Category Archives: (4) How Art Shaped Our Society & Us – 1000 AD to 1500 AD

Spotlight: Joan of Arc burned at stake (1431 AD)

JoanArc17-e

Joan of Arc (ca. 1412 – 30 May 1431 AD), nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans,” is a folk heroine of France and a Roman Catholic saint. She was born a peasant girl in what is now eastern France. Claiming divine guidance, she led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years’ War, which paved the way for the coronation of Charles VII of France. She was captured by the Burgundians, transferred to the English in exchange for money, put on trial by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon for charges of “insubordination and heterodoxy”, and burned at the stake for heresy when she was only 19 years old.

Twenty-five years after her execution, an inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Callixtus III examined the trial, pronounced her innocent, and declared her a martyr. Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920. She is – along with St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis IX, and St. Theresa of Lisieux – one of the patron saints of France. Joan said she had received visions from God instructing her to support Charles VII and recover France from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War. The uncrowned King Charles VII sent her to the siege of Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the dismissive attitude of veteran commanders and caused the lifting of the siege in only nine days. Several additional swift victories led to Charles VII’s coronation at Reims.

To this day, Joan of Arc has remained a significant figure in Western civilization. From Napoleon I onward, French politicians of all leanings have invoked her memory. Famous writers, filmmakers and composers who have created works about her include: William Shakespeare (Henry VI, Part 1), Voltaire (The Maid of Orleans), Friedrich Schiller (The Maid of Orleans), Giuseppe Verdi (Giovanna d’Arco), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (The Maid of Orleans), Mark Twain (Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc), Jean Anouilh (L’Alouette),Bertolt Brecht (Saint Joan of the Stockyards), George Bernard Shaw (Saint Joan), Maxwell Anderson (Joan of Lorraine), Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc), Robert Bresson (The Trial of Joan of Arc), Arthur Honegger (Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher), Leonard Cohen (Joan of Arc), and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (Joan of Arc). Cultural depictions of Joan of Arc have continued in film, theatre, television, video games, music, and performances.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_of_arc

Spotlight: The Birth of Venus (1486 AD) – Painting by Botticelli

Sandro_Botticelli_-_La_nascita_di_Venere_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited

The Birth of Venus  is a 1486 masterpiece painting by Sandro Botticelli.  Botticelli was commissioned to paint the work by the Medici family of Florence.  It depicts the goddess Venus, having emerged from the sea as a fully grown woman, arriving at the sea-shore.  The painting is on display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

Art historians who specialize in the Italian Renaissance have found a Neoplatonic interpretation, which was most clearly articulated by Ernst Gombrich, to be the most enduring way to understand the painting. Botticelli represented the Neoplatonic idea of divine love in the form of a nude Venus.

For Plato – and so for the members of the Florentine Platonic Academy – Venus had two aspects: she was an earthly goddess who aroused humans to physical love or she was a heavenly goddess who inspired intellectual love in them. Plato further argued that contemplation of physical beauty allowed the mind to better understand spiritual beauty. So, looking at Venus, the most beautiful of goddesses, might at first raise a physical response in viewers which then lifted their minds towards the Creator. A Neoplatonic reading of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus suggests that 15th-century viewers would have looked at the painting and felt their minds lifted to the realm of divine love.

Botticelli’s art was never fully committed to naturalism; in comparison to his contemporary Domenico Ghirlandaio, Botticelli seldom gave weight and volume to his figures and rarely used a deep perspective space. In the Birth of Venus, Venus’ body is anatomically improbable, with elongated neck and torso. Her pose is impossible: although she stands in a classical contrapposto stance, her weight is shifted too far over the left leg for the pose to be held. Moreover, her positioning on the edge of the shell (which cannot be identified as real), would certainly cause it to tip over. The bodies and poses of the winds to the left are even harder to figure out. The background is summary, and the figures cast no shadows. It is clear that this is a fantasy image.

Venus is an Italian Renaissance ideal: red-haired, pale-skinned, voluptuous. Botticelli has picked out highlights in her hair with gold leaf and has emphasized the femininity of her body (long neck, curviness). The brilliant light and soothing colors, the luxurious garden, the gorgeous draperies of the nymph, and the roses floating around the beautiful nude all suggest that the painting is meant to bring pleasure to the viewer.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birth_of_Venus_(Botticelli)

Spotlight: Inca Civilization & Culture (1200 – 1530 AD)

Inca

The Inca Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The administrative, political and military center of the empire was located in Cusco in modern-day Peru.

From 1438 to 1533, the Incas used a variety of methods, from conquest to peaceful assimilation, to incorporate a large portion of western South America, centered on the Andean mountain ranges, including, besides Peru, large parts of modern Ecuador, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and central Chile, and a small part of southern Colombia into a state comparable to the historical empires of Eurasia.

There were many local forms of worship, most of them concerning local sacred “Huacas”, but the Inca leadership encouraged the worship of Inti—the sun god—and imposed its sovereignty above other cults such as that of Pachamama. The Incas considered their King, the Sapa Inca, to be the “child of the sun.”

Architecture was by far the most important of the Inca arts, with textiles reflecting motifs that were at their height in architecture. The main example is the capital city of Cusco. The site of Machu Picchu was constructed by Inca engineers. The stone temples constructed by the Inca used a mortarless construction that fit together so well that a knife could not be fitted through the stonework.

Inca calendars were strongly tied to astronomy. Inca astronomers understood equinoxes, solstices, and likely zenith passages, not to mention the Venus cycle. The Inca calendar was essentially luni-solar, as two calendars were maintained in parallel, one solar and one lunar. As twelve lunar months fall 11-days short of a full 365-day solar year, those in charge of the calendar had to adjust every winter solstice. The twelve lunar months were each marked with specific festivals and rituals. Time during a given day was not reckoned in hours or minutes, but rather in terms of how far the sun had traveled or in how long it takes to perform a task.

The economy of the Inca Empire has been characterized as involving a high degree of central planning. While evidence of trade between the Inca Empire and outside regions has been uncovered, there is no evidence that the Incas had a substantial internal market economy. While axe-monies were used along the northern coast, presumably by the provincial mindaláe trading class, most inhabitants of the empire would have lived in a traditional economy in which male heads of household were required to pay taxes both in kind (e.g., crops, textiles, etc.) and in the form of the mit’a corvée labor and military obligations.  In return, the state provided security, food in times of hardship through the supply of emergency resources, agricultural projects (e.g. aqueducts and terraces) to increase productivity, and occasional feasts. The economy rested on the material foundations of the vertical archipelago, a system of ecological complementary in accessing resources, and the cultural foundation of ayni, or reciprocal exchange.

Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro and his brothers explored south from what is today Panama, reaching Inca territory by 1526.  It was clear that they had reached a wealthy land with prospects of great treasure, and after one more expedition in 1529, Pizarro traveled to Spain and received royal approval to conquer the region and be its viceroy. This approval was received as detailed in the following quote: “In July 1529 the queen of Spain signed a charter allowing Pizarro to conquer the Incas. Pizarro was named governor and captain of all conquests in Peru, or New Castile, as the Spanish now called the land.”  When they returned to Peru in 1532, a war of the two brothers between Huayna Capac’s sons Huáscar and Atahualpa and unrest among newly conquered territories—and perhaps more importantly, smallpox, which had spread from Central America—had considerably weakened the empire. Pizarro did not have a formidable force; with just 168 men, 1 cannon and 27 horses, he often needed to talk his way out of potential confrontations that could have easily wiped out his party.

The Spanish horsemen, fully armored, had great technological superiority over the Inca forces. The traditional mode of battle in the Andes was a kind of siege warfare where large numbers of usually reluctant draftees were sent to overwhelm opponents. The Spaniards had developed one of the finest military machines in the pre-modern world, tactics learned in their centuries-long fight against Moorish kingdoms in Iberia. Along with this tactical and material superiority, the Spaniards also had acquired tens of thousands of native allies who sought to end the Inca control of their territories.

Almost all of the gold and silver work of the Inca Empire was melted down by the conquistadors.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inca

Spotlight: Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441 AD) – a most influential painter

janVanEyck

Jan van Eyck, a Flemish painter, is generally considered one of the most significant Northern European painters of the 15th century – only about 23 surviving works are confidently attributed to him.

When Jan van Eyck’s served for Philip the Good (1425 AD), his reputation and technical ability grew – mostly from his innovative approaches towards the handling and manipulating of oil paint. His revolutionary approach to oil was so profound that a myth, perpetuated by Giorgio Vasari, arose that he had invented oil painting.

It is known from historical record that van Eyck was considered a revolutionary master across northern Europe within his lifetime; his designs and methods were heavily copied and reproduced. His motto, one of the first and still most distinctive signatures in art history, ALS IK KAN (“AS I CAN”) first appeared in 1433 on Portrait of a Man in a Turban, which can be seen as indicative of his emerging self-confidence at the time. The years between 1434 and 1436 are generally considered his high point when he produced works including the Madonna of Chancellor RolinLucca Madonna and Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele.

Records from 1437 on suggest that he was held in high esteem by the upper ranks of Burgundian nobility while also accepting many foreign commissions. He died young in July 1441, leaving behind many unfinished works to be completed by workshop journeymen; works that are nevertheless today considered major examples of Early Flemish painting. His local and international reputation was aided by his ties to the then political and cultural influence of the Burgundian court.

In the earliest significant source on van Eyck, a 1454 biography in Genoese humanist Bartolomeo Facio’s De viris illustribus, Jan van Eyck is named “the leading painter” of his day. Facio places him among the best artists of the early 15th century, along with Rogier van der Weyden, Gentile da Fabriano, and Pisanello. It is particularly interesting that Facio shows as much enthusiasm for Netherlandish painters as he does for Italian painters.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Van_Eyck

Spotlight: Arena Chapel Paintings (1305 AD) – one of the most important masterpieces of Western Art

Arena Chapel

The Arena Chapel (Scrovegni Chapel) – a church in Padua, Veneto,Italy – contains a fresco cycle by Giotto, completed about 1305, that is one of the most important masterpieces of Western art.

Giotto’s fresco cycle focuses on the life of the Virgin Mary and celebrates her role in human salvation. A motet by Marchetto da Padova appears to have been composed for the dedication on 25 March 1305.

Before the chapel was built, this area was an open-air procession and sacred representation of the Annunciation to the Virgin for a generation.

Giotto’s Last Judgment covers the entire wall above the chapel’s entrance.  Opposite it, on the chancel arch above the altar, is an unusual scene of God in Heaven dispatching an angel to Earth.  Facing the altar, the narrative sequence begins at the top of the right hand wall with scenes from the life of the Virgin, including the annunciation to her mother, St. Anne, and the presentation at the temple. The series continues through the Nativity, the Passion of Jesus, the Resurrection, and the Pentecost. The panels are noted for their emotional intensity, sculptural figures, and naturalistic space. Beneath the main scenes at dado level, Giotto used a faux architectural scheme of painted marble decorations and small recesses containing figures of the Virtues and Vices painted in grisaille (monotone).

One of the most gripping paintings in the chapel is Giotto’s portrayal of The Kiss of Judas, the moment of betrayal that represents the first step on Jesus’ road to the Crucifixion.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cappella_degli_Scrovegni

Spotlight: Notre Dame (1345 AD) – 200 years to build

Notre Dame

This cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world. The naturalism of its sculptures and stained glass are in contrast with earlier Romanesque architecture.  The cathedral treasury is notable for its reliquary which houses some of Catholicism’s most important first-class relics including the purported Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross, and one of the Holy Nails.

The cathedral has a narrow climb of 387 steps at the top of several spiral staircases; along the climb it is possible to view its most famous bell and its gargoyles in close quarters, as well as having a spectacular view across Paris when reaching the top. The design of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide, Australia was inspired by Notre-Dame de Paris.

Jean de Jandum recognized the cathedral as one of Paris’s three most important buildings in his 1323 “Treatise on the Praises of Paris.”

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notre_Dame_de_Paris

Spotlight: Magna Carta of 1215 AD – the roots of the American Constitution

Magna Carta

Many attempts to draft constitutional forms of government, including the United States Constitution, trace their lineage back to this literature masterpiece –  Magna Carta.  The British dominions, Australia and New Zealand, Canada (except Quebec), and formerly Union of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, reflected influence of Magna Carta in their law, and the Charter impacted generally on the states that evolved from the British Empire.

The 1215 charter required King John of England to proclaim certain liberties and accept that his will was not arbitrary—for example by explicitly accepting that no “freeman” (in the sense of non-serf) could be punished except through the law of the land, a right that still exists.

Lord Denning described it as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”. In a 2005 speech, Lord Woolf described it as “first of a series of instruments that now are recognized as having a special constitutional status”, the others being the Habeas Corpus Act (1679), the Petition of Right (1628), the Bill of Rights (1689), and the Act of Settlement (1701).

When American colonists raised arms against Britain, they were fighting not so much for new freedom, but to preserve liberties and rights, as believed to be enshrined in Magna Carta and as later included in the Bill of Rights. American Revolutionaries would supplement this with ideas of natural right.The American Constitution is the supreme law of the land, recalling the manner in which Magna Carta had come to be regarded as fundamental law. This heritage is quite apparent – in comparing Magna Carta with the Bill of Rights

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magna_carta

Spotlight: Secular Music (1100 AD) – or nonreligious music

Music

Secular music is non-religious music. Secular means being separate from religion (not associated or concerned with religion).  In the West, secular music developed in the Medieval period – ca. 1100 AD – and was used in the Renaissance. Swaying authority from the Church that focused more on Common Law influenced all aspects of Medieval life, including music. Secular music in the Middle Ages included love songs, political satire, dances, and dramatic works. Drumsharpsrecorders, and bagpipes were the instruments used in secular music because they were easy for the traveling musicians to tote about. Instruments were taught through oral tradition and provided great dancing music and accompanied the stanzas well.

Words are an important part of secular music. Words were added for most and many common people to sing songs together for entertainment. Music styles were changed by secularization.  The largest collection of secular music from this period comes from poems of celebration and chivalry of the troubadours (composers) from the south of France. These poems contain clever rhyme-schemes, varied use of refrain-lines or words, and different metric patterns.

Secular music also was aided by the formation of literature during the reign of Charlemagne (Charles the Great – King of England) that included a collection of secular and semi-secular songs.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_music

Spotlight: Tower of London (founded 1066 AD) – conquer it & you control England

Tower of London

The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history. It was besieged several times and controlling it has been important to controlling the country.  The Tower has served variously as an armory, a treasury, a menagerie, a prison, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.

The castle is made up of three “wards”, or enclosures. The innermost ward contains the White Tower and is the earliest phase of the castle. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite.

As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.

Despite its enduring reputation as a place of torture and death, popularized by 16th-century religious propagandists and 19th-century writers, only seven people were executed within the Tower before the World Wars of the 20th century. Today the Tower of London is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. It is cared for by the charity Historic Royal Palaces and is protected as a World Heritage Site.

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* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_london

Spotlight: Bayeux Tapestry (1070s AD) – 70 meters long!

Bayeux-Tapestry-1

The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth—not an actual tapestry—nearly 70 meters (230 ft) long, and depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England–culminating in the Battle of Hastings.

The tapestry consists of some fifty scenes with Latin tituli (captions), embroidered on linen with colored woolen yarns. In 1729 the hanging was rediscovered by scholars at a time when it was being displayed annually in Bayeux Cathedral. The tapestry is now exhibited at Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux, Normandy, France.

The tapestry was cited by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics as an example of early narrative art and British comic book artist Bryan Talbot has called it “the first known British comic strip.”

Because it resembles a movie storyboard and is widely recognized—by modern standards at least—as so distinctive in its artistic style, the Bayeux Tapestry has frequently been used or re-imagined in a variety of different popular culture contexts. It has inspired many modern political and other cartoons, including the 15 July 1944 cover of the New Yorker magazine marking D-Day; and George Gale’s pastiche chronicling the saga leading up to Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community, published across six pages in The Times’s “Europa” supplement on 1 January 1973.

The tapestry has also inspired modern embroideries—notably the Overlord embroidery commemorating the Normandy landings invasion, now at Portsmouth—and the Prestonpans Tapestry, which chronicles the events surrounding the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745.

A number of films have used sections of the tapestry in their opening credits or closing titles, including: the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Anthony Mann’s El Cid, Zeffirelli’s Hamlet, Frank Cassenti’s La Chanson de RolandRobin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings.

The tapestry is referenced in Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America. The apocryphal account of Queen Matilda’s creation of the tapestry is used, perhaps in order to demonstrate that Louis, one of the main characters, holds himself to mythological standards.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayeux_tapestry