Found 723 Learning Lab Collections
This is a Smithsonian Learning Lab topical collection, which contains images, text, recordings, and other multimedia resources that may complement the Tween Tribune feature, Billions of pieces of plastic spread disease in coral reefs. Use these resources to introduce or augment your study of this topic. If you want to personalize this collection by changing or adding content, click the Sign Up link above to create a free account. If you are already logged in, click the copy button to initiate your own version. Learn more here.
In celebration of Women's History Month, this collections highlights some of the many accomplished and influential women in science, art, women's rights, and athletics throughout history. This is a Smithsonian Learning Lab topical collection, which contains images, text, recordings, and other multimedia resources that may complement Tween Tribune features for Women's History Month 2018:
Use these resources to introduce or augment your study of this topic. If you want to personalize this collection by changing or adding content, click the Sign Up link above to create a free account. If you are already logged in, click the copy button to initiate your own version. Learn more here.
This is a Smithsonian Learning Lab topical collection, which contains images, text, recordings, and other multimedia resources that may complement the Tween Tribune feature, How a pizza maker changed the stunt-kite-flying world. Use these resources to introduce or augment your study of this topic. If you want to personalize this collection by changing or adding content, click the Sign Up link above to create a free account. If you are already logged in, click the copy button to initiate your own version. Learn more here.
Lessons in this issue of Smithsonian in Your Classroom introduce students to the rhythms of poetry. The focus is on two poetic forms that originated as forms of song: the ballad stanza, found throughout British and American literature, and the blues stanzas of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. Poetry is put into terms of movement, physical space, and, finally, music.
Click the PDF icon to download the issue. Click on the boxes (then click again on "View original") for audio samples of ballads and blues from the Smithsonian Folkways archives.
What makes a community? This set can be used to explore the many intricate parts that make up a community! Included are thinking routines that can help students dig deeper into the topic and each artwork.
The Harlem Renaissance was a social and artistic movement of the 1920s that took place in the eclectic neighborhood of Harlem, New York. African-Americans, many of whom had migrated from the South to escape the harsh realities of racism and segregation, brought Harlem to life during this era with music, dance, poetry, film, education, literature, entrepreneurship, and social activism. This unprecedented revolution and its icons birthed knowledge and artistry that continues to impact American culture today. Such icons include Zora Neale Hurston, Mary McLeod Bethune, Madam C.J. Walker, Oscar Micheaux, Duke Ellington, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Mahalia Jackson.
The individual contributions of these “Harlemites” were so distinguished that the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAG) of the United States Postal Service selected each to be commemorated on a United States Postage Stamp. These stamps have been digitized and are housed at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum.
The Harlem Renaissance Collection includes a video on each Harlem Renaissance icon and an activity that teachers can use in the classroom.
Keywords: NMAAHC, National Postal Museum, American History, African American History, Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston, Mary McLeod Bethune, Madam C.J. Walker, Oscar Micheaux, Duke Ellington, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Mahalia Jackson
The eclectic and time-honored art form of quilting has been used as a material expression of ideologies, social stances, and culture. Though the basic process of quilting involves the sewing of two or more layers of fabric, quilters have increasingly integrated materials, symbols, words, and individual styles with communicative, celebratory, and decorative intentions.
This collection displays digitized images of quilts that reflect the diversity of the quilting tradition in America. Some quilts have been displayed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and others at the National Museum of the American Indian. The Smithsonian’s National Quilt Collection is housed at the National Museum of American History.
This collection includes an article that explores the evolution and artistry of quilting and a list of discussion questions that can be used to analyze the collection.
Keywords: African American, NMAAHC, American History, Quilts
This is a master collection designed to be copied and adapted to your individual classroom needs. Included are three scalable student activities that teach students engineering skills using methods similar to those that made the Wright brothers pioneers of aviation. Feel free to pick and choose from the activities in creating your own collections:
1. The Four Forces of Flight
In this student activity, students will briefly go over the four forces of flight (lift, drag, weight, and thrust) and put them to the test in the Paper Airplane Challenge! This activity is suitable for Primary/Intermediate grade levels.
2. Engineering the Wright Way
The second student activity is an online interactive, "Engineering the Wright Way"*, where students will develop engineering skills to design and test all the different components of an airplane based on the the Wrights' methodology. Students can write down a save code generated in the interactive to store their progress and return to finish the activity later. This activity is suitable for Intermediate/Middle grade levels.
3. Take a Wright Flight
The third student activity is an online flight simulator to learn three controls of flight: yaw, pitch, and roll. The final segment is an online interactive** to test fly the original Wright Flyer in conditions similar to that cold December morning when the Wrights first achieved flight, using direct 3D scans of the original Wright Flyer made by the Smithsonian. This activity is suitable for all grades.
*The "Engineering the Wright Way" lesson plan and activity were created by the National Air and Space Museum, courtesy of the Alcoa Foundation.
**The Wright Brothers Flyer activity was created by the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access.
This is one of 5 activities used in the Lenovo Week of Service event.
Long before the camera went west, artists like George Catlin were preserving the images of the native Americans on the western plains. Catlin's paintings are numerous and divide into two genre: the group activities and portraiture. This learning lab focuses on group activities of many plains indians including hunting, traditional dances, and recreation. #cgmd19
How might we learn about cultures through the study of artifacts? What role could the study of design elements and process play in in deepening our understanding? How could we leverage student agency of the design process to gain opportunities to recognize relationships between artifacts and culture.
This collection provides opportunities for students to uncover complexity by looking closely and making connections between cultures and the design process behind the artifacts. Student claims are based on evidence using provided resources for investigation. The Artifact Investigation Map serves as a visible thinking tool for documenting our understanding of a culture by making connections between the artifact and our research.
Begin by looking closely at an artifact, Lone Dog Winter Count, using a Project Zero Routine, See, Think, Wonder. Through close examination, we begin to develop hypotheses about the object and the connections to the culture. While a main goal is to learn more about the culture related to the artifact, we are also building a capacity for using this thinking process to build understanding. Record and display class ideas generated through this routine. In the discussion of culture, we are looking at how people live: What do the people value? What are their priorities and motivations?
Introduce the points of The Artifact Investigation Map. Ask students, “How could this be used to organize the ideas documented from the thinking routine about the artifact and the people who created it?”. (Students may recognize this as the Engineering Design Process.) Building on our initial See, Think, Wonder documentation, the group connects the artifact ideas to the map points. Different questions within each point may serve as prompts to continue making connections and lead to more questions about what we still wonder, guiding the next research steps. Provide a space to record and share new questions during the process.
Begin the research process with the first video Lakota Winter Counts. Using information from the source, model the process of organizing the findings using the different points on The Artifact Investigation Map. Be sure to highlight unanswered questions in the map as the class decides the future steps in the research. Support the student use of resource-based evidence starting from this Learning Lab collection when making and documenting claims. Depending on the learners, this phase may vary in the structure of guidance and interaction. Documentation is shared with an emphasis on providing opportunities to discuss the claims, findings, and analysis.
Guiding Points for Inquiry using The Artifact Investigation Map:
Ask: What needs or problems might this artifact address/solve? Does this design reflect empathy for a particular group or person?
Imagine: What possible prototypes or variations might have been produced in the timeline of this artifact? Could there have been earlier versions leading to this one?
Plan: Identify and describe what could have been key factors influencing design process. Examples: materials/natural resources, people power, skills, technology/tools, historical and natural environment….
(Re)Create: Describe the possible steps taken to create the artifact. What could this look like? Options include for this exploration: Try to create a mini-version or reenact one of the steps of the process. Use observations of the process to draw possible conclusions about the culture. Sketch or act out the steps. Take a part of the process and use the Step Inside thinking routine. *Document and share this process with the group in order to prepare for the next phase of The Artifact Investigation Map
Improvements: Since the creation of this artifact, what versions do we see today? What would the biography of this type of innovation look like? How might this type of artifact connect to modern innovation? *Extension for Improvements: Use the thinking routine Imagine If to evaluate a modern iteration of the artifact. How does it compare to the original?
Documenting Ongoing Conclusions/Questions/Reflections
Throughout the investigation, students share and post supported claims about the culture and reflect upon the process of using the design cycle to guide the study.
For the final reflection, use the thinking routine I Used to Think, Now I Think… to look for changes in thinking. Keep the process and research lines of thinking open for continued exploration with the unanswered questions.
This collection was created by Jared Tupuola, a Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center intern. Jared dove into the histories of Chinese laborers and the Golden Spike Anniversary, the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
"On May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific rail lines were connected in a highly publicized ceremony attended by railroad laborers, major financial supporters and the press. Led by industrial tycoon, Leland Stanford, the event commemorated the birth of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The completion of the railroad made national news and was lauded as a great economic and cultural success for the U.S.
Despite the attention given to the event, there remained one group of contributors who were almost entirely left out of being recognized for their integral work to the project; Chinese railroad laborers. Although making up the vast majority of the physical work force behind the railroad, Chinese labor contributions were largely disregarded. This instance was not unique to many early Chinese Americans who faced discrimination, animosity, and degradation not only in rail work, but in almost every industry and facet of life. The hardships for early Chinese in America were exacerbated by the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 which not only prevented further immigration from China to the U.S., it also birthed an impetus to drive out Chinese communities already established.
Through this collection, the work, lives, and experiences of Chinese laborers and migrants are presented as an opportunity to learn more about how some of America's earliest Chinese residents navigated America in the late 19th Century. This collection provides art, ceramics and information that expounds upon the realities of Chinese American life and the First Transcontinental Railroad while ensuring that the Chinese contributions are not forgotten. By no means an exhaustive resource, this collection allows for an introduction into Chinese contributions to the Transcontinental Railroad and encourages further exploration into the topic."
MicroObservatory is a network of automated telescopes that can be controlled over the Internet. In this collection, students will learn how they can control these telescopes themselves, using many of the same technologies that NASA uses to capture astronomical images by controlling telescopes in space. After gathering their very own images of space, students will learn the steps professional astronomers take to process the astronomical masterpieces so often seen from NASA, and then have the opportunity to create their very own!
Developed in partnership with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, this community engagement resource - available in both English and Spanish - encourages dialogue within local communities on contemporary issues based on the bilingual exhibition Dolores Huerta: Revolution in the Fields/Revolución en los Campos. The resource includes community engagement facilitation techniques, as well as three learning activities centered around community building, activism, and leadership.
National Portrait Gallery colleagues Wendy Wick Reaves and Briana Zavadil White will discuss the exhibition, "Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today." They maintain that, as people are confronted each day with “selfies” via social media and as they continue to examine the fluidity of contemporary identity, this is an opportune time to reassess the significance of self-portraiture in relation to the country’s history and culture.
Resources included in this collection have been chosen by the presenters for participants to explore before the seminar itself.
This collection provides students the opportunity to dress artist Frida Kahlo in traditional Mexican garb that she favored, the huipil and the quechquemitl.
Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacan on July 6, 1907. Thoughout her life Frida was a fierce nationalist and a vocal socialist. As a reflection of her beliefs, Frida often wore the indigenous clothing of Mexico. This can be seen both in photographs of her and in her paintings. Frida completed 143 paintings during her lifetime, 55 of which are self-portraits. Many of these self-portaits are among her most famous works.
Most of the costumes Frida wears were hand-woven, as well as hand embroidered and stitched. The colors and many of the symbols used in her work are clearly influenced by Mexican tradition.
She died in 1954.
This teacher's guide provides portraits and analysis questions to enrich students' examination of Bessie Smith, the "Empress of the Blues" and one of the most influential blues singers in history. Includes the video "Defining Portraiture: How are portraits both fact and fiction?" and the National Portrait Gallery's "Reading" Portraiture Guide for Educators, both of which provide suggestions and questions for analyzing portraiture. Also includes a video clip of Bessie Smith performing "St. Louis Blues" in 1929 and a post from the National Museum of African American History and Culture discussing her and other LGBTQ African Americans of the Harlem Renaissance.
- What do these portraits have in common? How are they different?
- How are these portraits both fact and fiction?
- How do these portraits reflect how she wanted to be seen, or how others wanted her to be seen? Consider for what purpose these portraits were created.
- Having listened her music, does the portrait capture your image of Bessie Smith? Why, or why not?
- If you were creating your own portrait of Bessie Smith, what characteristics would you emphasize, and why?
Keywords: singer, musician, 20s, 30s, American, Tennessee, #BecauseOfHerStory
On February 12, 2018, the official portraits of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. President Obama's portrait was created by artist Kehinde Wiley, who is known for his vibrant, large-scale paintings of African Americans posing as famous figures from the history of Western art. This portrait does not include an underlying art historical reference, but some of the flowers in the background carry special meaning for Obama. Mrs. Obama's portrait was created by artist Amy Sherald, who considers the former first lady to be someone “women can relate to—no matter what shape, size, race, or color. . . . We see our best selves in her.”
This collection includes the two portraits, in high resolution, so that learners can zoom in and out to carefully observe details. It also includes videos and articles about the portraits and their official unveilings. Additional supports include other works by the two artists and strategies for reading portraits. Portraits of the two sitters and other presidential portraits can be used for compare and contrast activities.
People, Place and Time: How Art Reflects Culture - Caja De Memoria Viva II: Constancia Colón de Clemente by Adrián Román (
In this collection, designed for a Spanish-speaking classroom, students will explore how art reflects culture when analyzing “Caja De Memoria Viva II: Constancia Colón de Clemente” by Adrian “Viajero” Román. In this three-dimensional multimedia installation, the artist portrays a black Puerto Rican woman who migrated to the United States in the 1940s. This portrait allows the artist (in his own words) “ to embark on a quest to visually represent how precious our memories are and capture the dignity in the people’s struggle and validate their existence.” The collection includes a teacher's guide in English and suggested authentic resources both in Spanish and English to be adapted by teachers of multiple disciplines.
Students will observe and analyze this three dimensional work of art and they will describe both its exterior and interior. Students will create their own box to reflect their heritage and personal story or that of a Hispanic figure.
This collection is one of three that explore “People, Place, and Time: How Art Reflects Culture.” Products, practices and perspectives displayed in Latinx art, show how our place and history (past) influence who we are (present) and who we want to be (future) in geographical, social, economic, and/or historical contexts. In the three collections, Latin American works of art illustrate how culture shapes the way we see the world, others, and ourselves, and they also raise awareness about Latinx diversity.
The three collections were created by Marcela Velikovsky (Bullis School) and Vicky Masson (Christ Episcopal School) as part of the 2018 Smithsonian Virtual Teacher Curricula Creation Opportunity with the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA), and thanks to the Smithsonian Latino Center's Latino Initiative Pool Funds. The three collections highlight Latino history, art and culture,and use Harvard Project Zero Thinking Routines and Global Thinking Routines strategies.
The Smithsonian Learning Lab collections provide an opportunity to invigorate the World Language (Foreign Language) curriculum as it allows to effectively integrate online museum resources (authentic resources) towards a 21st century curriculum. They facilitate student-centered activities within a variety of themes such as, family and communities, personal and public identities, social values and customs, holidays and celebrations, immigration, ethnic groups, Hispanic Heritage, image and stereotypes, inequality and discrimination, global issues, religious practices, etc. They also provide the opportunity to analyze art, read portraiture, and investigate art media.
These collections also consider ACTFL standards (Communication, Connections, Comparisons, Communities and Culture), Asia Society Global Competence skills, the Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals), Teaching Tolerance Social Justice standards, the Framework for Developing Global and Cultural Competencies to Advance Equity, Excellence and Economic competitiveness, and Participate Global Competencies.
# National Portrait Gallery #The Outwin # Adrián “Viajero” Román # Caja de Memoria Viva II # Spanish # Puerto Rico # New York # Empathy # Inequality # Critical thinking # Curiosity # Heritage # Stories #LatinoHAC
At their peak there may have been as many as 60 million Bison Bison roaming America. By the start of the 1800s, the impact of Euro-Americans on Bison herds was already evident. Throughout the 1800s, the bison population decreased from millions to less than 400 wild bison left in the United States.
1. Look through the provided artworks of bison provided.
2. Select two artworks.
3. For each artwork do See, Think, Wonder.
See - write down exactly what you see.
Think - write a sentence about what you think about the artwork.
Wonder - write a sentence about something the artwork made you wonder about.
4. Write a short paragraph (3-5 sentences) comparing and contrasting the two different depictions of bison.
This collection represents the women of the Ancient Times who made a difference in their respective civilizations.
Those female figures held powerful roles, and played significantly influential parts in the domains traditionally held by men. Their names are still known today.
Enheduanna, the earliest known poet, helped her father to unite the Akkadians and the Sumerians through poetry, while Sappho, brought us a lyrical poetry, she would talk about love, feelings, and woman (from a woman’s point of view). Her poetry was unlike others; previous and current poets at the time were male and wrote about events that focused on the Gods and men in general.
Queen Nefertiti together with her husband united Egyptian people under one god, the Sun God.
Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, secured her position—and her Egypt’s independence—through her influence over Roman leaders Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, some of the most powerful Western men of the time
Artemisia of Halicarnassus, also known as Artemisia I of Caria, is credited with persuading Persian King Xerxes to abandon his invasion of Greece.
As we can see, ancient history has many strong female figures, and their names echo down history to the present day.
Women in mid-twentieth century and after made an enormous impact not only in arts, but also in literary forms.
Matisse's Tea, which starts this collection shows the contrasting use of color, pattern, and line on Marguerite and Henriette creating a feeling of imbalance in the piece. This piece confronts the viewer with the tension between restraint and nature.
This tension is taken to a different form in the artists displayed here.
Simone de Beauvoir, uses in promoting feminism, according to Simone de Beauvoir, women do not choose to think about their bodies and bodily processes negatively; rather they are forced to do so as a result of being embedded in a hostile patriarchal society. Andy Warhol , creator of Pop Art, used multiple images of American icon, Marilyn Monroe to produce art.
Another artist, Judy Chicago wanted to demonstrate women's achievements through history in the collaborated installation The Dinner Party. Her goal was to ensure that this tribute to women becomes a permanent part of our cultural heritage.
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.
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":
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.
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