Thursday, March 23, 2017

Artists Who Should Be Stars of Women’s History Month, part 4

Beverly Pepper (born 1924, US), Double Pyramid, 1971. Cor-Ten steel, 8'8" x 23' x 25' (270 x 700 x 760 cm). Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. © 2017 Beverly Pepper. (WAM-686)

I think a grossly under-spotlighted artist is Beverly Pepper. I love her huge primary structures that are so elegant and simple. I have to say that any artist who works in such large, Cor-Ten steel constructions has always got my attention, especially the oxidation of the surfaces!

Minimalist sculpture on a large scale is sometimes called Primary Structure. Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptures was a 1966 exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York. The exhibition consisted of monumental single and multi-unit masses, usually based on geometric shapes. These works evolved out of the constructivist sculpture of the first two decades of the 1900s, on a larger scale. The works were constructed out of industrially-produced materials.

Since the 1960s, Pepper has been a sculptor of monumental minimal sculptures. While they reflect the scale and material of "primary structures," they are infused with a personal mysticism that is avoided by Minimalist, primary structure artists.

Pepper was born in Brooklyn and studied at Pratt Institute when she was 16. She originally wanted to study graphic and industrial design and photography. She also took courses at the Art Students League, but worked in advertising until 1948, when she moved to Europe.

In Paris, Pepper studied painting with the Cubist realist André Lhote (1885–1962) and Machine Cubist Fernand Léger (1881–1955). Her first paintings depicted social themes. After Paris, the artists moved to Todi, Italy. A trip to Asia where Pepper saw Cambodian temple sculpture inspired her to turn to sculpture. She initially carved in wood, but she was inspired to work in steel after seeing the work of David Smith (1906–1965), who lived in a nearby Italian town. She soon thereafter became apprenticed to a master ironworker, and showed her first welded, outdoor sculptures with Smith and Calder in Spoleto in 1962.

Pepper began working exclusively with Cor-Ten steel in the 1970s. Her works often explore the themes of growth, rejuvenation, and continuity. Her works often appear to grow from the earth in which they are situated. That organic aspect to the piece is contrasted with the asymmetry and sense of floating that defies either balance or a notion of stability.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Artists Who Should Be Stars of Women’s History Month, part 3

Graciela Iturbide (born 1942, Mexico), Untitled, 1981. Gelatin silver print on paper, 12" x 8" (30.5 x 20.3 cm) Brooklyn Museum. © 2017 Graciela Iturbide. (BMA-1990)

The work of Graciela Iturbide is a good example of how photography expanded in conception and expression after World War II (1939–1945). There have been quite a few other women photographers who have documented indigenous peoples of Central and South America, among them Claudia Andujar (Brazil, born 1931 Switzerland) and Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). I’d rather see the idea of the “Family of Man” represented by artists such as this rather than the Western European/American slant on “cultural relativism.” I can’t say enough about how important I think the work of artists like Iturbide is in broadening people’s grasp on the incredible diversity of humanity.

Although many photographers in Mexico continued to observe European and American aesthetics in photography after World War II, there was a growing rejection among Central and South American artists to the idea of the “American Way of Life,” a socio-economic yardstick that was held up as the standard of a successful society.

In 1978, the First Colloquium of Latin American Photographers was held in Mexico City. What emerged from that was the attempt to explore a separate and distinctive identity in Latin American art.
In Mexico, photographers had already turned in a major way to local subject matter before that meeting in Mexico City. Iturbide was among those photographers who documented urban and rural ordinary people. Her focus is often on the adaptation of traditional life to the contemporary world. The urge to trace the persistence of ancient, pre-conquest cultural aspects in the modern world is a common thread in contemporary Mexican photography.

Born in Mexico City, Iturbide was exposed to photography as a young woman. She turned to photography as a vocation in 1970, and then studied filmography and cinema at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos at the National University of Mexico. There she met her mentor, the great Mexican photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902–2002). She became interested in photographing Mexico’s indigenous cultures and the life of Mexicans along the Mexican-American border.

This image reflects Iturbide’s interest in feminism. It was shot in the town of Juchitán, Oaxaca, where the women dominated town life. Her photographs reveal her strong sense of the dignity of every human being. This respect has led her in recent years to document the relationship of human beings with the natural environment.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Artists Who Should Be Stars of Women’s History Month, part 2

Julia Morgan (1872–1957, US), Saint John’s Presbyterian Church (now the Julia Morgan Center), Berkeley, California, 1908–1910. Photo © 2017 Oliver Radford. (RAD-183)

There aren’t many women architects who share the star power of names such as Mies van der Rohe or I.M. Pei, but, like many things in the old timey art history books—like sculpture—architecture was considered male territory. Well, Julia Morgan’s nearly 700 completed buildings would tend to negate that view, and we need to honor her during Women’s History Month.

This charming former church is a West Coast version of the Arts and Crafts style that was big at the time. Her employing leaded glass, casement windows, and overhanging eaves are the same attributes of the style seen in Frank Lloyd Wright’s (1867–1959) houses of the same period.

Morgan was born in San Francisco and grew up in Oakland. Her parents wanted a higher education for their daughter, an unusual attitude about young women in the 1890s. She attended UC Berkeley, an overwhelmingly male school, and gradually decided to study architecture. She was the first woman to graduate from Berkeley with a degree in civil engineering (1894).

While studying at Berkeley she attracted the attention of the famous architect Bernard Maybeck (1862–1957). After hiring her, he suggested that Morgan study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the most prestigious architecture school in the world at the time. Morgan became the first woman to enroll in that school. Morgan graduated in 1902 from the École des Beaux-Arts where training was in a historicist (revival of historical styles) vein.

She opened an office in San Francisco. In a period when many architects were beginning to experiment with modernism, Morgan's designs persistently remained conservative and respectful of her clients' tastes. One of her more famous commissions was her work on William Randolph Hearst's famous castle San Simeon, which lasted from 1919 to 1938.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Artists Who Should Be Stars of Women’s History Month, part 1

Arapaho Culture, Pouch, late 1800s or early 1900s. Hide, beads, porcupine quills, deer hooves, sinew, fiber thread, 5 1/8" and 5 1/8" (13 x 13 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-1566)

Even unknown women artists deserve to be given the star treatment, especially during Women’s History Month! I may have learned as a child to carefully lay burnt matches side by side in glue on paper to form star patterns, but I don’t think that equals the sophistication of native quill work. It is an art form that has always fascinated me because it is so darn time-consuming. The origin of this bag, now backed with modern leather, is foggy—either it was a pouch to carry valued personal objects or it acted as tipi decoration.

The Arapaho are a Plains culture that is thought to have migrated from the northeast during the 1600s to 1700s. Historically they were settled in Colorado and Wyoming. Nomadic buffalo hunters, they preferred to winter in the Boulder, Colorado area. By the 1700s, there were some branches of the culture in the Dakotas and Montana. By the time of white contact, the Arapaho extended from northern New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas to Wyoming and South Dakota. Successive “treaties” with the US stripped them of their ability to roam, consigning the Southern Arapaho to central Oklahoma (after 1864/1865), and the Northern Arapaho to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming (after 1878), which they shared with their traditional enemies, the Shoshone.

Unlike other Native arts—such as the jewelry and weaving of the Navajo, the ledger painting of the Sioux, and the numerous types of trade art that rely on traditional forms—quill work is one Native art form that has fallen into relative obscurity. Only recently has it been given renewed attention by several First Nations artists. Quilling is an art form that has been done traditionally only by women.

Porcupine quill work is one of the oldest aboriginal art forms. It is a time-consuming and multi-step process. First the quills must be prepared for use: they are sorted according to size, cleaned, and dyed. In the traditional manner, the artist would draw the quills repeatedly through her teeth which made them supple. The quills, split in half down the middle, are then applied to the design. They can be arranged in a zigzag pattern, plaited, parallel folded, banded, or woven.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Artistic Legacy of Conquest, part 2

This week's look at Spanish Colonial art continues, inspired by the exhibit Highest Heaven, currently on view at the Worcester Art Museum.

Miguel Cabrera (1695–1768 Mexico), Doña Maria de la Luz Padilla y Cervantes, ca. 1755–1760. Oil on canvas, 43" x 33" (109.2 x 83.8 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-389)

I don’t know if this woman looks miserable because: a. the paniers (side hoops) of her skirt are very unwieldy, or b. she’s unsure the velvet beauty marks (chiqueadores) are really a hot beauty item, as they were in France at the time. Either way, I think the flowers she’s holding indicate this may be a wedding portrait.

By the end of the 1600s, the Viceroyalty of New Spain, centered in Mexico City, had established social customs based on the model of European monarchies. The social hierarchy of elite classes consisted of the following, in order of the most honored: families born of European Spanish blood (peninsulares), those of Spanish descent born in Mexico (criolles), and those of Spanish descent married to Aztec royalty (mestizo).

Miguel Cabrera was an indigenous Mexican painter from the Zapotec culture in Oaxaca. He was universally recognized during his lifetime and the century that followed as the greatest painter of New Spain. He was born in Antequera and moved to Mexico City in 1719.

Cabrera may have been trained either by the Rodríguez Juárez brothers (Juan, 1675–1728 and Nicolás 1667–1734), or by José de Ibarra (1688–1756). Ibarra is considered the key artist in the transition in Mexico from the Baroque style to the Rococo. This painting shows the strong affinity of Cabrera’s work to that of the Baroque Spanish artists Murillo and Zurbarán. The subdued, dramatic lighting; theatrical composition; and dark palette are all typical of Spanish Baroque painting.

Cabrera was the favorite painter of the archbishop of Mexico City—of the Jesuit order and of the Mexican nobility—so he enjoyed many lucrative commissions. Although famed for his portraiture, portraits are outnumbered by religious works in his body of work. In 1753, he founded Mexico’s first academy of painting and served as its perpetual president. 

José Francisco Xavier Salazar y Mendoza (1750–1802, born Mexico, active in US), Portrait of a Man. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2" x 28" (92.7 x 71.1 cm). © 2017 Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-206)

Indeed, Spanish Colonial art also originated in the US. Most Americans forget that large parts of the South and Southwest were home to Spanish colonists before other Europeans from British and French colonies, and, of course, before the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). This beauty of a portrait comes from an expatriate Mexican artist who settled in New Orleans.

The French founded New Orleans in 1718. It was ceded to Spain in 1762 as part of the peace negotiations with Spain at the end of the Seven Years War (1756–1763). Only under Spanish domination did New Orleans begin to flourish and establish an urban identity, becoming a center of trade. New Orleans was handed back to the French in 1800 after Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. He sold it to the United States in 1803.

With the increased prosperity came a desire by New Orleans’ well-to-do to patronize the arts. Since the city had no native artists, and no art school existed until the end of the 1800s, many of the artists who rose to prominence under Spanish rule were from Mexico. Salazar y Mendoza was the best known of those artists and the most sought after for portraiture commissions at the time.

Originally from Mérida on the Yucatan in Mexico, Salazar and his family moved to then-Spanish-ruled New Orleans around 1782. Already an accomplished artist trained in the Spanish Rococo style, he received numerous commissions for portraits of prominent families and community leaders. Under his tutelage, his daughter Francisca because an artist and assisted him in his studio. He may have also been assisted by his brother.

Salazar’s portrait of a prosperous gentleman reflects his awareness of Spanish portraiture of the period. The emphasis in Rococo portraits was a subtle idealization of the subject’s features, emphasis on luxurious garments, and elegance of bearing that would reflect the status and refinement of the sitter. Like most Spanish Rococo portraits, the palette is somewhat darker than that in French and English portraits of the same period. The neutral background is similar to those seen in American portraits of the period. 

Cuba, Easy chair, ca. 1825–1850. Mahogany with old and new caning, 43" x 35 3/4" x 35 3/8" (109.2 x 90.8 x 89.9 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5127)

Am I the only one who thinks this chair has a set of big ears? Seriously, this is what happens when 1800s revival instincts kicked in in furniture design. This chair, called butaca, displays influences from Rococo (the wavy wings and top rail), Renaissance (the klismos-like x-legs), and Baroque (the turned arm posts) furniture. It was probably modeled on the early 1700s wing chair, although, ironically, wing chairs were meant to retain heat in front of a fireplace. A cane chair probably wouldn’t do that.

Because Cuba was not free of Spanish control until the early 1900s, the dominant influence on Cuban arts was European, with some indigenous aspects. This chair is apparently based on some type of more ancient Mesoamerican form of x-leg camp chair. This style of butaca was apparently popular throughout the Caribbean Spanish colonies starting at the end of the 1700s. Rather than for grand public rooms of elite families, it was intended for intimate domestic spaces.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Artistic Legacy of Conquest, part 1

The Worcester Art Museum is having an amazing exhibition entitled Highest Heaven (March 11–July 9, 2017). It is a traveling exhibit of the fabulous religious art produced in Spanish colonial Central and South America, and their conquered lands in the Caribbean, from the Huber Collection of New York. I’m not sure how “heavenly” life was for the indigenous peoples of these regions, but they certainly had a hand in producing many of the gorgeous works of art from the 1600s through the earliest 1800s.

In some cases, indigenous forms were adapted by the Spanish conquerors and Europeanized. In other cases, indigenous artists learned European techniques and adapted that to their own subject matter. This show puts me in mind of the groundbreaking one held at the Brooklyn Museum called America South of the US (November 1941 to January 1942). That exhibit highlighted objects from more than 1400 works the Brooklyn Museum had acquired in 1941, the earliest collection of Latin American art by a major American museum.

Today and tomorrow Iwill feature some examples of Spanish Colonial, not-strictly-religious, art from our image library—mostly from the Brooklyn Museum. The Huber collection from which the Worcester exhibition is drawn, has been all over the country, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2013), the San Antonio Art Museum (2016) and the Crocker Art Museum (2016). 

Peru, Kero (beaker), from Cuzco, 1600s–1700s. Wood with inlaid pigment, 7 1/2" x 6 5/16" (19.1 x 16 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-938)

While only wooden kero (beaker) examples survive from the Inka culture of pre-conquest Peru, it is known that other cultures, such as the Chimú, made kero of gold and silver for the elite classes. Wooden kero with inlaid pigment decoration were common among the Inka, usually made in matching pairs for drinking corn beer. This genre of vessel continued among the indigenous Peruvians after the Spanish invasion, independent of any influence by European vessels.

The kero usually had a painted scene of the subjugation of a culture considered hostile to the Inka. This practice continued under Spanish domination. Subjugated people were often beheaded after defeat, and their skulls were sometimes made into kero. This head-form vessel is probably an allusion to that practice. 

Peru, Incense burner, 1600s–1800s. Silver, 8" x 3 13/16" x 3 3/8" (20.3 x 9.8 x 8.6 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-1265)

Silver working was a refined art form among the indigenous Peruvians long before the Spanish conquest. New lodes were discovered and exploited by the Spanish, requiring a large indigenous work force to do the dangerous labor. In 1572, the viceroy passed a law requiring one of every seven native men to work in the mines. This levy of labor lasted throughout the colonial period and was only abolished in 1812.

Native artists easily adapted to new stylistic requirements of their Spanish conquerors. Indian artists played an important role in silversmithing throughout the colonial period. Although European silversmiths began arriving in Peru in the 1600s, native and mestizo artists were numerous in Lima and Cuzco, protected by regulations of the viceroy.

This incense burner, based on a European model, is simple in its surface decoration compared to other silver vessels of the period that were often covered in elaborate volute decoration. This burner has simple, almost neoclassical garland decoration on the lid. Noteworthy is the Indian figure that forms the support of the bowl. Artworks with depictions of the native population were very popular throughout the colonial period, and became popular tourist items during the 1800s.

Peru, Tapestry, from Cajamarca, 1700s. Camelid fiber, 77 3/4" x 67 3/4" (197.5 x 172.1 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-4741)

The textiles of ancient Peru, woven in every known technique for over three thousand years, represent one of the highest achievements of their cultures. Textiles were the most highly prized objects after gold in Peruvian cultures, so the indigenous cultures did not need any weaving lessons from the Spanish. The Inka were a textile-oriented culture, one in which weavings were sometimes used as money. Textiles played a significant role in the burial ceremony, in that the body of the deceased was always wrapped in some sort of weaving.

This piece, an example of sectional weaving in which the different bands were joined by single interlocking junctures, may have been influenced from bed coverings from Alpujarra in Granada, Spain. The central panel is unique because it contains a mermaid accompanied with traditional Inka stylized animals. The single-direction orientation of the central piece, and the four-way orientation of the borders, assigns this to a possible single Spanish influence. 

Check out Part 2 of this series.

Friday, March 10, 2017

It’s All in the Details, part 3

United States, second floor stair landing at Lemon Hill, 1799–1800, Philadelphia. Image © 2017. Davis Art Images. (8S-14645)

I’m not sure if the Benjamin Latrobe-like klismos side chair in the foreground is original to Lemon Hill, but the curving door is. This interesting detail is on the second-floor landing of the central mass of the house in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, one of the finest examples of Federal style architecture. I can honestly say I have never seen a door and door frame follow the curve in a wall! This landing is part of a grand, curving staircase in the central, bayed pavilion of Lemon Hill.

The curving back splat of the chair, as well as the door and frame, may be early examples of steam-bent wood furniture. I can’t imagine cutting the door and frame from a hunk of wood. In a different medium, I have seen window glass in curved bays on some of Latrobe’s (1764–1820) houses on Beacon Hill in Boston.

Lemon Hill was built by a wealthy merchant of Philadelphia Henry Pratt (1761–1838). He bought the Lemon Hill property in 1799 for a little over $14,000 for 43 acres. It included an elegant greenhouse, hot houses, and formal gardens. Pratt had made his money exporting timber and flour to the West Indies starting in the 1780s. He imported molasses (what people used as a sweetener instead of sugar through the 1800s), coffee, wine, and gin.

After Anglo-French war developed during the French Revolutionary period (1792–1793), he shifted his commerce to Hamburg and Bremen, Germany, and eventually traded with China and Latin America. He imported silk and Chinese porcelain into the young United States, some of which can still be seen at Lemon Hill.

United States, Lemon Hill, façade, 1799–1800, Philadelphia. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-6207)


I feel that Antonio Gaudí is one of the most brilliant examples of an artist who fully embraced the spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement in Europe in the late 1800s. This tile work on this early residential commission is much more restrained than some of Gaudí’s later work, such as Guell Park, but it lends a liveliness to the façade’s push-and-pull of projections and recessions. The floral tiles are reminiscent of Spanish Mudejar work, while the contrasting of light and dark tiles reflects Spain’s historic Islamic architectural influence.

Antonio Gaudí (1852–1916), façade ventilation grille faced in glazed brick at Casa Vicens, Barcelona, 1883–1887. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-15123)

Casa Vicens is Gaudí's first residential commission in Barcelona. It sets the tone for his later architecture, representing the ultimate expression of the Arts and Crafts Movements aesthetic in early modernist architecture in Spain. It is an asymmetrical arrangement of masses, with projecting corbels and pilasters, and elaborately carved and decorated chimneys, a staple of Gaudí's mature designs.

The house is a modernist conglomeration of cherished past styles, from Islamic horseshoe windows and brightly colored Spanish Renaissance Mudejar-type tile work, to a modern interpretation of Gothic arches, seen partly above.  

Antonio Gaudí (1852–1916), Casa Vicens, Barcelona, 1883–1887. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-15121)
Correlations to Davis Programs: A Personal Journey: 8.4; A Community Connection: 3.4; The Visual Experience: 11.4, 13.2 14.2; Discovering Art History: 4.2, 4.7, 8.2

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It’s All in the Details, part 2

The sculptural decoration of Hoysala Dynasty (ca. 1050–ca. 1346) architecture is particularly ornate and worth scoping out. In the West, we are so inundated with data about the “sculpture programs” of the Parthenon in Athens, etc. Well, I dare say that the sculpture on many Hindu temples equals, if not surpasses, the sophistication and sheer magnificence of Indian art from their so-called medieval period. Do the repeated horsemen in this deep relief remind you of anything, and yet exceed it in energy? Hmmm, the horsemen of the Panathenaic Procession from the Parthenon? I thought so. These horsemen, not to mention the procession of elephants, make the Parthenon figures look like they’re stuck in cement.

India, Wall base of the Assembly Hall of Prasanna Chennakesava Temple, Somnathapur, completed around 1268. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-10092)

After the fall of the Gupta Dynasty (ca. 320–643 CE) in northern India, six thriving yet separate kingdoms evolved that flourished for hundreds of years. There was a consolidation of the Hindu kingdoms in southern India, as well, by the 700s CE. One of these dynasties was the Hoysala. The first Hoysala kings came from the hills northwest of present-day Halebid, which became their capital around 1060. By the 1200s, the dynasty was the dominant power in southern India.

Prasanna Chennakesava Temple is unique to Dravidian architecture because the main temple has a flat roof, rather than pyramidal. It is also unusual in that it is a triple shrine dedicated to three aspects of Vishnu. Krsna is particularly venerated there. The temple is sometimes called the Star Temple because it has a sixteen-pointed star plan. 

India, Prasanna Chennakesava Temple, Somnathapur, completed around 1268. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-10088)


If the Safavid period was the high point of architecture in Iran, then the Imam Mosque has got to rank as one of the period’s finest achievements. One of the most remarkable aspects of the Imam Mosque is the seven-color ceramic tile decoration which covers it almost entirely. Much of the decoration around the entrance portal, like this example, is formed by multi-colored pieces cut from larger tiles and pieced together to form the complex abstracted floral decoration. In many parts of the dome and minarets, the ceramic was shaped to conform to the curves of the surfaces!

Iran, Glazed wall tile panel from the courtyard of the Imam Mosque, Isfahan, 1612–1666. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-10249)

After 900 years of disunited and foreign (Seljuk Turk and Mongol) rule, the Safavid dynasty united Iran under Shiism. The rule of Abbas I (died 1629) marked the high point of the Safavid period. He moved the capital from the insecure western border established by the Mongols back to Isfahan in central Iran in 1598. The Safavid period is often considered one of the high points of Iranian art.

In order to shore up Safavid influence and prestige, Abbas planned a massive building program in Isfahan, building some of the most beautiful structures in Islam, and making additions to existing Seljuk structures. His new city extended to the south of existing Isfahan. Succeeding shahs continued the building programs in Isfahan up until the disastrous reign (1694–1722) of the Safavid's last ruler, Hossein Safavi (ca.1668–1726).

Iran, entrance portal of Imam Mosque, Isfahan, 1612–1666. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-10246)
Correlations to Davis Programs: A Personal Journey: 8.4; A Community Connection: 3.4; The Visual Experience: 11.4, 13.2 14.2; Discovering Art History: 4.2, 4.7, 8.2

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

It’s All in the Details, part 1

Two weeks ago, my brother visited a friend in Rome and he raved about their visit to the recently re-opened—after almost 20 years—early Christian church of Santa Maria Antiqua. It has some of the oldest Christian paintings and a rich variety of Byzantine-style mosaics. It’s difficult to get a good idea of the overall view of that church because of all of the centuries of add-ons and renovations. It made me think that maybe details of venerable architecture, like the wall paintings in Santa Maria Antiqua, are as fascinating as looking at the overall architecture itself. Over the next few days I will show you some architectural details that I’ve always found noteworthy.

Ancient Mexico, façade detail from North Building of the “Nunnery,” Uxmal, ca. 600–900 CE. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-11400)

This is an example of what art historians call “mosaic stonework.” It is a particularly fine feature of many of the Classic period (ca. 250–900 CE) Mayan buildings, particularly in the Puuc Hills. Typical of such stonework is the inclusion of the hook-nosed masks of the rain god Chac that run vertically down the center of this panel.

We are unfortunately stuck with the nickname “nunnery” from the Spanish conquerors who named everything they saw on Western religious architecture (the only religious architecture they knew). The North Building is probably the most important of the four facing a quadrangle and has 74 interior (corbeled) vaults. It is thought to have been an institution that trained military personnel, priests, or the warrior elite. 

Uxmal was a Mayan-controlled city on the Yucatan in the Puuc Hills. It was firmly under a Mayan dynasty and constructed during the Late Classic period (ca. 600–900 CE). The most flourishing period for the city was between 800 and 1000 CE. The dynasty may have been related to the ruling families of other Puuc cities such as Kabáh, Sayil, and Labná, because there are similarities in architectural styles.

Puuc architectural style also appears in Chichén Itzá, so there may have been connections there as well. In Terminal Classic times (ca. 900–1200 CE), these cities had connections with the Putun Maya (in the Mexican lowlands) who set up expanded trade routes into the Caribbean and what today are Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala.

Ancient Mexico, “Nunnery,” Uxmal, general view, ca. 600–900 CE. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-11397)


When it comes to extravagant vaulting in Gothic buildings, British churches are right up there at the top of the list. Of course, the most famous are those in the cloister ambulatory fan vaults at Gloucester Cathedral (ca. 1350s). It is considered one of the most decorated nave vaults among late Gothic British cathedrals. Although most art history books give bracket dates to the Gothic period as ca. 1200–1400, the style continued in building through the 1400s in northern Europe.

Britain, Nave vault of Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Norwich, mostly 1096–1145, nave rebuilt by 1278, then again in the 1460s. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-24241)

Although one sees the original Romanesque walls of the 12th century nave in Norwich Cathedral, the nave was renovated twice within two hundred years: first after a fire in 1171, and then after the spire was struck by lightning (1463) and the nave roof burned. The original wooden vaulting was replaced with these glorious fan vaults. The short ribs connecting the ribs of the fan vault are called lierne ribs, a French innovation to strengthen the support of the vault. Such vaulting is sometimes known as a lierne vault. The great thing about these added ribs is that it gave the artists who decorated the church an excuse for more decorative bosses at the intersections with the other ribs of the vault. 

Britain, Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Norwich, west façade, mostly 1096–1145, nave rebuilt by 1278, then again in the 1460s. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-24235)
Correlations to Davis Programs: A Personal Journey: 8.4; A Community Connection: 3.4; The Visual Experience: 11.4, 13.2 14.2; Discovering Art History: 4.2, 4.7, 8.2