Monday, December 22, 2014

Art History Survey, A New Slant, No. 7: The 1700s

As we approach the 1800s, just so we do not forget (as if) that art was being produced in other parts of the world besides the West, let’s look elsewhere at art produced in the 1700s, the period when Western art really started having an impact on non-western cultures through colonialism. Some of the following works are already showing the signs…

Iran, Cover of a prayerbook containing verses from the Qur’an, 1729. Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold leaf on paper mounted on lacquered pasteboard, 3 3/4" x 2 1/4" (9.4 x 5.7 x 1.9 cm). © Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-2249)

This beautiful painting was produced around the time of the end of the great Safavid Dynasty in Iran. The Safavids had declined politically during the 1600s, but their patronage of the arts continued through the end of their dynasty. It was a period of increased contact with Western art. Although the realism of this prayerbook cover may be reminiscent of the border designs in European manuscripts of the Renaissance period, the motif had a long-standing tradition in Iranian art with the Muslim tendency to avoid the human figure in religious art works.
Ko Fuyo (1722–1784, Japan), Pine-Scented Wind, the Harmony of the Lute, 1752. Ink and color on silk, 34 5/8" x 11 3/8" (88 x 29 cm). © Art Institute of Chicago. (AIC-281)

The great tradition of landscape painting that had matured firmly during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE) in China, and transmitted to Korea and Japan, has endured in Japan to the present day. Ko Fuyo, the son of a doctor in Kyoto, studied Confucianism and seal carving. Although he was more renowned for carving seals in wood and lacquer, his landscape paintings were praised for their faithful translation of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) style. He modeled many of his compositions after famous painters of that period and even changed his name to the Chinese “Gao,” which is “Ko” in Japanese.

Japan, Two Boys Playing Shogi with A Third Boy Observing, 1700s. Woodcut on paper. © Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-2713)
The 1700s in Japan was the period when woodblock prints reached their high point in production and variety of subject matter. Genre subjects (scenes of everyday life) were very popular, made so by artists such as Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770) and Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806). Western ideas such as one-point perspective creeped into the Ukiyo-e style during the 1700s, seen in this print. Shogi is the Japanese version of International Chess, with slight differences in the rules.

Edo Culture, Nigeria, Head of an Oba, 1700s. Brass and iron, height: 12 3/4" (32.4 cm). © Art Institute of Chicago. (AIC-295)
The Edo Culture of Benin endured until the British invaded and dominated Nigeria. Art from Nigeria and other African countries was exported to Europe starting in the 1890s. Lost-wax metal casting evolved for the Edo at the same time it did for the neighboring Yoruba and Ife cultures. Realistic figurative sculpture may have been influenced by art from the Nok culture, which flourished in Nigeria ca. 500 BCE–100s CE.

Heads of rulers such as this were commissioned by their heirs. The heads were placed in an honored spot in the palace, where they were symbolic of the continued presence and aid of past rulers in governing the Edo.

Polynesia, Marquesas Islands, Food Pounder, 1700s. Stone, 8" x 5" x 5" (20.3 x 12.7 x 12.7 cm). © Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-1289)
Around the first century BCE, the Marquesas Islands were populated by Polynesian islanders from farther east. By the 1400s, every region of the islands was populated. The Marquesans lived in isolation from the rest of the world until the messy, albeit brief, Spanish “visit” in the late 1500s. This food pounder dates from the last period before the Marquesans were almost wiped out by Western diseases after the French occupation of the 1800s. In every aspect of Marquesan life, tools and utilitarian objects were decorated by anthropomorphic forms, similar to what is seen in some African cultures.

Nepal, Mandala of Siva and Shakti, mid- to late-1700s. Colors on cloth, 51 1/2" x 55" (130.8 x 139.7 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2972)

Hinduism formed ca. 1500–1300 BCE according to archeologists, when Aryan cultures from inner Asia mixed with the urban cultures of the Indus Valley, a region that included Nepal. Examples of Hindu paintings on cloth that decorated temples on high religious days are extant now only in Nepal. Mandalas are basically diagrams of the cosmos containing all of the celestial forces. Siva, masculine, is the symbol of consciousness, while Shakti/Parvati, feminine, is the symbol of energizing, activating power.

Happening in the World in Art History:

1700s, after the Spanish retook control of the Southwest from the Pueblo uprising (1696), pottery of many of the Pueblo cultures evolved in ways both stylistic and technical. Lead glazes were abandoned in favor mineral-based pigments, new decorative motifs evolved, and many new vessel shapes appeared.

1700s was the period of Chinese ceramic production for export most appreciated by Western collectors, especially cobalt blue and white wares.

1700s porcelain factories were established in Germany, France, and Britain. In Britain, porcelain is called “China,” for obvious reasons.

ca. 1750 to 1776, the golden age of American painting before the revolution (primarily portrait painting), with activity by both native and British expatriate artists.

ca. 1716 and 1736, Kyôhô Reforms, the eased restrictions on Western imports in Japan. An influx of books, treatises, and prints of Western art that concerned primarily landscape painting were eagerly consumed by Japanese artists.

Late 1700s, after a series of rebellions by native Peruvians, the Spanish government destroyed any artwork that depicted indigenous culture or history.

1739 Iranians sack Delhi, all but ending Mughal power in India. Islamic culture and painting persist in India to present day.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 5.27; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1-2; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 31-32; A Personal Journey: 2.3, 2.4, 5.4, 7.2; A Community Connection: 3.2, 3.5, 5.2, 6.2; A Global Pursuit: 1.5, 6.5, 6.6, 7.5; Beginning Sculpture: 4; Discovering Art History: 4.2, 4.4, 4.7, 4.6, 4.8; Experience Painting: 2, 4; Experience Printmaking: 3; Exploring Painting 3; The Visual Experience 9.3, 9.4, 10.2, 13.2, 13.5, 14.2, 14.3

Monday, December 15, 2014

Art History Survey, A New Slant, No. 6: The 1600s

I think an alternate term for art of the 1600s is needed other than “Baroque.” Baroque is the established stylistic term for the period roughly 1600–1750 in Western art. The term comes from the word “barocco,” a Portuguese word for an irregular pearl. 1800s critics coined the term to disparage—what they considered—the unstructured, over-ornamented, theatrical, and grotesque art of the post-Renaissance period with its “clarity, serenity, and balance” (ugh).
Okay, so we get it, Baroque art was more dramatic than that of the Renaissance. Nowadays, the term “baroque” is used to characterize anything a little over the top, be it an outfit, wallpaper, interior design, or even an artfully-presented meal. If “drama” is one of the criteria of “baroque,” then have I got it for you in art of the 1600s outside of the West: Japan.

During the Kamakura (1185–1333) and Muromachi (1392–1573) periods, Japanese painting was heavily influenced by Chinese subject matter, and the scholarly landscape style. After the establishment of a military dictatorship during the Momoyama (1573–1615) period, which lasted through the Edo Period (1615–1868), Japan’s isolationist, no-foreigners-allowed policy fostered a more insular culture that revived interest in indigenous Japanese-style painting. A prevalent vein was a very decorative style that emphasized surface, rich use of gold leaf, and flatness of form. Many subjects were based on Japanese literature and poetry of the Heian (794–1185) period, and poetic allusions to nature and the four seasons.

Kitagawa was part of the so-called Rinpa (Rin painting) painters, a term based on the name of Ogata Korin (1658–1714), a sort of stylistic leader of the “school” (although none actually existed, school in painting usually refers to a group of artists who work in a similar style or subject matter). Like Ogata, Kitagawa emphasized bold forms with a disregard for naturalism of setting. He is most renowned for his depictions of flowers that are symbolic of the seasons. This screen, used to section rooms in Japanese homes, has dramatically large groups of plantings in an asymmetrical, arcing diagonal composition (a typical Kitagawa device). There is very little if any reference to surrounding nature, thus thrusting the composition into even greater dramatic display.

The red-flowering grasses (susuki) are particularly symbolic of autumn (the red of the autumn equinox). I’m not quite sure why the other plants symbolize autumn, but the composition certainly invites the viewer’s eyes to follow its movement across the screen. There is also ivy (which symbolizes faithfulness or endurance), mallow (obsessive love), and cockscomb (absurdity).

Two more “baroque” Japanese paintings of the 1600s:

Hon’ami Kōetsu (calligrapher, 1558–1637) and Tawaraya Sotatsu (painter, died 1643), Calligraphy of a Heian period poem over a background of chrysanthemums, 1615–1637. Ink, silver, and gold leaf on paper, part of a hanging scroll, 7 1/2" x 6 11/16" (19 x 17 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2834)
Hon’ami was the most renowned calligrapher of his time that collaborated with many painters. Tawaraya was thought to be the father or mentor of Kitagawa Sosetsu. Both Hon’ami and Tawaraya were pivotal in the evolution of Rinpa art. What could be more stunningly beautiful than Hon’ami’s exuberant, slashing cursive Japanese against a bold background of chrysanthemum blossoms?!

Unknown artist, Scene from the “Tale of the Soga Brothers,” 1600s. Album leaf, ink, color, and gold and silver leaf on paper, 9 1/8" x 6 5/8" (23.2 x 16.9 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-1055)
Dramatic birds-eye view and brilliant color contrasting with gold and silver leaf places this painting high on my exuberance level. It is also indicative of the reverence for indigenous Japanese subjects of this period. The Soga Brothers’ (Jurō and Gurō) story was made popular during the Heian period, and was retold in many later versions, becoming particularly popular in Kabuki theater during the Edo period. This mourning scene, in which the women are dressed in the Heian court style, may refer to the Jurō’s of Kudō Suketsune, the killer of the Soga Brothers’ father, and a retainer of the shogun.

What was happening elsewhere in the world in art history:
1600s After moving the Iranian capital to Isfahan (1590s), Shah Abbas (1571–1629) initiated a building program to make it a glittering city, the largest program ever undertaken by an Iranian ruler. Isfahan is famous for its beautiful public buildings with decorative ceramic tile facades.

1600–1700s Nearly 250,000 slaves from West Africa were brought to America. Although forced to do agricultural labor, their presence in the colonies started an enduring contribution to the arts in the developing country: ceramics, textiles, woodworking, and basketry that were produced for others.

1615 Beginning of the Edo (Tokugawa) period in Japan. A time of isolation until 1868, Japanese painting and printmaking flourished, calling on indigenous styles and culture as inspiration.

1644 Beginning of the Qing Dynasty in China. Chinese art was a major export item to the West during this period (until 1912), particularly porcelain, silk, and painting.

1680 Pueblo bands united and expelled the Spanish from New Mexico for a dozen years. They reestablished their indigenous faith traditions, reconsecrating kivas and reviving traditional arts such as kachina branded “heretical” by the Spanish.

1728 John Smibert (1688–1751, US, born Scotland) emigrated to the American colonies and became the seed artist of the American school of painting during the colonial period.

Studio activity:  Draw a baroque group of flowers. Using colored pencils or pastels, draw a group of imaginary flowers in bright colors and bright greens on black construction paper. If a specific light source is desired, create shadows by using darker hues of the main colors of the flowers and darker greens like viridian. In order to focus attention on the still life, ignore background details or a setting for the work.             Use the lower edge of the construction paper as an imaginary ground out of which the flowers are growing.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 1: 4.20, 4.connections; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 27-28; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 19-20; A Personal Journey: 3.4; A Community Connection: 6.2; A Global Pursuit: 7.1, 7.5; Experience Painting: 4; Exploring Painting: 5, 9; The Visual Experience: 13.5; Discovering Art History: 4.4

Friday, December 12, 2014

Art History Survey, A New Slant, No. 5: What Was Happening in the 1400s/1500s II?

Yi Chŏng (1541–ca. 1622, Korea), Scholar Contemplating a Cascade, 1500s. Ink on silk,
Sometimes I wonder if, unfortunately, most westerners only know about Korea in relation to that unfortunate war in the 1950s or because of contemporary politics in North Korea. This is yet another fabulous (and, I repeat fabulous) artistic culture that is usually relegated to two- to five-page spreads in western art history survey books. Well, I’ve chosen Korean art as part of my New Slant representing the 1500s. Korea, as a cultural progeny of China, was a pivotal influence of developments in Japanese art and culture. The racial origins of the Koreans is Mongol and Chinese. By the first one hundred years bce the various clans of Korea began to coalesce into cohesive states that eventually formed Korea. Koreans accepted Buddhism from China in the 300s ce, which they in turn transmitted to Japan between the 400s and 500s ce. They were also instrumental in helping Japan develop porcelain. Korea acted as a conduit from China to Japan for many artistic developments throughout the centuries.

The earliest historical record of painting in Korea is found on painted baskets from the first century bce. A more substantial record of ancient Korean painting remains on the painted walls and ceilings of tombs from the Three Kingdoms Period (57 bce–668 ce). Those paintings reflect Buddhist beliefs. The Mongol invasion of China (1100s) and Korea (1258) strengthened Korea’s reliance on Chinese art, and the influence of Song dynasty (960–1279 ce) painting traditions. Under the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), the Mongols were expelled by the indigenous Yi family, and a phonetic Korean written language was established. Korea was a semi-independent state with ties to China, fending off Japanese attempts at invasion in the 1500s.

Korean painting of the Joseon period contains the same qualities as Chinese painting in the reverence for nature through which, it was thought, humans could improve themselves. There is also the Buddhist element of appreciating details in the natural world as a symbol of being ready for an enlightenment that could come at any insignificant moment.

Yi Chŏng was a person of noble birth, great-grandson of King Seong (1397–1450). As in China, learned men of noble birth often combined scholarship/philosophy with painting. Yi practiced calligraphy and poetry, as well as painting. He was also a part-time monk at times known as T’anūm (Ocean Hermit). A scholar contemplating nature was a very common theme in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean painting. It could be considered self-referential for the scholar/artists. Yi’s style contains the jagged (axe-like), bold brush strokes of Southern Song artists such as Hsia Kuei (active 1180–1230). The cascading stream is symbolic of the never-ending passage of time, while the landscape symbolizes the transience (life and death) cycle that all humans must undergo.

Some other Joseon Dynasty paintings:
Yi Am (?) (1499–1566), Puppy with Pheasant Feather, mid-1500s. Ink and slight color on silk, 12 1/4" x 17 1/4" (31.1 x 43.8 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-768)

Unknown, Landscape, 1500s (?). Ink on silk, 12" x 20 3/8" (30.5 x 51.8 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-40)
Happening elsewhere in the world in art history:
1490–1527 Art in Italy designated as a period called the High Renaissance.

1500s Period of flourishing in the arts of metal casting in the Benin Kingdom (1200/1300–1897) of the Edo People in Nigeria. The most famous of the metal art works are lost-wax cast portraits of rulers and military leaders in both in-the-round works and plaques.

1502 Safavid Dynasty (until 1736/1779) established in present day Iran. Iranian art experience a flourishing period like never before in architecture, book illustration, calligraphy, ceramics, painting, and metalwork.

1526 Mughal Dynasty (until 1756/1789) established in India, where it ruled all of northern India, present day Pakistan and Afghanistan as far as Kabul and Kandahar. The Mughal rulers were enthusiastic patrons of art, especially in architecture, illustrated books and painting.

1551 Tzar Ivan IV (the Terrible, 1530–1584) called a religious council and forced the Russian church to accept the inclusion of secular (historical and military) persons in religious icons, formerly restricted to Old and New Testament subjects. This change broadened the types of icons produced and led eventually to the popularity of parsunas, secular portraits done in the style of icons.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 1.1; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 4.20; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 2.7, 7-8; A Community Connection: 4.2, 6.2; A Personal Journey: 5.4; A Global Pursuit: 4.2; Discovering Drawing: 5; Experience Painting: 4; Exploring Painting: 11; The Visual Experience: 9.3

Monday, December 1, 2014

Art History Survey, A New Slant, No. 4: What Was Happening in the 1400s/1500s?

Mississippian Culture, possibly from Arkansas, Bottle with underwater serpent decoration, 1300s–1400s. Earthenware and pigment, 9 1/2" x 8" (24.1 x 20.3 cm). © Art Institute of Chicago. (AIC-379)

One of the bonuses of studying art history is learning about surprising connections when studying how cultures in the past interacted. Many times such interaction between cultures and the influence it has on the arts is overlooked. This is especially true in non-western cultures, when these cultural interactions don’t precipitate the emergence of massive empires that racked up wealth at the expense of numerous conquered peoples, and then glorified themselves in fabulous art and architecture. I find Indigenous cultures that steadfastly, and often quietly, grew in cultural and material wealth from their survival skills (such as farming rich land) and trade far more interesting.

Although the exact date is not known, some archaeologists agree that the first Homo sapiens set foot on the North American continent between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago. The period was known as the Pleistocene Era. At that time, the Northern Hemisphere was experiencing the Ice Age. The glaciers that dominated the continent lowered the oceans by about 100 meters, which exposed a strip of land that connects Alaska with Asia. Most scientists believe that it was over this strip of land that First Nations migrated to the North American continent.

In recent years, however, scholars have been examining other scientific clues, such as carbon dating of prehistoric relics and the linguistic development of Native peoples. This research has led some scientists to hypothesize that the earliest waves of migration to North America may actually have taken place more than 20,000 or 30,000 years ago. The hypothesis goes on to suggest that these people came by water.

The Mississippian cultures, which flourished from 900 through 1700 CE, descended from the so-called “mound-builder” cultures of the late prehistoric period. The Mound Builders constructed mound lodgings and burial chambers of pounded earth with thatch roofs. The Mississippian cultures included the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Chicamauga, Chisea, and Shawnee bands. The earliest report of European contact with these cultures indicates that the cultures built their towns on the mound foundations left by their ancestors. The Mississippian cultures were primarily farmers who raised vegetables, tobacco, and corn.           

The Mississippian cultures had an extensive trade network by land and via the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers that extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean. Although no actual Mexican artifacts have been found at Mississippian sites, artistic evidence exists of contact with the Mesoamerican Mexican cultures, especially in ceramics, sculpture, and architecture. Mississippian society was also stratified like Mesoamerican cultures, in which there was a hierarchy of priest/rulers, noble families, and a warrior class.

Some of the greatest Mississippian artworks are ceramic. They are renowned especially for their utilitarian works, which include effigy vessels reminiscent of Mexican cultures and figures representing a variety of ages and positions within society. The bright reddish pigment of this vessel is particularly identified with works from the region of present-day Arkansas. While the step and wave patterns may remind us of other North American cultures’ ceramic vessels, the serpent decoration ultimately has similarities to Mesoamerican ceramic decoration. Unlike Mesoamerican ceramics, however, the vessel is not decorated with as strict organization of registers. Such vessels would have been funerary objects containing necessary items for the deceased’s afterlife.

There is further similarity to Mesoamerican art in renderings of human beings. This type of rendering is noticeably absent (other than in abstracted form) from Plains, Woodlands, Pueblo, and California art. In addition to pipes and vessels, they also appear on pot handles and lids. Another theory is that, like the Mesoamerican culture that influenced them, the Mississippian peoples had special societies that honored warriors. The submissive pose of this figure is a common characteristic of these sculptures and may represent part of a ritual dance performed in these warrior guilds. The simplification of form, which includes the flattened pyramidal nose, is also an element of Mesoamerican influence.

Happening elsewhere in the world in art history:
1368–1644 Ming Dynasty in China, a period when landscape painting and refinement of porcelain reached the highest peak of achievement.
1392–1573 The Muromachi, or Ashikaga period in Japan, a turbulent time during which Zen Buddhism began to assert (what would be) a lasting influence on Japanese art.
1400s Early Renaissance in Italy, Flanders, France, Germany
1400–1435 End of the Palaelogue Renaissance, the last flourishing of Byzantine art, and conquest of Byzantine Empire by Turkey in 1435.
1413–1451 and 1451–1526 The last two dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate, a period during which illuminated manuscripts began to be produced lauding the deeds of the Islamic rulers of India.
1438–1534 The rise and fall of the Inca Empire in Peru, a culture that produced magnificent architecture, ceramic art, textiles, and metal art work.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 2: 17-18; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 6.35; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 23-24; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 4.22; A Community Connection 1.4, 2.6, 5.2; A Global Pursuit: 1.2, 2.5; Experience Clay: chapter 3, chapter 5; The Visual Experience: 10.6, 14.5; Discovering Art History: 2.2, 4.10