithsonian American Art Museum) in depth, and use three supporting resources to build context.

1. Have students look at Mickalene Thomas's Portrait of Mnonja. Give them 2-3 minutes to do a quick sketch of the painting.

2. Next, ask them to note the part of the painting their eye went to first on their sketch with a star.

3. Next, ask students to draw a line through their sketch to show the path their eye used to travel through the painting. Use arrows to indicate direction.

4. In pairs or as a class, ask students to share where their eye went first, and why they think it went there. Was it the color? Light? Lines? The placement in the composition?

5. Next, students should write a list of 8-10 words and phrases describing the painting. Ask for volunteers to share out.

6. As a group, discuss students' impressions of the painting. Ask for visual evidence to back up claims. (e.g. A student says, "she looks powerful." You ask, "what do you see that makes you say she's powerful?")

7. To further the conversation, share some background information about the painting: the title, the date, and the artist. Explain a little about Mickalene Thomas's process: posing live models in sets with props and furniture, taking photographs, then painting from the photographs.

8. Next, break students into small groups. Each group should receive a printout of ONE of the three supporting resources in this collection. Ask them to compare and contrast their image with Portrait of Mnonja.

9. After 4-5 minutes, ask each group to share out the main idea from what they discussed. The teacher should add additional information as it is useful.

a. Mickalene Thomas set photograph: Shows the artist's process, how she uses real models and sets. Note patterns and 1970s motifs.

b. Romare Bearden collage: Thomas has cited Bearden as one of her artistic influences. Students should note similarities in color, pattern, and flatness.

c. John Collier painting: An example from the early 1900s of the "reclining woman" in art history. Students should discuss the passiveness/agency of each of these women, and how a male artist's depiction of a woman differs from a female artist's in this case. Thomas was well versed in art history and was consciously making reference to precedents like this.

10. Writing Activity: In small groups, have students write a dialogue between Mnonja and someone else. It could be the artist, the viewer, or someone from one of the supporting resources.


Optional: Have students view one or both of the short videos of Mickalene Thomas discussing Portrait of Mnonja

#BecauseOfHerStory

Phoebe Hillemann
6
 

Women in Baseball and the Post Office

Issues of gender inequality have had profound effects on all aspects of American society and its many institutions. In conjunction with the National Postal Museum’s upcoming exhibition Baseball: America’s Home Run, this collection will assist teachers in examining this issue with their students through two important institutions of the 20th Century: Major League Baseball and the United States Postal Service. The collection explores this essential question: How was the changing status of women in American society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries represented in professional baseball and the United States Postal Service? In small groups, students will discuss this underlying question through the variety of resources in this collection, examining the historical access women have had to these institutions, their divergent experiences compared to their male counterparts, and how women have historically been depicted on USPS stamps. Some supporting questions to scaffold inquiry can be found in the “Notes to Other Users” section.

#BecauseOfHerStory

National Postal Museum
31
 

Civil Rights Sculpture: Claim Support Question

Using the Project Zero Visible Thinking routine "Claim Support Question," a routine for clarifying truth claims, students will examine a portrait of Rosa Parks, a prominent civil rights activist whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger prompted the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott. After discussing the portrait with their peers, students will learn more about the arrest this sculpture depicts by reading the original police report, with notes by a Smithsonian curator.

Created for the 2016 National Portrait Gallery Summer Teacher Institute.

Keywords: african-american, black, civil rights movement, female, woman, women, segregation, NAACP, justice, arrest, #BecauseOfHerStory

Tess Porter
2
 

Who is Frances Mary Albrier?

This is a collection of items belonging to, or about, Frances M. Albrier. Although an important female leader and activist during the mid-20th century, many students may not have heard of Ms. Albrier. Encourage students to act as history detectives, exploring the collection to determine why this woman's belongings are in the collections of the Smithsonian.

Some questions to consider:

  • What are Albrier's main accomplishments? What types of occupations did she have?
  • Based on these, what values do you think were important to her?
  • How does Albrier's life reflect major changes for women during the 20th century? Changes for African-Americans?
  • What do these items tell us about challenges facing African-American women in the mid-century?
  • What remains unknown about Albrier based on this collection? Where else could you go to look for more information?
  • Look at an encyclopedia entry for Ms. Albrier. Are there any events mentioned not covered in this collection? What might be a good item to add in order to better show her life?


tags: activism, civil rights, union, labor, voter registration, 60s, world war II, shipyards, WW2, nursing, Red Cross, National Council of Negro Women, Nigeria, independence, peace, moral rearmament, #BecauseOfHerStory

Kate Harris
15
 

Portrait Analysis: Lili'oukalani

In this activity, students will analyze a portrait of Lili'oukalani (1838-1917), the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii.  Queen Lili'uokalani came to the throne after her brother's death in 1891 and ruled until 1893 when, to avoid bloodshed, she surrendered to a coup led by American business leaders.  Opportunities to learn more include other portraits of Lili'uokalani, including one taken when she was 15, an article about her life and the annexation of Hawaii, and more.

This activity can be used as an entry point into studying Lili'uokalani's life and achievements, Hawaiian annexation, Hawaiian history and culture, and more.  This activity opens with questions from the National Portrait Gallery's "Reading" Portraiture Guide for Educators and ends with a Project Zero Think / Puzzle / Explore routine; the full portraiture guide and routine instructions are located at the end of the collection.

This Smithsonian Learning Lab collection received Federal support from the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

Keywords: liliuokalani, hawai'i, polynesian, pacific islander

#APA2018 #BecauseOfHerStory

Tess Porter
11
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