The following list is Part 2 (400-1399 CE) of my attempt to trace the history of human artistic endeavors by finding the best, most significant, and most highly-regarded works of visual art (primarily painting and sculpture) from all times and places and presenting them in chronological order. The seven Art History 101 lists contain every work of art that was on at least two of the more than 30 ‘Best Works of Art’ lists that I collected from the Internet and books. Although most of the resources available to me focused almost exclusively on the art of Western Civilization, the list does identify some of the most significant artworks produced by the artists of Asia, Africa and South America. Because I believe visuals are essential for discussing the visual arts, I have included images of the art works, In most cases, you can click on the images to enlarge them. (I have tried to use public domain images where possible. In other cases, I believe this is a fair non-commercial use for educational purposes. If there are copyright concerns, please let me know.)
Each entry includes the date of the work, the artist’s name, the name (or names) of the work, the style or culture associated with the work, and the location where the work was produced. In addition, I have included a brief essay with description (including measurements), artistic materials used, background and interpretation. To see the rest of the Art History 101 series, click on the links below:
Part 1 (Prehistoric Era – 399 CE)
Part 3 (1400-1499)
Part 4 (1500-1599)
Part 5 (1600-1799)
Part 6 (1800-1899)
Part 7 (1900-Present)
For a list of the greatest works of visual art organized by rank, that is, with the artworks on the most lists at the top, go here.
400 CE – 999 CE
112. Buddha Preaching the Law (Preaching Buddha)
Date: c. 465-485 CE
Period/Style: Ancient India; Buddhist era; Gupta Empire
Medium: Carved sandstone
Dimensions: 5.1 feet tall, 2.8 feet wide and 10.6 inches deep
Current location: Archaeological Museum, Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India
According to Buddhist tradition, after Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment and became the Buddha, he went to the Deer Park in Sarnath, India and preached his first sermon to his first five disciples, thereby setting in motion the Wheel of the Dharma, or Dharmachakra. There are many artistic representations of the Buddha preaching the first sermon, but a sandstone Preaching Buddha is one of the most highly regarded. The Buddha sits in front of a large Wheel of Dharma with his hands in the traditional preaching position. The carvings on either side of the Buddha include deer, thus establishing the location as the Deer Park. Below the Buddha’s crossed legs are his five disciples, along with a woman and child. Commentators have noted that this representation of the Buddha combines his compassion and spirituality with his inner bliss.
113. Relief Sculptures, Vishnu Temple (Dashavatara Temple; Gupta Temple)
Date: c. 500 CE Period/Style: Ancient India; Hindu period; Gupta era
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in stone on the exterior of a temple
Dimensions: Many hundreds of square feet of reliefs. Some panels measure 2 feet by 2.5 feet.
Current location: The temple is located in Deogarh, Madhya Pradesh, India. Some of the sculptures are in various museums including the National Museum in Delhi, India.
One of the first stone temples of Hinduism, the Vishnu Temple was built about 500 CE, during the Gupta Empire. Statues and relief sculptures all feature the god Vishnu or stories related to his life. The images show: (1) Relief sculptures on the southern temple wall, in which Vishnu reclines on the many-headed serpent Shesha (Ananta). At Vishnu’s feet are his consort Lakshmi and her attendants. Below them are Madhu and Kaitabha, two demons, whose attack is about to be thwarted by Vishnu’s four personified weapons (top image above). (2) Reliefs from over the temple doorway, in which Vishnu is sitting on the serpent’s coils with its many hoods overhead, with Lakshmi at Vishnu’s feet and flanked by two of his incarnations (see second image above). (3) Relief with the elephant god Ganesha (see image below left). (4) Relief from he northern temple wall, showing the story of Vishnu saving Gajendra the elephant from a crocodile (see image below right).
114. Vienna Genesis
Date: c. 500-550 CE
Period/Style: Medieval period; Byzantine style (with Classical elements); Syria; religious
Medium: Illustrated manuscript (codex) made with tempera paints on purple-dyed parchment
Dimensions: Each page is 13.1 inches tall by 10/6 inches wide
Current location: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria
The Vienna Genesis is an illustrated manuscript from the 6th Century containing an abbreviated version of the Book of Genesis in Greek, it was probably created in Syria. At the bottom of each page is a painted miniature. The pages are made of calf vellum dyed royal purple. The existing book consists of 24 pages, but it is believed that the original was much larger. The Vienna Genesis is the oldest extant example of an illustrated Christian religious text and contains elements of Classical and medieval artistic styles. Among the Classical elements is the semi-nude woman who represents the personification of the river in the depiction of Rebekah and Eliezer at the Well. The images show:
(1) Rebekah and Eliezer at the Well (see detail in top image);
(2) Jacob Crossing the River/Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (see detail in second image above); and
(3) God’s Covenant with Noah after the Flood (see full page in image below).
115. Mosaics, Basilica of San Vitale
Date: c. 527-548 CE
Period/Style: Byzantine, with elements of Ancient Roman and Ancient Greek (Hellenistic Period)
Medium: Mosaic tiles. Mosaics are made of small, flat, roughly square pieces of various materials in different colors, known as tesserae. The tesserae in San Vitale are made from glass, stone, marble, ceramics, and mother-of-pearl.
Dimensions: Approximately 40,000 square feet of mosaics cover the walls and ceilings of the church.
Current location: Ravenna, Italy
The Basilica of San Vitale is one of the few Byzantine churches that has survived to the present day essentially unchanged. Built while Ravenna was under the rule of the Ostrogoths, San Vitale contains some of the finest mosaics outside Istanbul. The artistic style is in the Hellenistic-Roman tradition, which includes bright colors, some use of perspective and vivid depictions of plants, birds and landscapes. The program of mosaics includes numerous Bible stories and figures, angels, plants, birds and other animals. The presbytery vault in the apse contains a mosaic of Jesus, robed in purple, sitting on a blue globe and handing the crown of martyrdom to St. Vitale (see top image above). On a side wall of the apse is a mosaic of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and a retinue carrying the traditional gifts for a religious procession (see second image above). To the right of Justinian are clergy, including Bishop Maximian, to whom the Basilica was dedicated. To the left are administration officials and soldiers. The message seems to be that the Emperor is head of church and state. The halo around Justinian’s head and the number of his retinue indicate an even closer connection between the Emperor and the deity. A nearby mosaic shows Empress Theodora, looking like a goddess, and her retinue (see image below), an image that later inspired Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.
116. Transfiguration of Christ
Date: 548-566 CE
Period/Style: Medieval; Byzantine; Egypt; religious
Medium: Mosaic in the apse of a church
Dimensions: 6.5 ft. tall by 8.2 ft. wide
Current location: St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Egypt
The well-preserved mosaic in the apse of the church in St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai is the earliest surviving artistic representation of an event in the Christian Gospels known as the Transfiguration, when Jesus revealed his divine nature to three of his apostles, Peter, John and James. Jesus in seen surrounded by an almond-shaped mandorla, flanked by two prophets, Moses and Elijah. Below him, in various poses, are the three Apostles. Rays of light emanate from Jesus’ body. A single ground line curves around the apse, on which all the three apostles and two prophets are standing, kneeling or lying. (In later representations of the scene, Moses and Elijah are usually shown floating in the air on either side of Jesus.) The medallions above show the apostles (with substitutes for the three shown in the main scene), while those below show various prophets. The mosaic dates to the time of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and may have been commissioned by him. In religious terms, the Transfiguration was important in a number of theological controversies in the early Church regarding the true nature of Christ. The Transfiguration was cited as support for the belief that Jesus’s essential nature was both divine and mortal. The Byzantine artistic style shows these figures without the naturalism of the Classical era, but as nearly weightless and stylized, inhabiting a heavenly sphere symbolized b the gold background. The location of the mosaic, at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt, was important because it was where Moses was said to have received the Ten Commandments from God. Due to its isolated location, the mosaic survived the later waves of iconoclasm that destroyed so much Christian art of this period.
117. Rossano Gospels (Codex Purpureus Rossanensis)
Date: The exact date of the Gospels is disputed, with a majority of scholars dating it to the second half of the 6th Century CE (c. 550-599). Some experts believe it was written in Italy after the Byzantine Empire reconquered the Italian peninsula from the Ostrogoths in 553 CE. Some believe it was produced in Syria or Palestine and brought to Italy later, perhaps by someone escaping the waves of art-destroying iconoclasm that swept the Byzantine church from 726-787 and 814-842.
Period/Style: Medieval; Byzantine; Italy; religious
Medium: Illustrated manuscript (codex) with tempera paints on purple-dyed parchment
Dimensions: Each page is 11.8 in. high by 9.8 in. wide
Current location: Diocesan Museum, Archepiscopal Palace, Rossano, Calabria, Italy
The Rossano Gospels are considered to be the earliest known illuminated manuscripts of Christian New Testament writings. Written in Greek, the existing pages (188 out of an estimated 400, part of which could be a missing second volume) contain the Gospel of Matthew, most of the Gospel of Mark and a portion of a letter regarding the concordance of the gospels. The pages of parchment are dyed purple, hence the Latin name Codex Purpureus Rossanensis. The text is written in two columns of 20 lines each; the first three lines of each gospel are written in gold ink, with the remainder in silver. The 15 illuminated pages have been placed at the beginning of the manuscript instead of integrated with the text, as in later manuscripts. Twelve of the illuminated pages depict episodes from the life of Christ (including Christ before Pilate, shown in the image above), often with the evangelists pictured on the bottom half of the page. One of the illuminated pages shows the four evangelists in a circle of concordance. Another is a portrait of Mark the Evangelist, with an angel (see image below). The portrait of St. Mark is believed to be the first known evangelist portrait, although at least one scholar believes it is a later insertion. According to one commentator, “The Rossano miniatures are painted with extraordinary refinement and economy. Like the illustrations in the Vienna Genesis, they distill the narrative action in a few, convincing gestures. Hellenistic naturalism survives in the soft, highlighted garments, dramatic action, and details of setting.”
118. Virgin and Child with Saints and Angels (Virgin and Child Enthroned)
Date: c. 550-600 CE
Period/Style: Byzantine; Egypt; religious icon
Medium: Encaustic paints on prepared wood panel. (Encaustic painting involves mixing pigments with hot beeswax.)
Dimensions: 2.2 ft. tall by 1.7 ft. wide
Current location: St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Egypt
Christian religious art from the 6th and 7th Centuries CE is very rare due to two waves of iconoclasm that swept through the Byzantine Empire in the 8th and 9th Centuries CE. Iconoclasts believed that images of Christian religious figures were heretical, and they destroyed untold numbers of artworks. Fortunately for us, the iconoclasts did not reach St. Catherine’s Monastery, which is isolated in the Egyptian desert, nestled at the base of Mt. Sinai. Many rare religious icons and illustrated manuscripts, including the 6th Century icon Virgin and Child with Saints and Angels, have been preserved at St. Catherine’s. The icon depicts two soldier saints (George and Theodore), feet planted firmly on the ground and staring blankly forward, flanking the Virgin Mary, who holds the baby Jesus on her lap. Behind them, two other angels, with near transparent haloes, stare in awe at the hand of God reaching down from heaven, sending a shaft of holy light onto Mary and her son, who look off to the right, failing to meet our gaze. The viewer’s eye is drawn first to the soldiers (the most ordinary and most like us), then to the central Virgin and Jesus, and up to the second set of angels, who direct our gaze to the hand of God, thus showing the believer the path to salvation.
119. Descent of the Ganges (Arjuna’s Penance)
Date: c. 650 CE
Period/Style: Pallava Dynasty; reign of Narasimhavarman I
Medium: Relief sculptures in two pink granite boulders separated by a fissure
Dimensions: At 43 ft. tall by 96 ft. wide, this is one of the largest relief sculptures in the world.
Current location: Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India
The enormous bas relief at Mahabalipuram in India includes over 100 figures, many of them life size, representing humans, animals, Hindu gods and other mythological figures. Many scholars believe the sculptures depict the story of the descent of the holy river Ganges at the order of Shiva, with Bhagiratha leading the way. Under this interpretation, the emaciated figure shown doing penance outside his hermitage is Bhagiratha (see detail in image below). A half-snake/half-man figure in the fissure may represent the spirit of the Ganges. The remains of a cistern have been found atop the fissure that was used to create a waterfall effect supports the Descent of the Ganges interpretation, Others believe the carvings tell the story of Arjuna, one of the major protagonists of the Mahabharata, performing a penance in order to obtain a weapon called the Pashupatastra from Lord Shiva. Some have theorized that the sculptors intended to depict both legends. As Edward Fosmire points out, the reliefs contain many amusing and fantastic elements that provide an entry point into the complex mythology for uninitiated viewers. In 1984, UNESCO designated the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, including the reliefs known as Descent of the Ganges reliefs, as a World Heritage Site.
120. The Thirteen Emperors Scroll
Artist: Attributed to Yan Liben
Date: c. 650-673 CE
Period/Style: Tang Dynasty; China; royal portraiture
Medium: Ink and color on silk scroll
Dimensions: 1.7 ft. tall by 17.4 ft. long
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
In 7th Century China, painters and other artists were held in low regard socially. Yan Liben was an aristocrat and a government official specializing in architectural matters who served in the administrations of two Tang Dynasty emperors (Taizong and his son Gaozong). To Yan’s shame, however, it was his hobby of painting that made him famous at court. His most acclaimed painting, The Thirteen Emperors Scroll, covers 700 years of Chinese history through portraits of pre-Tang emperors beginning with the Emperor Zhao Di, from the Western Han Dynasty, who reigned from c. 86-74 BCE, to Emperor Yang Di, of the Sui Dynasty, who reigned from 605-617 CE. The sequence is chronological from right to left except for the 7th, 8th and 9th emperors. Each emperor is presented in a separate scene with his entourage (but with no background, which was felt to be distracting) in dignified poses that emphasize their imperial status. At least one commentator has suggested that emperors with more lofty reputations (such as the founders of dynasties) are represented as larger and with more pleasant expressions than emperors known for their cruelty or for military defeats. The entire scroll is viewable online HERE. The images shown are: (1) Liu Bei, Emperor Zhaolie Di, Shu Han Dynasty (reigned 221-223 CE) (top left); (2) Yang Jian, Emperor Wen Di, Sui Dynasty (reigned 581-604 CE) (top right) (3) Chen Bozong, Emperor Fei Di, Chen Dynasty (reigned 566-568 CE), seated at left, and Cao Pi, Emperor Wen Di, Wei Dynasty (reigned 221-226 CE), seated at right (first image below); and (4) Chen Shubao, Emperor Xuan Di, Chen Dynasty (reigned 569-582 CE) (second image below).
121. Book of Durrow
Date: c. 650-700 CE
Period/Style: Medieval; Insular style; Ireland/England/Scotland; religious
Medium: Illustrated manuscript with ink and color on vellum
Dimensions: Each page is 9.6 inches tall by 5.7 inches wide
Current location: Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
A much earlier precursor of the more famous Lindesfarne Gospels and Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow is one of the earliest northern European illuminated manuscripts using the Insular style, found in Ireland and the British Isles. According to tradition, the manuscript was created at Durrow Abbey in Ireland, although some have speculated that it came from a monastery in Northumbria in England or in western Scotland. To create the illustrations that surround and accompany the text, the artist has drawn inspiration from a number of sources: Celtic art; Anglo-Saxon metalwork; Egyptian and Syrian illustrated manuscripts; Germanic zoomorphic designs; and Pictish stones from Scotland. The first letter of the text is enlarged and decorated. The intricately-designed carpet pages – so called because they resemble Persian rugs – contain interlaced animals and Celtic spirals, triskeles (triple spirals), ribbon plaits, and circular knots (see image above). The pages for the four Evangelists are unusual in their iconography. Here, Matthew is represented by a man (see image below left); Mark by an eagle; Luke by an ox (or calf); and John by a lion (see image below right). In the standard representations adopted later the lion stands for Mark and the eagle represents John. The representation of Matthew shows a lack of naturalism – one commentator likened it to a giant buckle with a head and feet.
122. Lindisfarne Gospels
Artist: Attributed to Eadfrith of Lindisfarne
Date: c. 700-715 CE
Period/Style: Hiberno-Saxon/Insular style; England
Medium: Illustrated manuscript
Dimensions: Each page of the book measures 14.4 in. tall by 10.8 in. wide
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
The illuminated manuscript known as the Lindisfarne Gospels was produced in a monastery on Lindisfarne (also known as Holy Island) off the coast of Northumberland in the UK. Eadfrith, who was Bishop of Lindisfarne from 698 until his death in 721, is presumed to be the artist. The book was originally encased in a leather binding covered with jewels and precious metals made by Billfrith the Anchorite, but this treasure was looted by the Vikings sometime after their first raid in 793. The original Latin text is written using insular majuscule script and the art is considered an early and prime example of the insular or Hiberno-Saxon art of the British Isles in the post-Roman period. In the 10th Century, Aldred, Provost of Chester-le-Street, inserted a word-for-word Old English translation between the lines of the Latin text and a short history of the book, noting that it was made in honor of 7th Century St. Cuthbert, an earlier Bishop of Lindisfarne. The style of the illuminations incorporates Christian and pre-Christian imagery, including Celtic, Germanic and Irish artistic traditions. Each Gospel is introduced by a portrait of the evangelist. One of the most highly-regarded pages is the cross-carpet page preceding the gospel book of St. Matthew (see image at left above). A carpet page is characterized by mainly geometrical ornamentation, including many animal forms, that reminds viewers of an elaborate carpet. Some carpet pages illustrate a single initial letter of a manuscript; a cross-carpet page illustrates a Christian cross. The image at right above shows the portrait page of St. Matthew the Evangelist.
123. Mosaics, Great Mosque of Damascus (Umayyad Mosque)
Date: c. 705-715 CE
Period/Style: Islamic; Ummayad Caliphate; Syria
Medium: Mosaic tiles. Mosaics are made of tesserae, which are very small, flat, roughly square pieces of various materials (e.g., stone, glass, ceramics) in different colors.
Dimensions: The mosaics cover much of the interior of the 117,000 square foot mosque
Current location: Damascus, Syria
Muslim Arabs captured the city of Damascus from the Christians in 635 CE, just three years after Mohammad’s death. In 661 CE, the Umayyad Caliphate made Damascus the capital of the growing Islamic State. The sixth Umayyad caliph, al-Walid I, ordered the building of a mosque large enough to accommodate the city’s entire congregation for Friday prayers. He enlisted builders and artists from the entire region. The interior and exterior of the mosque were decorated with elaborate mosaics. In addition to the geometric designs familiar from earlier holy buildings, such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the mosaics in Damascus depict fanciful landscapes and architecture: trees, flowers, rivers, castles, houses, gardens and fountains. In keeping with Islamic tradition, there are no images of humans or animals. Not long after the completion of the Great Mosque, the Umayyad Caliphate came to an end, and their successors in the Abbasid Caliphate ignored the mosque. It was not until the 11th Century, under the Seljuk Turks, that the neglected mosque received much-needed renovations. Two centuries later, the Mamluks conducted extensive renovations, with a particular focus on restoring the mosaics. Unfortunately, the mosque was damaged by serious fires in 1339, 1400 and 1893. While some of the original 715 CE mosaics still exist, many of the designs are restorations of varying quality.
124. Book of Kells
Date: c. 800 CE
Period/Style: Celtic Christian; Insular Art; England/Ireland
Medium: Illustrated manuscript
Dimensions: The book measures 13 in. tall by 10 in. wide
Current location: Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
The Book of Kells is an illustrated manuscript containing the four Christian Gospels and other writings. The book was created in one or more of the English and Irish monasteries founded by St. Colomba, probably Iona, in England, and then Kells, in Ireland, where it remained until the mid-17th Century, when it was moved to Dublin and eventually to the library of Trinity College. The Book of Kells is considered the most extravagant and complex example of Insular Art. The artist’s finest achievements are the initial pages, in which the first letter of the Gospel is elaborated into a world of figures and designs (see Gospel of John in top image and Gospel of Matthew above left), and the 10 surviving full-page illuminations, such as Christ Enthroned (above right). All 680 pages are viewable online HERE.
125. Aachen Gospels (Treasury Gospels)
Date: c. 800-820 CE
Period/Style: Medieval period; Carolingian style; Germany
Medium: Illustrated manuscript; paint on parchment
Dimensions: 11.9 inches tall by 9.2 inches wide
Current location: Treasury, Aachen Cathedral, Aachen, Germany
The Aachen Gospels is an illuminated manuscript in the Carolingian style from 800-820 CE. Scholars believe it was made by a member of the Ada School, which produced at least nine other illuminated manuscripts, including the late 8th Century Vienna Coronation Gospels. The gospels are part of the treasury of the Aachen Cathedral in Aachen, Germany and are sometimes known as the Treasury Gospels. The book consists of 280 parchment leaves, which contain the texts of the four Gospels as well as supplementary material. The writing is Carolingian minuscule and there is significant architectural decoration, with some Classical elements. From an artistic point of view, the Aachen Gospels are known primarily for a full-page miniature – the only one in the book – of the four Evangelists. The portrayal is considered unusual for placing the four saints in a single landscape with hills, a horizon, trees and a pink sky. In a Classical reference, they are wearing togas as each engages in a different activity (Matthew writing; Mark dipping his pen in ink; Luke reading; and John thinking). The artist has organized the landscape so that each evangelist has his own space and appears to be working alone, but the overall composition creates the sense that the four gospel writers are engaged in a single project, serving a single purpose.
126. Relief Sculptures, Temple of Borobudur
Date: c. 800-825 CE
Period/Style: Mahayana Buddhism; Sailendra Dynasty; island of Java, Indonesia
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in andesite stone slabs
Dimensions: There are 2,672 bas relief panels (1,460 narrative panels and 1,212 decorative panels) covering nearly 27,000 square feet.
Current location: Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia
Borobudur is a Mahayana Buddhist temple built in the 9th Century CE during the Sailendra Dynasty on the island of Java in what is now Indonesia (see image below for aerial view of the temple). It was abandoned some time after the 11th Century and rediscovered in 1814 during the British occupation of Java. The temple walls contain nearly 27,000 square feet of narrative and decorative bas relief panels. The narrative panels tell the story of Sudhana and Manohara, from the Avatamsaka Sutra, as well as the life of the Buddha, including his past lives. The panels also depict various aspects of daily life in Java and have been useful to historians in learning about the architecture, weaponry, economy, fashion, and modes of transportation of Southeast Asia in the 8th-century CE. The Temple of Borobudur was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. The top image above shows Siddhartha Buddha seeking enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. The last image above shows a merchant ship. I was not able to obtain identification of the other three images. For photos and explanations of the relief panels, go HERE.
127. Animal Head Post, Oseberg Viking Ship Burial
Date: c. 815-825 CE
Period/Style: Viking Age Art/Norse Art; Oseberg Style; Norway
Medium: Carved maple wood Dimensions: approximately 20 in. tall; the head is 5 in. tall
Current location: Viking Ship Museum, University of Oslo, Bygdoy, Norway
In 1904, archaeologists discovered an intact Viking burial ship under a mound of earth in Oseberg, Norway. The ship, which dates to the early 9th Century, contained two women’s bodies and a significant number of grave objects. Among the objects were five wooden posts carved into the heads of animals, which appear to have been carved by different artists. They have slots for handles indicating they were carried and may have had some magical or religious significance, although there is no consensus about the purpose of the objects. The most highly-regarded of the posts, known as the “Academiciian’s head-post” bears the head of a roaring animal (perhaps a lion) with protruding eyes, while the intricate carving shows tightly interwoven animals in an interlacing serpentine pattern (see images above). According to art historian Andrea Snow: “The Oseberg style shows a strong interplay between zoomorphic and geometric patterns that continues artistic traditions predating the Viking Age. These schematic figures are situated within fields that divide surfaces into clear segments and emphasize the balance and organization of images.”
128. Ebbo Gospels
Date: c. 816-835 CE
Period/Style: Carolingian (“shivering style”); France
Medium: Illustrated manuscript
Dimensions: The book is 10 in. tall by 8 in. wide
Current location: Bibliothèque Municipale, Épernay, France
The Ebbo Gospels is an illuminated manuscript produced at the Benedictine abbey at Hautvillers, France in the 9th Century; it takes its name from a poem to Ebbo, the Archbishop of Rheims, that is printed in the manuscript. The book contains a number of illuminated pages, including portraits of the Evangelists. The unknown artist has drawn the figures in an energetic style (sometimes called the shivering style) in agitated poses, which generates a level of emotion new to Carolingian art. As a result of these innovations, the Ebbo Gospels became very influential. The figure of St. Matthew, in particular, is considered a masterpiece (see image above left). He writes with one hand while the other holds an ink horn; a tiny angel hovers in the upper right corner. (See also the portrait of St. Mark, above right.) The pinks and greens of the portrait are new colors for Carolingian art. The figures and landscapes are influenced by the Late Classical style, which may have come to France from Greek artists fleeing Byzantine iconoclasm, but the frenzied energy and emotion are new.
129. High Cross of Muiredach
Date: c. 875-925 CE
Period/Style: Medieval; Celtic; Insular style; Ireland; religious
Medium: Burial cross made of several blocks of sandstone, with relief sculptures
Dimensions: The cross is 19 ft. high (including the base). The base measures 2.2 ft. tall by 4.7 ft. wide at the bottom and 3.6 ft. wide at the top. The 6 ft. tall shaft is 2.1 ft. wide and 1.7 ft. deep at the bottom.
Current location: Monasterboice, County Louth, Ireland
The High Cross of Muiredach is one of three tall Celtic crosses located at ruins of the Monasterboice monastery, in County Louth, Ireland. The large cross stands on a base in the form of an attenuated pyramid; the shaft of the cross tapers somewhat as it goes up. The top stone, or capstone, is shaped like a house with a sloping roof. All four sides of the cross are divided into panels with carvings, usually with Biblical themes, but also some geometric and abstract patterns. The central panel on the west face depicts the Crucifixion (see image above), while the central panel on the east face of the cross shows The Last Judgment (see detail in image below). The carvings include 124 figures, who generally wear contemporary clothing and hairstyles. The ring surrounding the head of the cross contains 17 different geometric or abstract patterns. The cross would originally have been painted in bright colors. The cross gets its name from a Gaelic inscription at the bottom of the west face that reads, “A prayer for Muiredach who had this cross made.”
130. The Paris Psalter
Date: c. 950-960 CE
Period/Style: Medieval; Byzantine; Macedonian Renaissance; Turkey
Medium: Illustrated manuscript;
Current location: Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
The Paris Psalter is a large, well-preserved Byzantine-era illuminated manuscript containing the Biblical text of the Psalms. Produced in Constantinople in the early 10th Century CE, the large 449-page book contains numerous painted miniatures, including 14 full-page illustrations, seven of which tell the life of King David. The artist refers consciously to much older Classical forms and iconography, consistent with what is referred to as the Macedonian Renaissance. Of particular note are the personified virtues and muses who sit with David as he composes the Psalms on his lyre, which appear to be based on Greco-Roman wall paintings (see image above). This conscious imitation of centuries-old styles may indicate a desire to connect the current period with a mythical past Golden Age. The imitation is so convincing that art historians originally dated the psalter to the 6th Century CE. Other full-page illustrations from the psalter include: the Healing of Hezekiah (see image below left) and the Reproach of Nathan and the Penance of King David (see image below right).
131. Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance
Date: c. 950-1200 CE
Period/Style: Tamil culture; Chola Dynasty; India
Medium: Bronze sculptures
Dimensions: The sculptures range in size from c. 24 in. tall to 5 ft. tall.
Current locations: Various collections.
Images of the Hindu god Shiva dancing are found in India as early as 5th Century CE, but it was during the Chola Dynasty (c. 860-1279 CE) in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, home to the Tamil people, that the classical iconography developed. Ancient Sanskrit writings tell the story of Shiva dancing as Nataraja in Chidambaram, the golden hall in the center of the universe, for the other gods. In his dance, Shiva shows with movements his power to create and destroy: (1) in his lower right hand he holds the damaru, a drum whose vibrations created the world; (2) in his upper right hand, he makes the abhaya gesture, which protects, preserves and removes fear; (3) his upper left hand holds the fire of destruction, or agni; (4) his right foot tramples apasmara purusha, the personification of illusion; and (5) he lifts his left leg and points to it with the gaja hasta gesture, to show it is a refuge for troubled souls. Surrounding the dancing Shiva is a flaming halo. The Shiva Nataraja iconography was propagated through many bronze statues produced during the Chola Dynasty; all share certain basic features, but may differ in small ways. They make up part of the large production of Hindu religious statuary known as Chola Bronzes. Many such icons are located in temples and museums throughout the world. Most were made small enough for individual worshippers to carry. The largest Chola bronze, dating from 1100-1200, is located at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and measures 5 ft. tall by 3.75 ft. wide (see image above. More typical in size is Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a Chola bronze statue from the 11th Century, measuring 26.9 in. tall by 22.2 in. wide (see image below left). One variation to the basic design is a non-circular halo that tapers at the base, as in the Shiva Nataraja in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a Chola Dynasty bronze dating from 950-1000 CE and measuring 30 in. tall by 22.5 in. wide (see image below right).
132. Gero Crucifix (Gero Cross)
Date: 960-976 CE
Period/Style: Medieval; Ottonian (with Byzantine elements); Germany
Medium: Carved oak wood, painted and gilded
Dimensions: 6.1 feet from head to feet, and 5.4 feet from arm to arm
Current location: Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany
Located in a chapel in Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, the Gero Crucifix is one of the first depictions of the dead Jesus on the cross and is the oldest life-sized crucifix known in northern Europe. The wooden sculpture has been painted and gilded more than once over the centuries, most recently in 1904. The figure of Jesus – depicted in the Christus patiens (suffering Christ) motif – shows a mixture of Carolingian/Ottonian and Byzantine elements. Art historian Frederick Hartt points out the sculpture’s “intense emotion” and “emphasis on physical torment” and notes that ‘[t]his kind of expressiveness … achieves its end by showing the most repulsive physical conditions” (see detail in image below). The distracting starburst backdrop was added in 1683.
133. Gospel Book of Otto III
Artist: Workshop of Liuthar
Date: c. 997-1000 CE
Period/Style: Medieval; Ottonian (with Byzantine elements); Germany
Medium: Illustrated manuscript; paints and ink on parchment
Dimensions: Each page measures 13.1 in tall by 9.5 in wide.
Current location: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, Germany
In about the year 1000, artists at the Benedictine monastery on the island of Reichenau in Germany’s Lake Constance created a number of remarkable illuminated manuscripts, including the Gospel Book of Otto III. Art historians identify this and other works as products of workers supervised by a scribe named Liuthar. Numerous Byzantine elements in the illustrations indicate a conscious attempt to hearken back to a mythical Golden Age. Comporisons of the evangelist portraits indicates that the artists at Reichenau used works from the era of Charlemagne – 200 years earlier, and closer to the Classical past – as models for their work. Near the beginning of the manuscript, a double page shows Holy Roman Emperor Otto III enthroned, holding an orb and scepter (see image above) on the right side and a procession of tributaries bringing gifts on the left. Other full-page illustrations show the Evangelists and scenes from the life of Jesus. The image below left shows the page for Luke the Evangelist. According to Dr. Andreas Petzold, “The style … looks back to late antique illusionism … but has an extraordinary flatness to it as if the scene has been pressed between two panes of glass.” Random Trivia: The cover of the Gospel Book of Otto III is elaborately decorated with jewels and, at the center, a Byzantine ivory inlay showing the Dormition of the Virgin (see image below right). Although other illuminated religious works from the Middle Ages originally had jeweled covers, few have remained intact due to their value as loot.
1000 – 1299
134. Travelers among Mountains and Streams (Travelers By Streams and Mountains)
Artist: Fan Kuan
Date: c. 1000-1020
Period/Style: Song Dynasty, China; monumental landscape painting
Medium: Ink and color on silk scroll
Dimensions: 6.75 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide
Current location: National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Chinese landscape painter Fan Kuan is best known for the large hanging scroll entitled Travelers Among Mountains and Streams. Little is known about Fan, who spent much of his life as a recluse in the mountains of Shanxi. His love for the mountains and his Neo-Confucian belief that nature is the source of absolute truth are evident in this work. The large scale of the painting gives the viewer a sense of the immensity of nature, which dwarfs the human elements, including men leading a pack of mules out of a wood, and a temple in the forest on the cliff (see detail in image below). Yet Fan also manages to capture the way that all these parts fit together to form a harmonious whole. Scholars have noted a paradox in the style of the Travelers Among Mountains and Streams: on the one hand, it is a seminal work that established an ideal in monumental landscape painting to which others aspired; on the other hand, Fan Kuan’s composition, which relies on a central massive element, and his mechanical brush strokes used for the foliage are archaic techniques that look backward instead of breaking new ground.
135. Early Spring
Artist: Guo Xi
Date: c. 1072
Period/Style: Northern Song Dynasty, China; monumental landscape painting
Medium: Ink and color on silk scroll
Dimensions: 5.2 ft. tall by 3.5 ft. wide
Current location: National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Guo Xi was a master 11th Century Chinese painter and highly-educated court professional. He wrote an influential treatise on painting entitled The Lofty Message of Forest and Streams and developed a new system of brushstrokes that was adopted by many succeeding painters. His 1072 masterpiece, Early Spring, is a monumental landscape, the most common type of painting in the Northern Song dynasty. Guo signed and dated the work, which was very unusual. Although at first, the painting appears to contain only trees, water, clouds, rocks and various land formations, on closer inspection, the landscape reveals not only a temple and several other buildings, but also various human figures (see detail in image below). Early Spring is an example of Guo’s innovative technique known as floating perspective (or as Guo called it, “the angle of totality”), which allows the artist to present multiple visual viewpoints simultaneously. In 1759, Emperor Qianlong added a poem to the upper right portion of the painting, with verses describing the scene below.
136. The Bayeux Tapestry
Date: c. 1075
Period/Style: Norman Romanesque; England
Medium: Linen cloth with woolen embroidery
Dimensions: 224 ft. long and 1.6 ft. tall
Current location: Centre Guillaume le Conquerant, Bayeux, France
The Bayeux Tapestry (which is not a true tapestry, but an embroidered cloth) tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England and events leading up to it by means of an illustrated narrative. The tapestry consists of nine panels with fifty scenes, each with a caption in Latin, embroidered with colored woolen yarns on a linen cloth. The narrative takes up the central portion of the cloth, with top and bottom borders containing various decorative designs, figures and unrelated scenes. The final portion has been lost. Although legend attributes the tapestry to French artists, scholars now believe that skilled Anglo-Saxon seamstresses made the work in England in the 1070s. It was probably commissioned by William the Conqueror’s half-brother Bishop Odo, Earl of Kent and founder of the Bayeux Cathedral in Normandy, where the tapestry was first mentioned in a 1476 inventory. In addition to historical scenes involving William, Duke of Normandy, Harold, Earl of Wessex (later King) and King Edward the Confessor, the tapestry is notable for the first depiction of a harrow, a newly-invented farm implement, and the first image of Halley’s Comet, which appeared in March/April 1066 (see image below). The images above show: (1) William the Conqueror lays siege to Conan at Dinan and (2) Harold crossing the Channel to Normandy. Random Trivia: A Victorian-era replica of the tapestry, with explanatory narrative, may be viewed online HERE.
137. Relief Sculptures, Cloister, Abbey of Santo Domingo de los Silos
Date: c. 1075-1160
Period/Style: Medieval; Romanesque; Spain; religious
Medium: Relief sculptures in abbey cloister
Dimensions: The pier reliefs are approximately 3 ft. tall
Current location: Santo Domingo de los Silos, Spain
The Benedictine Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos was initially constructed in the 11th Century in the Romanesque style by Abbott Dominic of Silos, whose name was eventually given to the church. Subsequent renovations have left only the double-story arched cloister in its original form. The piers at the four corners and capitals of columns supporting the arches of the cloister are carved with reliefs. There are two different styles, indicating that a new sculptor or set of sculptors completed the project after a break in the early 12th Century. The capitals are decorated with animals, dragons, centaurs, lattices, mermaids, and other figures, while the piers at the corners have large reliefs depicting scenes from the life of Christ. These reliefs would have originally been painted. Some believe the sculptor of the pier reliefs also carved the sculptures on the exterior of the Abbey of St. Pierre in Moissac, France. One of the pier reliefs shows the scene of Doubting Thomas (see image above). As is typical of Romanesque sculpture, symbolic values supersede naturalism. For example, the figure of Christ is much larger than the apostles around him, symbolizing his larger spiritual importance. Another of the piers contains scenes of the Entombment of Christ, on the left, and the Descent from the Cross, on the right (see image below). In the Descent from the Cross, Frederick Hartt notes that the line itself is “the carrier of intense emotion … – the sad tilt of Christ’s head, the stiff line of his his right arm liberated from the Cross, the gentle line of Mary’s head pressed to his right hand, the delicate lines of the drapery, and the looping folds of Christ’s garments.”
138. Capitoline Wolf (Capitoline She-Wolf)
Date: c. 1100-1300 (wolf); c. 1450-1470 (Romulus and Remus)
Period/Style: Medieval (wolf); Renaissance (Romulus and Remus); Italy
Medium: Bronze sculptures
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. tall by 3.75 ft. long
Current location: Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy
The bronze sculpture of a she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome, has been a symbol of Roman and Italian heritage for centuries, based in part on the traditional belief that the work was created in the 5th Century BCE by an unknown Etruscan artist to commemorate the founding of Rome. Although the wolf came to the Capitoline Museums in 1471 as a gift of Pope Sixtus IV, the work’s Etruscan origin was supported by references to a bronze wolf sculpture in Classical literature, including Cicero’s De Divinatione, and by the analysis of Johann Winckelmann, an 18th Century German art historian. But cracks in this theory soon appeared. Even Winckelmann recognized that the figures of Romulus and Remus were from the Renaissance and were created in the late 15th Century (possibly by sculptor Antoino Pollaiuolo) (see detail in image below). Beginning in the late 19th Century, some art historians began questioning the early date, proposing a Carolingian or Medieval time frame, but their concerns were ignored. In 2006, however, Italian art experts made a strong case that the wolf was Medieval in origin, based in part on evidence that the bronze wolf was cast in one piece, a technique that wasn’t invented until later. Preliminary results of radiocarbon testing announced in 2008 indicated an 11th or 12th Century date for the sculpture.
139. Our Lady of Vladimir (Virgin of Vladimir)
Period/Style: Byzantine; Comnenian Period; Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey); religious icon
Medium: Tempera paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 3.3 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide
Current location: State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia
The Virgin of Vladimir is an early 12th Century religious icon that was probably painted in Constantinople, then capital of the Byzantine Empire. It has been in Russia since 1131 and is venerated by the Russian Orthodox Church as the protectoress of Russia. The icon is of the Eleusa type, in which the infant Jesus nestles tenderly against his mother’s cheek. It was sent to the town of Vladimir by Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky and the Assumption Church was built to house it. The icon came to Moscow in 1480. Over the years, the icon has suffered serious damage, including fires in 1195 and 1238. Much of the painting of the clothing is from restorations in the 13th, 15th and 16th centuries. The icon has been copied many times over the centuries and is one of the few that survive from the early 12th Century.
140. Ife Heads
Date: c. 1100-1500
Period/Style: Yoruba Culture, Ife, Nigeria
Medium: Heads sculpted from brass (copper alloy)
Dimensions: The sculptures range in size from 11-14 in. tall
Current location: Most of the sculptures are in the National Museum of Antiquities in Ife, Nigeria or the National Museum in Lagos, Nigeria. One of the heads is in the collection of the British Museum in London.
In 1938, workers digging a foundation for a house in the Wunmonije compound in Ife, Nigeria discovered a cache of 18 brass sculpted heads. They were made by artists of the Yoruba culture between 1100 and 1500, when Ife was the capital of a thriving and powerful city-state in West Africa. The heads – which are life-size or near life-size – are remarkable for their depiction of individual facial features. The technical sophistication and beauty of the sculptures surprised some at the time who believed African artists were not capable of such high achievements. Scholars believe that some or all of the heads represent royalty or members of the upper classes; some have even been identified with specific named rulers.
141. Relief Sculptures, South Portal, St. Pierre (Moissac Abbey)
Date: c. 1115-1130
Period/Style: Medieval; Romanesque; France
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in stone on the exterior of a church
Dimensions: The statue of the prophet (Jeremiah or Isaiah) on the right side of the trumeau is 5.8 feet tall.
Current location: Moissac, France
The South Portal of the church of St. Pierre in Moissac, France – one of the pilgrimage churches along the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain – is a remarkable example of Romanesque sculpture. (See entire portal in top image.) The carvings show an energy and agitation that is characteristic of the Romanesque. Also evident is the sculptor’s familiarity with the Hiberno-Saxon style of early illuminated manuscripts. The highlight of the doorway is the tympanum above the doors, which depicts the vision of St. John from the Apocalypse, in which Christ sits on a throne, surrounded by 24 elders and the four evangelists (depicted in their symbolic forms: Matthew as a man with wings; Mark as a lion; Luke as an ox and John as an eagle (see detail in second image above). Below the tympanum, on the lintel, are rosette designs – perhaps representing the fires of hell – flanked on either side by strange beasts. The trumeau (the pillar in the center of the doorway, shows interlaced lion figures on the front (see detail below left), which remind us of the animal interlace from the Book of Kells and other ancient manuscripts, and sculptures of prophets on either side. The figure on the right side (either Jeremiah or Isaiah) is remarkable for its twisting pose (see detail below right). In the words of art historian Frederick Hartt, it is “one of the strangest figures in the whole of Western art. … whose painfully slender legs are crossed as if in a ritual dance, which lifts the folds of his tunic and his cloak in complex linear patterns. … For all the fervor of his inspiration, [he] seems trapped in the mechanism of this fanstastic portal.” Random Trivia: The splayed enframement above the Moissac tympanum, divided by colonnettes and decorated with floral patterns, was new to Romanesque church portals. The architectural feature would be adopted and expanded upon in the Gothic style to follow in the portals of Chartres, Reims, Amiens and other cathedrals.
142. Pentecost and Mission of the Apostles Tympanum
Date: c. 1120-1132
Period/Style: Medieval; Burgundian Romanesque; France
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in stone on exterior of church
Dimensions: The tympanum is 30.4 feet wide
Current location: Basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, Vézelay Abbey, Vézelay, France
The Basilica Church of of Saint Mary Magdalene, in Vézelay, France boasts one of the most topical (one might even say propagandistic) set of sculptural reliefs in medieval Europe. The basilica (also known as the Church of La Madeleine) served as the church of Vézelay Abbey, a Benedictine (and Cluniac) monastery in the Burgundy region, which, since the mid-11th Century, claimed to possess numerous relics of St. Mary Magdalene, who is referred to in the Gospels as one a disciple and close associate of Jesus and this claim drew many religious pilgrims to Moissac, many of whom used the church as a starting point for a journey to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Unlike most sculptural programs adorning medieval Roman Catholic churches, the tympanum of this Burgundian Romanesque-style pilgrimage church’s central portal does not depict traditional timeless subjects such as the Last Judgment, Christ Enthroned in Majesty or the Coronation of Mary. Instead, most experts interpret the reliefs as showing the moment when Jesus told his Apostles to spread the gospel throughout the world, as symbolized by the rays of light streaming from his hands to the Apostles on either side of him (see detail in first image below). Some believe the scene represents the Pentecost, when the Apostles were said to receive the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues, but the standard iconography for the Pentecost shows a dove or other representation of the Holy Spirit, not Jesus. The lintel of the Vézelay portal depicts the pagan world that the Apostles must convert to Christianity. The sculptor portrays unbelievers as less than human: some have pig snouts, others are misshapen, and several are depicted as dwarves, including one who needs a ladder to mount a horse (see detail showing lintel in second image below). One man sports a pair of enormous ears, while another is covered in feathers. Art historians connect the message of the tympanum and other reliefs relating to conversion of non-Christians to that of the Crusades, the first of which began in 1095, less than 10 years before construction began on the Romanesque church at Vézelay. When Pope Eugene III decided to launch a Second Crusade, it is no coincidence that he instructed French abbot Bernard of Clairvaux (later St. Bernard) to announce the Second Crusade at Vézelay, where, in 1146, French King Louis VII, Eleanor of Aquitaine and a host of nobles fell at Bernard’s feet to accept the challenge and take up the sword on behalf of the Pope. Vézelay continued to be a place of significance for crusaders when, in July 1190, England’s King Richard the Lionheart of England and French King Philip Augustus met there with their armies to set off on the Third Crusade.
143. The Bury Bible
Artist: Master Hugo
Date: c. 1135
Period/Style: Romanesque; Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England
Medium: Illustrated manuscript
Dimension: 20 in. tall by 14 in. wide
Current location: Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England, UK
Master Hugo was a 12th Century lay English artist and may be the first professional artist in English history. He spent most of his career at the Benedictine Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk County, England, where he illuminated the first (and possibly the second) volume of the Bury Bible in the Romanesque style. Only the first volume of the Bible, containing the Old Testament through the Book of Job, survives. The Bury Bible had a powerful influence on English art. Scholars see the color patterns, Byzantine draperies and the haunted eyes and expressive gestures of some of the figures as evidence of a new style drawing from the art of southern Italy, Cyprus, Byzantium and possibly Palestine. The image above shows a page with two scenes of the life of Moses. The image below shows is the frontispiece for the Bible with the opening initial. The entire Bible may be viewed HERE. Random Trivia: The Bury Bible, like many Christian paintings and sculptures, depicts Moses with horns. The basis for this imagery is a verse in the Hebrew Book of Exodus stating that after coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, Moses had “keren”, which in Hebrew means either “radiating light” or “growing horns.” When Jerome translated the Hebrew to Latin in the early 5th Century, he referred to horns, although most Biblical scholars now believe that the intention of the original Hebrew was that Moses was radiating light from his face.
144. Relief Sculptures, Chartres Cathedral
Dates: 1145-1155 (Royal Portals); 1194-1220 (other reliefs)
Style/Period: Medieval period; Romanesque and French Gothic styles
Medium: Bas reliefs carved in limestone
Dimensions: The reliefs cover much of the exterior of the cathedral, which measures 427 feet long and 121 feet tall at the nave.
Current location: Chartres, France
The cathedral that UNESCO calls “the high point of French Gothic art” only exists today due to the quick thinking of an anonymous late 18th Century architect. During the French Revolution, anti-clerical sentiment ran high: the revolutionaries saw the Roman Catholic church as a supporter of the ancien régime and destroyed many religious buildings and works of art. When the revolution reached Chartres, an angry mob took hammers to the relief sculptures on the exterior of the town’s magnificent cathedral, although locals eventually stopped them. A more potent threat was the local revolutionary government’s plan to demolish the huge structure entirely. They only dropped the plan after a local architect, looking to derail the plan, pointed out the resulting rubble from the demolition would block the streets for months or years afterwards. Officially known as Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Chartres, Chartres Cathedral was begun in 1145 in the Romanesque style, but after an 1194 fire was reconstructed in the French Gothic style. Relief sculptures and carvings decorate the west, north and south entrances (also called portals or porches), with each portal’s reliefs addressing a separate theological subject. The carvings of the west entrance, known as the Royal Portals (which survived from the pre-1194 structure), focus on the nature of Jesus (see top image for detail) and set out what Neil Collins calls “a virtual encyclopedia of Biblical art.” The north entrance (see second image above for detail) celebrates the Old Testament and Christ’s immediate ancestors, while the south entrance (see details in images below) relates the history of the Catholic Church since Christ’s death.
145. Stained Glass, Chartres Cathedral
Dates: 1145-1180; 1200-1235
Period/Style: Medieval period; Romanesque and French Gothic styles
Medium: Stained glass Dimensions: 167 windows of varying sizes
Current location: Chartres, France
Nearly every window in Chartres Cathedral is filled with stained glass. This decision by the designers of the church has resulted in a darker than usual interior (in other churches, some windows are filled with clear glass, which improves lighting inside but detracts from the effect of the stained glass), but has produced the most spectacular collection of stained glass ever seen. For much of the cathedral’s history, the multicolored light filtering through these stained glass windows was the primary light source for the interior. Despite weather, wars and revolutions, 152 of the original windows are intact. Construction of Chartres Cathedral took place in 1145, but a fire in 1194 destroyed much of the older building and required an almost complete reconstruction during the early 13th Century. The majority of the stained glass windows visible today were made and installed between 1200 and 1235, but four lancet windows contain stained glass from c. 1145-1160, including three windows underneath the rose window in the west facade: the Passion window to the south, the Infancy of Christ window in the center and the Tree of Jesse window to the north. The fourth pre-1194 window is known as The Blue Virgin, in the south ambulatory. The subjects depicted in these windows include stories from the Old and New Testament, the lives of the saints as well as typological cycles, signs of the zodiac, labors of the months and other symbols. In addition to the many tall, thin lancet windows, the cathedral boasts three large circular rose windows. The images show: (1) (top) The north transept rose window (34.4 ft. in diameter), which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In the center (the oculus) sit the Virgin and Child, who are surrounded by 12 small oval windows, four of them depicting doves symbolizing the four gifts of the spirit, and the rest showing angels with candles. The lancet windows below the rose show Saint Anne (in the center) and Old Testament kings Saul, David, and Solomon. (2) (above left) Detail from the Good Samaritan window, a typological lancet window, in which God warns Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. (3) (above right) Detail from a clerestory window depicting the burial of St. Mary by Zosimus, with help from a lion. (4) (below) Detail from The Blue Virgin window, from 1194.
146. Reclining Buddha, Gal Vihara
Date: c. 1154-1180
Period/Style: Sinhalese; Buddhist; Sri Lanka; religious
Medium: Relief sculpture carved from granite gneiss
Dimensions: 46.3 ft. long
Current location: Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
During the 12th Century, Sinhalese King Parakramabahu I built the Gal Vihara temple at Polonnaruwa, in north-central Sri Lanka. The temple features four Buddhas carved deeply into a single granite rock face: two seated, one standing and one reclining (see first image below). These sculptures are considered some of the finest examples of ancient Sinhalese art. The Reclining Buddha is the largest of the four figures (see image above). It shows the Buddha in the lion posture as he attains parinirvana, or final nirvana, at the moment of death. He lies on his right side with his right arm supporting his head on a pillow and his left arm resting on his body (see detail in second image below). Lotus flowers are carved on his right palm and the soles of his feet. The Buddha’s left foot is withdrawn slightly to indicate that he is not merely resting. Gal Vihara and other parts of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
147. Verdun Altar (Klosterneuburg Altarpiece)
Artist: Nicholas of Verdun
Period/Style: Medieval; Romanesque; Mosan style; France/Austria
Medium: Triptych altarpiece made with copper, adorned with panels decorated using the champlevé enamel technique
Dimensions: Each panel is 8 inches tall and 6.5 inches wide.
Current location: Klosterneuberg, Austria
French goldsmith and enamelllist Nicholas of Verdun was a master of Romanesque art and the major exponent of Mosan Art, a regional subgenre of Romanesque from the Meuse valley in what is now Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Later in his career, Nicholas began to incorporate aspects of Classical art into his work, with more realistic representations of the figures and their expressions, aiding the transition from Romanesque to Gothic style. Nicholas of Verdun is perhaps best known for the Verdun Altar, in the Chapel of St. Leopold, in the Klosterneuburg Monastery in Austria. The altar consists of 45 (some sources say 51) decorative copper panels with Biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments, which Nicholas made in 1181 using the champlevé enamel technique. in which compartments hollowed out of a metal base are filled with colored vitreous enamel. There is some confusion about when the panels were arranged and assembled into a winged three-part altarpiece seen in the image above. While some believe that Nicholas of Verdun organized the Biblical scenes into a triptych, other authorities claim this did not occur until 1331. If this is true, it is not clear how the panels were displayed in the intervening two centuries. Shown below are: (1) Jonah and the Whale (below left) (2) Samson and the Lion (below right) (3) The Crucifixion (bottom image below).
148. Kuya Preaching (The Sage Kuya; Kuya-Shonin)
Date: c. 1185-1206
Period/Style: Kamakura Period; Japan
Medium: Wood sculpture
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall
Current location: Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan
The statue of Kuya-Shonin depicts the 10th Century Japanese itinerant Buddhist priest who founded the Rokuharamitsu-ji temple in Kyoto in 951 CE. Kuya pioneered a new way of practicing Buddhism that would become known as Jodo (New Land). According to New Land Buddhism, one could achieve rebirth through faith and by reciting the name of Amida, the celestial Buddha, using a six-syllable phrase called the nembutsu: “Namu Amida Butsu.” Two hundred years after Kuya’s death, one of the great sculptors of the Kamakura Period, Kosho, created his portrait in wood. Kuya Preaching was originally painted and had inset crystal eyes. He is sculpted in a realistic style – even his veins are visible. Dressed as a pilgrim, he wears wrinkled peasant’s clothing and straw sandals and carries an antler-topped staff and a gong with a stick to strike it. Most importantly, however, Kosho depicts Kuya in the act of reciting the nembutsu, as symbolized by the six tiny Amidas emerging from his mouth (see detail in image below). The statue is kept in the temple in Kyoto that Kuya-Shonin himself founded over a thousand years ago.
149. Face Towers, Bayon Temple
Date: c. 1190-1210
Period/Style: Khmer culture; Mahayana Buddhism; Cambodia
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in stone
Dimensions: Bayon Temple has 37 stone towers, each 13 feet tall. The towers contain a total of approximately 200 faces.
Current location: Angkor Thom, Cambodia
Bayon Temple, located at Angkor Thom in what is now Cambodia, was built during the reign of Khmer ruler Jayavarman VII around the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th Century CE as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine. Later rulers altered and adapted Bayon to serve as a Hindu temple and then as a Theravada Buddhist shrine. The temple contains a series of bas relief sculptures, but its most remarkable features are the approximately 200 “face towers” that rise above the main body of the temple; each tower contains one or more faces of a serenely smiling male figure with closed eyes. Some scholars believe the faces represent Lokeshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, while others think they depict Jayavarman VII himself, based on comparison with other sculptures of the king. Some have suggested that the faces are intended to show Jayavarman as the Bodhisattva. The images above show details of the face towers. The image below provides an overview of the ruins of Bayon Temple.
150. Bare Willows and Distant Mountains
Artist: Ma Yuan
Date: c. 1190-1200
Period/Style: Southern Song Dynasty; Ma-Xia School; China; landscape painting
Medium: Ink and color on a silk fan mounted on paper
Dimensions: 9.4 inches tall by 9.5 inches wide
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
Chinese artist Ma Yuan was born into a family of painters and like his father and grandfather before him, he became a painter at court of the emperor. Ma Yuan served Southern Song Dynasty Emperors Guangzong (reigned 1189-1194) and Ningzong (reigned 1194-1224). Emperor Ningzong admired Ma’s work so much that he wrote several poems inspired by the artist’s paintings. Although Ma was adept at a number of types of painting, he excelled in landscapes. With another painter he founded the Ma-Xia school. One of the principles of Ma-Xia was one-corner composition, in which the major elements of the painting are collected on one side or in one corner, while the remainder of the picture were left mostly empty. This philosophy earned Ma Yuan the sobriquet ‘One-corner Ma.’ A popular fashion in Song Dynasty art was the painting of fans. Ma Yuan painted Bare Willows and Distant Mountains on a silk fan which was then mounted on an album leaf (see first image). A verse couplet is written on the right side of the fan. The painting on the fan is a landscape, with the mountains and willow tree balancing each other. In the lower right corner, a traveler approaches some huts (see detail in image below). In keeping with Ma-Xia principles, the landscape is idealized and rendered poetic, eliminating all unnecessary elements.
151. Relief Sculptures, Reims Cathedral
Date: 1211-1275 (primary work); 1275-1305 (additional work)
Period/Style: Medieval period; French Gothic styles (including Remois Workshop style)
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in Lutetian limestone adorning the exterior of the church building
Dimensions: The sculptures cover much of the exterior of the cathedral, which measures 489 feet long and 377 ft. tall (at the nave).
Current location: Reims, France
The place where France crowned its kings, Reims Cathedral (officially titled Notre-Dame de Reims) was built in the French Gothic style primarily between 1211-1275, although some work continued into the early 14th Century. The exterior and interior of the cathedral are covered with hundreds of relief sculptures of religious figures and subjects, with some of the statues almost completely detached from the substrate (see top image above showing Coronation of the Virgin). The sculpture of Reims Cathedral is not mere ornamentation but is integral to the architectural composition. Because the construction extended over such a long period, and because sculptors from different schools and cities were employed, the sculptures present a wide variety of styles. The later reliefs are carved in a graceful, fluid style sometimes referred to as the “beautiful” style. Among the most famous sculptures are two smiling angels (see images below). German artillery shelled the cathedral in September 1914, causing significant damage (some of the gargoyles’ mouths are clogged with molten lead), but after years of restoration work, the cathedral’s doors reopened in 1938. Other images above show the Hall of Kings (middle) and the Communion of the Knight (bottom).
152. Relief Sculptures, Amiens Cathedral
Date: 1220-1240; 1240-1260
Period/Style: Medieval period; French Gothic; Antique Revival style and High Gothic style; France
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in stone on the exterior of the cathedral
Dimensions: The reliefs cover much of the exterior of the building, which measures 476 feet long and 139 feet tall at the nave.
Current location: Amiens, France
Amiens Cathedral (officially titled Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens), is a 13th Century French Gothic structure that is home to an enormous array of relief sculptures. The three portals in the western façade of the cathedral were designed and carved between 1220 and 1240 in a simplified version of the Antique Revival style. The central portal presents the Last Judgment (see top image above). The north portal celebrates locally-important saints, particularly St. Firmin (see image above left), while the south portal focuses on the Virgin Mary. The south portal tympanum shows Mary’s death, assumption into heaven and coronation.The south transept portal also has impressive relief sculptures from 1240-1260 with scenes from the life of St. Honoré (see image above right). Other sculpture on the west façade includes a large number of quatrefoils in groups that highlight certain topics, such as the Prophets (see last image above). Higher up on the western façade are larger than life size sculptures of 22 kings beneath the rose window. Researchers have discovered that the west façade was once painted in multiple colors. Through sophisticated technology, it is possible to project the colors onto the cathedral to approximate what it would have looked like with the painting in place (see image of central portal below).
Dates: c. 1250-1500
Medium: Statues carved from tuff, red scoria, basalt and trachyte; eyes made with white coral and black obsidian or red scoria; pukao (headdresses) made from red scoria
Dimensions: The statues average 13 ft. tall by 5 ft. 3 in. wide at the base; the tallest is 33 ft. tall; the heaviest weights 86 tons.
Current location: Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile
Between 1250 and 1500 CE, artists on the Polynesian island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) carved 887 moai, huge human-like statues with oversized heads and no legs. Almost half the moai are located at the main quarry at Rano Raraku, but hundreds were transported to various parts of the island’s perimeter, where they were usually set on stone platforms called ahu. How Rapa Nui’s inhabitants moved these immense rock statues is a mystery. Almost all of the moai faced inland to protect the people, but seven faced the sea to help sailors find the island. During clashes between rival clans, most of the moai were pulled down, but archaeologists have begun restoring them, complete with eyes and sometimes a large hat called a pukao (see image above right). Scholars believe that the moai represented both living faces (aringa ora) or deified ancestors (aringa ora ata tepuna) and they would have possessed both political meaning and sacred religious power.
154. Pulpit, Pisa Baptistery
Artist: Nicola Pisano
Period/Style: Medieval period; Gothic and Byzantine styles with Classical Revival and Proto-Renaissance elements; Pisa, Italy
Medium: Marble pulpit with relief sculptures
Dimension: 15.25 ft. tall
Current location: Baptistery, Pisa, Italy
The marble pulpit in the Pisa Baptistery by Italian sculptor Nicola Pisano is considered one of the precursors of the Renaissance, particularly in its incorporation of Classical Greco-Roman elements into the Gothic style. The heavily carved pulpit stands on seven marble columns, three of which rest on lions. The octagonal base of the center column shows lions vanquishing prey. The columns are topped with Corinthian capitals, which in turn form the bases for deep relief sculptures of personified virtues, prophets and evangelists. The virtue of Fortitude is represented by a nude Hercules, a Classical figure in a modified contrapposto posture (see image below right). Between the columns are Gothic trefoil arches. The uppermost register consists of a hexagonal series of relief panels, separated by small columns that represent episodes from the life of Jesus, including the Annunciation and Nativity (see above image), with a very Juno-esque Mary, and The Adoration of the Magi (see image below left). These scenes recall the crowded carvings on Roman sarcophagi, which Nicola had studied.
155. Santa Trinita Maestà (Madonna and Child Enthroned with Eight Angels)
Artist: Cimabue (born Cenni di Pepi)
Date: c. 1280-1290 Period/Style: Medieval period; Gothic/Byzantine style with Proto-Renaissance elements; Florence, Italy
Medium: Tempera paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 12.7 ft. tall by 7.3 ft. wide
Current location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
Cimabue was a key figure in the transition from Byzantine artistic styles to those of the Renaissance. The altarpiece Cimabue painted for the main altar of the Santa Trinita Church, which shows the Virgin Mary on a throne with the infant Jesus on her lap, surrounded by eight angels. Although the work is considered part of the Byzantine/Gothic tradition, Cimabue takes steps toward a more naturalistic approach that would blossom in the work of his pupil Giotto di Bondone. In the Santa Trinita Maestà, Cimabue retained many characteristics of Byzantine art, including figures that lack volume and solidity, a composition that lacks depth and consistent perspective, an abundance of gold, stylized faces; elongated noses and fingers; and a reliance on line to define shapes. Cimabue is moving beyond the Byzantine tradition, though, in providing the faces with softer expressions and creating a sense of depth through the architecture. The space beneath the throne from which the four prophets peer at us seems to have real dimensions. The Madonna’s right foot, resting on (and extending beyond) the throne’s step possesses a hint of three dimensionality.
156. The Last Judgment
Artist: Pietro Cavallini
Date: c. 1293
Period/Style: Medieval; Gothic/Byzantine; Italy; religious
Medium: Fresco painted on church wall
Dimensions: 10.5 ft. tall by 45.9 ft. long
Current location: Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome, Italy
As with so many churches in Rome, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere contains the artistic and architectural evidence of multiple buildings, reconstructions and renovations through the centuries. Most of what visitors see now dates to the major renovations in the 17th and 18th centuries, but remains of a mosiac in the apse date from a 9th Century Carolingian church, while the ciborium above the altar (by Arnolfo di Cambio) and frescoes by Pietro Cavallini date to the end of the 13th Century. Cavallini’s fresco was covered up by a redesign in 1724-1725. It wasn’t until 1900, during restoration work, that Cavallini’s frescoes – now much damaged – were rediscovered. The Last Judgment, which is located on the wall facing the altar is considered a masterpiece. While still firmly entrenched in the Byzantine-style, his figures show more humanity, both in expression and monumentality. Shaped by contrasts of dark and light (known as modeling) instead of line, and showing physical forms through the depiction of the robes (see detail in image below), Cavallini’s figures set the stage for proto-Renaissance artists such as Giotto. Cavallini also anticipates the linear perspective of Renaissance art by attempting (somewhat unsuccessfully) to depict the arrangement of the chairs as receding in space from the central depiction of Jesus (flanked by angels, his mother and John the Baptist) (see detail in second image above). True linear perspective would not be rediscovered until the 15th Century.
157. Frescoes, Scrovegni Chapel (Arena Chapel)
Artist: Giotto (full name: Giotto di Bondone)
Date: c. 1305
Period/Style: Medieval period; Proto-Renaissance style; Padua, Italy
Medium: Frescoes painted on chapel walls
Dimensions: The side walls contain 37 frescoes, most of them 6.5 ft. square, with scenes from the Life of Christ and the Life of Mary. The Last Judgment fresco on the west wall measures 32.8 ft. tall by 27.6 ft. wide.
Current location: Scrovegni Chapel (Arena Chapel), Padua, Italy
Like most 14th Century Christians who loaned money in return for interest, Italian banker Enrico Scrovegni was concerned about his salvation. The Bible contained a proscription against usury, and for many centuries the only people willing to lend money were non-Christians. By the early 14th Century, Christians had begun to enter the banking business, but with anxiety. Years earlier, Dante had assigned Enrico Scrovegni’s banker father Reginaldo Scrovegni to the Seventh Circle of Hell in his Inferno. When Enrico Scrovegni built a new family palace in Padua, he made sure that a private family chapel was attached and he commissioned Italian artist Giotto di Bondone to paint frescoes on the chapel walls. Giotto is presumed to have finished the work by the dedication of the chapel on March 25, 1305. Most of the frescoes depict scenes from the life of Christ and the life of Mary, while Giotto painted a larger fresco of the Last Judgment for the wall above the entrance, and various other images throughout the room. The Scrovegni Chapel frescoes mark a significant break with medieval styles and herald the beginning of the new, humanistic style that would blossom in the Renaissance. Giotto is breaking away from the flat, stylized representations of Medieval and Gothic art by infusing the scenes with more emotional intensity, drawing figures with greater solidity (using modeling instead of line), and constructing more naturalistic environments for the characters to inhabit. In the Kiss of Judas (see image above at left), part of the Life of Christ cycle, Giotto presents not the kiss but the tense face-to-face confrontation between Jesus and Judas, while soldiers rush in and the apostles fight back in a frenzy of action. Giotto marshals every detail – lighting, expressions, gestures, even the folds of their clothes – to heighten the drama. In the Lamentation of Christ, another panel from the Life of Christ cycle (see image at right), note the way the line of the rock wall leads the viewer’s eye to Christ’s face; the emotional expressions on the faces of the mourners, including the angels; and the inclusion of figures with their backs turned to us – a realistic detail that anchors the composition. Unlike the seemingly weightless medieval/Gothic figures – who seem to inhabit an ethereal realm – Giotto painted more realistic human beings who occupied space in this world. His influence on the history of Western art cannot be overestimated. Random Trivia: It is clear that Scrovegni hoped that the chapel and its religious art would help him overcome the sin of usury and achieve salvation. To emphasize the point, Giotto painted a likeness of Enrico Scrovegni in The Last Judgment fresco, showing him offering a model of the chapel to the Virgin Mary (see image below).
158. Madonna Enthroned (Ognissanti Madonna)
Date: c. 1306-1310
Period/Style: Medieval; Gothic/Byzantine with Proto-Renaissance elements; Florence, Italy
Medium: Tempera paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 10.7 ft. tall by 6.7 ft. wide,
Current location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
Visitors to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence can stand in one spot and view Cimabue’s Santa Trinita Maestà (1280-1290) on the right, Duccio di Buoninsegna’s Madonna Rucellai (c. 1285) on the left, and Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna in the center. When the large altarpieces are placed together in this fashion, the contrast between Giotto and the two other artists is staggering. While all three paintings follow many of the traditions of the Byzantine/Gothic style, such as the gold background, and the standard iconography of Mary in Majesty with the child Jesus, a comparison of the Mary figures quickly distinguishes Giotto’s work from that of Cimabue or Duccio. His Mary is solid, substantial and of our world – real flesh and blood (note the way Mary’s breasts and knees press against her drapery), unlike the waiflike two-dimensional Marys of the other paintings, who seem more of the heavenly sphere than the earthly. Also somewhat new are the expressions of the figures, who seem more lifelike and emotional than the more staid, even generic figures of other Byzantine and Gothic art. The Ognissanti Madonna is so named because it was originally painted for the altar of the Ognissanti (All Saints) church in Florence.
159. Maestà Altarpiece
Artist: Duccio (full name: Duccio di Buoninsegna)
Period/Style: Medieval period; Gothic/Byzantine style with Proto-Renaissance elements; Siena, Italy
Medium: Tempera paints and gold leaf on wood panels
Dimensions: The original altarpiece was 15.4 ft. tall by 16.4 ft. wide and contained painted panels on both the front and back.
Current location: Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy (main front panel and many of the smaller panels). Other small panels are in various collections.
On June 9, 1311, a solemn procession led by bishops, monks, and priests escorted an immense painted altarpiece through the streets of Siena, Italy and into the Duomo (Siena Cathedral). The painting was the Maestà Altarpiece. The creator of this masterpiece was Duccio di Buoninsegna, Siena’s foremost painter, The painting indicated a step away from Gothic and Byzantine styles and toward a more realistic representation of people and things, although not quite as far as Giotto’s contemporaneous work. The original altarpiece contained paintings on the front and rear. The front consisted of the large Madonna and Child with saints and angels at center, with a predella (the section below the main image) containing scenes from Christ’s childhood and additional portraits and scenes above. The rear contained 43 small scenes showing the Life of Christ and Life of the Virgin. Unfortunately, in 1711, the altarpiece was dismantled and sawed into pieces, which were distributed to various locations. In 1956, an attempt was made to bring all the extant pieces back together in Siena, but it was only partially successful. Although much of the altarpiece (including the center panel) is in Siena, portions of it may be found in museums around the world. The pictures show an imaginative recreation of the original altarpiece; this is not what it looks like today. Below are two panels from the rear of the altarpice: at left, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem; at right, The The Crucifixion.
160. The Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus (St. Ansanus Altarpiece)
Artists: Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi
Date: c. 1333-1335
Period/Style: Medieval period; Trecento; Byzantine; International Gothic style; Siena, Italy
Medium: Tempera paints, gold leaf and lapis lazuli on wood panels
Dimensions: 8.6 ft. tall by 10 ft. wide
Current location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
Sienese artists Simone Martini and his brother-in-law Lippo Memmi painted the Annunciation (also known as the St. Ansanus Altarpiece) in the International Gothic style for the side altar of St. Ansanus in Siena Cathedral. The Annunciation scene in the central panel is praised for its realism and symbolic detail, from the dove amidst a mandorla of angels, to Angel Gabriel’s cloak, still whirling from his flight, and the olive branch he carries, and Mary’s arabesque gown, startled expression and reading book (see detail in image below). The Uffizi’s curator notes that “the few elements which are depicted – the marble floor, the elaborately engraved throne, the precious fabrics, the book that Mary was reading before the celestial apparition – can be traced back to the lifestyle of the wealthiest classes in the fourteenth century.” Although many aspects of the painting – the gold background, the use of line to define the figures, and the absence of a truly realistic space for those figures to inhabit – reflect Gothic stylistic traditions, the movement, expressions and interplay of Mary and the Angel anticipate the Renaissance style to come.
161. The Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government
Artist: Ambrogio Lorenzetti
Date: c. 1337-1340
Period/Style: Medieval period; Trecento; Gothic/Byzantine styles, with Proto-Renaissance elements; Siena, Italy
Medium: Frescoes painted on the walls of the Palazzo Pubblico
Dimensions: Each of the three frescoes is 25.3 ft. tall; they have a combined width of 47.2 ft.
Current location: Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Italy
In the early 14th Century, the Republic of Siena commissioned Ambrogio Lorenzetti to decorate the walls of the Council Room (also known as the Sala dei Nove, or Salon of Nine), where the city’s elected leaders met. The specified topics were “good government” and “bad government” – to remind the magistrates of their duties. Lorenzetti painted three frescoes: (1) the Allegory of Good Government (see top image above) (2) the Effects of Good Government on the City and the Country (sometimes called Peace) (see second image above – City – and first image below – Country); and (3) the Allegory of Bad Government and its Effects on the City and the Country (sometimes called War) (see Allegory of Bad Government in second image below). At a time when most Italian art commissions came from the Catholic Church, the paintings are unusual for their secular subject matter. Lorenzetti, who was strongly influenced by fellow Sienese artist Simone Martini, combines Byzantine/Gothic style with some references to Ancient Classical art, with more naturalism than his mentor. The frescoes include experiments with perspective (Lorenzetti makes an effort to reduce the size of figures that are intended to be farther away from the viewer) and efforts to portray physiognomy realistically. Lorenzetti’s depictions of places and figures combine idealization and realism; for example, the depiction of Siena in the Effects of Good Government on the City is accurate in parts, and fanciful in others. Some experts believe the frescoes contain a second narrative involving the children of the gods for whom the planets are named; this theme may explain the dancers in the center of the City, who may be interpreted as the children of Venus. With regard to perspective, experts have pointed out that the perspective of the Allegory of Good Government appears to be a mistake, unless one assumes that the scene is being perceived from the point of view of the figure of Justice. For the Bad Government fresco, Lorenzetti unsettles viewers by requiring them to read the narrative from right to left. This fresco, which was originally on an exterior wall, has suffered considerable moisture damage.
162. Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains
Artist: Huang Gongwang
Period/Style: Song Dynasty; China; landscape painting
Medium: Scroll painted with monochrome ink using the wash painting technique.
Dimensions: The original scroll measured 1 ft. high by 22.7 ft. long but has been separated into two pieces: one piece, The Remaining Mountain is 1.7 ft. long. The other piece, The Master Wuyong Scroll, is 20.9 ft. long.
Current location: The smaller, beginning portion of the scroll is at the Zhejiang Provincial Museum in Hangzhou, China. The much larger section is in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan.
Song Dynasty painter Huang Gongwang (1269-1354) was one of the Four Yuan Masters, a group of Chinese painters who espoused literati painting, which focused on individual expression and learning rather than immediate visual appeal. As one of the older Yuan masters, Huang was also strongly influenced by the artists of the Five Dynasties period. Huang’s greatest surviving masterpiece is Dwelling in the Funchun Mountains, a landscape scroll made with monochrome ink using the wash painting technique. The painting was highly regarded by later generations, but it was nearly destroyed in 1650 when its then-owner, Wu Hongyu, tried to burn it on his deathbed. A family member intervened, but not before the painting was separated into two pieces. The smaller of the two pieces, which is the the first part of the painting, is referred to as The Remaining Mountain (see top image above) and is located in China. The larger portion of the scroll, known as The Master Wuyong Scroll (see second image above), is located in Taiwan. The two pieces were briefly reunited in 2011 in Taipei. The scroll depicts an idealized view of the Fuchun Mountains where Huang lived, with river scenery, marshes, mountains and hills, as well as human elements such as houses. In rendering the landscape elements, Huang has reduced the buildings, plants and geographical formations to their most basic forms. Huang first laid out the composition using light ink, then finished by successively applying darker and drier brushwork. During this phase, he sometimes altered shapes, strengthened lines and added texture strokes or groups of trees. He also applied brush dots as abstract accents. Huang Gongwang completed Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains at the age of 82.
163. The Rongxi Studio
Artist: Ni Zan
Period/Style: Yuan Dynasty; China; landscape
Medium: Ink on paper scroll
Dimensions: 3.1 feet tall by 1.4 feet wide
Current location: National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Along with Huang Gongwang, Ni Zan was one of the Four Great Masters of the Yuan and a proponent of literati painting. He painted The Rongxi Studio, a paper handscroll measuring in 1372 at the age of 71. The name of the piece comes from the name of the residence of Zhong-ren, a physician who received the painting as a gift from Ni Zan’s friend Bo-xuan in 1374 and asked Ni Zan to inscribe it. Like all of Ni Zan’s later landscapes, The Rongxi Studio, in which a sparse landscape is viewed from above, with trees in the foreground, defies many traditional concepts of Chinese landscape painting. The monochrome landscape is nearly barren, with little human presence but a lonely hut (see detail in image below). Large areas of the paper are untouched. Yet, in the literati tradition, the landscape conveys personal emotions – perhaps loneliness, or a sense of peace and quiet. According to the curator of the National Palace Museum, Ni uses the “one river, two banks” compositional principle to organize his landscape. Experts have noted Ni Zan’s dry, refined brushwork and his careful build up of tonal variations in the trees. They have observed that Ni appears to have used an upright brush more than a slanted one, and that in modeling rocks, he used broken hemp-fiber strokes more often than washes.
164. Apocalypse Tapestry
Artists: Jean Bondol (Hennequin of Bruges), Nicolas Bataille, & Robert Poinçon
Period/Style: Medieval; Franco-Flemish School; religious
Medium: Tapestry made with wool, silk, silver and gold
Dimensions: The original tapestry was 436 feet long in six 78-foot sections and 20 feet high. The reconstructed tapestry is now 328 feet long.
Current location: Musée de la Tapisserie, Château d’Angers, Angers, France
When Louis I, Duke of Anjou, saw an illustrated manuscript given to his brother, Charles V of France, he decided to commission something bigger and better: a huge tapestry containing an illustrated version of the Book of Revelation (also known as the Book of the Apocalypse), the final book of the Bible, which is attributed to St. John the Evangelist. The book tells the story of the end of the world, in which demons, devils and dragons wreak havoc on the population until Jesus Christ returns to vanquish the evildoers and bring the Last Judgment to mankind. Various versions of the story had been circulating throughout Medieval Europe and were very popular among the Christian populace during those times of war, plague and famine. Louis asked Flemish artist Hennequin de Bruges (also known as Jean Bondol) to design and sketch the scenes and he hired Parisians Nicolas Bataille and Robert Poinçon to weave the massive tapestry using wool, silk, silver and gold. The entire process took only seven years and was completed in 1382. The Apocalypse Tapestry originally contained 90 separate scenes. The Duke and his family displayed the tapestry for about a century. In 1480, they donated it to Angers Cathedral, where it remained until the French Revolution. Anti-clerical protesters looted the tapestry, cut it up and used the pieces for flooring, to protect orange trees from frost and to fill holes in walls. In 1848, clerics began collecting the surviving fragments, which were returned to the cathedral in 1870. The reconstructed Apocalypse Tapestry is now 328 feet long; of the original 90 scenes, 71 have been found. The front has faded, but it is entirely reversible and the back side still has vibrant color. The images show:
(1) An angel blows a trumpet, opening one of the seals of the Apocalypse and causing a shipwreck (see top image above);
(2) The many-headed lion (the Beast of the Sea) receives the fleur-de-lis (symbol of France) from the many-headed dragon (the False Prophet), a reference to England’s domination of France during the 100 Years’ War (see second image above); and
(3) The fourth horsesman – Death – is depicted as a skeleton-headed corpse; this was an innovation in French religious iconography, where personified Death had previously been shown as a living human being (see image below).
165. External Panels, Dijon Altarpiece (Crucifixion Altarpiece)
Artist: Melchior Broederlam
Period/Style: Early Netherlandish; Flanders (now Belgium)
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: Each panel is 5.5 feet tall by 4.1 feet wide
Current location: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon
Although only two panels can definitively be attributed to Flemish painter Melchior Broederlam, his place is art history is significant. Broederlam is one of the earliest artists working in the Early Netherlandish style and one of the first painters to use oil paints, which permitted a wider tonal range and depiction of fine details than tempera. Broederlam spent time in Italy, where he was influenced by Trecento artistic styles in his sense of space and modelling. (Trecento painters included Duccio, Giotto, Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti.) He was court painter to Louis de Mâle, Duke of Brabant from 1381 to 1384 and then, upon Louis’s death, to Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, The two panels shown above are the wings of an altarpiece with sculptures by Jacques de Baerze that was designed for the charterhouse of Champmol (the same location as Claus Sluter’s Well of Moses). In addition to painting the scenes on the wings, Broederlam painted and gilded the carved figures inside the altarpice. The panel scenes show scenes from the life of Mary and Jesus: the Annuciation and the Visitation on the left, and the Presentation in the Temple and the Flight into Egypt on the right. The architectural elements, which attempt to show some sense of perspective, recall those of Lorenzetti, while the rocky landscapes are reminiscent of Duccio. The drapery style was influenced by Sluter’s sculptures. The combination of both Romanesque and Gothic architectures may be a deliberate way to evoke the transition from the Old Testatment to the New.
166. The Wilton Diptych
Artist: The artist is unknown. Art historians have suggested an English, French, Italian or Bohemian painter; particularly someone who specialized in illuminated manuscripts.
Date: c. 1395-1399
Period/Style: Medieval period; International Gothic Style; England (?)
Medium: Egg tempera paints and gold leaf on Baltic oak wood panels
Dimensions: Each side of the diptych is 20.9 in. tall and 14.6 in. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
The International Gothic-style Wilton Diptych (named for Wilton House, where it was kept for many years) was most likely painted for English king Richard II, who reigned from 1377 to 1399. The interior left panel (shown above) shows a kneeling King Richard, in a vermilion and gold cloak adorned with his two emblems: the white stag and sprigs of rosemary. Standing next to him are two English kings who became saints (Edmund the Martyr and Edward the Confessor) and John the Baptist, Richard’s patron saint. (The presence of the three kings on the left worshiping Christ may allude to the three magi, whose visit to the baby Jesus was celebrated on January 6, Richard’s birthday.) Following Richard’s gaze, we look to the right panel, where Mary holds Jesus, and 11 angels surround them in a flowery meadow. Jesus appears to give a blessing, either to Richard directly or to the pennant with the flag of St. George (England’s patron saint) and a tiny globe with a castle on an island in a silver seal. The symbolism appears to indicate God’s blessing of Richard’s kingship. All the angels wear Richard’s white stag emblem, as if they are part of his entourage. The unusual number of the angels – 11 – may refer to Richard’s age when he ascended to the throne. The extensive use of expensive pigments such as lapis lazuli for the blue pigment of the garments in the right panel and vermilion on the left for Richard’s robe shows that no expense was spared to make this small object with both religious and political overtones. The much-damaged outer panels show a white stag with a crown around its neck and a chain on one side, and coats of arms of Richard (including those of Edward the Confessor), on the other (see image below). The existence of the Wilton Diptych is considered remarkable given that few religious images survived a campaign of iconoclasm by the Puritans in the 17th Century.
To see Art History 101, Part 3 (1400-1499), go here.