Monday, December 18, 2017

A Multicultural Proclaimer

Iran, The Archangel Gabriel, page from a dispersed manuscript of Wonders of Creation by Qazvini, 1500s. Ink and opaque watercolor on paper, 10 7/8" x 7" (27.7 x 18 cm). © 2017 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-1407)

Westerners usually think of the Archangel Gabriel in terms of Christmas cards depicting the Annunciation, when he proclaimed to Mary that she would conceive Jesus. Well, it turns out that he was a multicultural proclaimer, serving as God’s messenger in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths. The angel is mentioned several times in the Qur’an, although there are various interpretations of his status by scholars. However, scholars all agree that it was Gabriel (Jibril, or Jibrail) who made the really big announcement to Muhammad that he was chosen to be a prophet by God.

In the ninety-sixth chapter of the Qur’an (96:1-5), the archangel Gabriel appears to Muhammad while he is in the wilderness of Hira (near Mecca) meditating and trying to figure out his spiritual life away from all of the evils in the world. Gabriel basically tells Muhammad that God needs him to put forth God’s message, and to write down God’s teachings. The archangel helped him overcome his protests that he could not read or write, ultimately convincing Muhammad, “Read in the name of your lord and cherisher who created…He who taught the use of pen; Taught man that which he did not know.”

This passage, in which Muhammad is instructed to write the Qur’an, more or less, is so interesting in light of how significant calligraphy became in the art forms of Islamic lands. The emphasis on the written word in the Qur’an is so strong that, by the Middle Islamic Period (ca. 750–1258), literacy in Islamic lands was greater than in Western Europe. 

So, this image of Gabriel is not simply the result of the influence of Western European manuscripts from the Renaissance, because angels already existed in Islamic thought. In fact, winged, supernatural beings in human form have existed for thousands of years in the art of the Middle East. This figure of Gabriel bears the typical stylistic traits of Safavid Iranian court painting in the attenuated, elegant figure in a shallow landscape that resembles the millefleur designs of French Renaissance tapestries. The wings resemble paintings of seraphim, the angels of upper high heaven in European paintings. 

France, Triumph of Eternity from the Château de Chaumont Tapestry series, from the Loire Valley, ca. 1512–1515. Wool and silk, 125 ¾" x 148 5/8" (319.3 x 377.6 cm). © 2017 Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of various donors, by exchange. (CM-492)

Book illustration became a dominant form of artistic expression during the Middle Period. Although the Qur’an forbids the representation of any being with a soul, secular books began to portray religious scenes. This image comes from Abu Yahya Zakariya ibn Muhammad Ibn Mahmud-al-Qazvini’s (ca. 1203–1283) book Wonders of Creation. This book, divided in two sections, focuses on celestial phenomena (such as angels, constellations, and planets) and the earthly world (geography, ethnology, zoology, and botany). Qazvini, educated mostly in Bagdhad, was primarily a compiler of information from various sources.

In many ways, this book is similar to the Book of the Marvels of the World (Livre des Merveilles du Monde), a French compilation of numerous sources on similar subjects, both religious and scientific, ca. 1460. Talk about a global village. Wonders of Creation became very popular in Mughal India (1526–1756), where the Safavid style of illustrating books had great influence on Mughal painting.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Experience Painting: 1; Discovering Art History: 4.7, 7.3; Discovering Art History Digital: 4.7, 7.3; The Visual Experience: 14.2

Monday, December 11, 2017

Don’t Look Now…

Edna Andrade (1917–2008, US), Veil Drawing 3, 1974-1979. Graphite and watercolor on paper, 15 ½" x 10" (39.4 x 25.4 cm). Image © 2017 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-4232)

I may be a broken record on the subject, but in my virtual art history wanderings, I come across so many artists who have been significant in some aspect of the history of art, and yet they are not generally known about. What is always fascinating to me is the connections they have with the “greats” of art history, and how it affected their work. Take Edna Andrade, for example. A fascinating artist, she developed her work in what has to be one of the seminal periods of twentieth-century art, the 1940s and 1950s. She’s absolutely brilliant, and I would like to share some of her work with you.

Andrade once commented that her works were meant to be totally visual. In other words, there is no narrative or story to go with them. It’s interesting that her Op Art pieces were also influenced by architecture, philosophy, mathematics, and design. One can certainly see the latter two disciplines in her work. I think another big influence on her work was the 1965 show “The Responsive Eye” at the Museum of Modern Art. That show featured works by artists such as Bridget Riley (born 1931), whose black and white illusionistic paintings I’m certain Andrade saw.

Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, Andrade’s parents encouraged her to draw and paint from the age of eight. She achieved a BFA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. After her studies, she taught art at the elementary level in Norfolk, VA. While travelling after World War II (1939–1945), Andrade became acquainted with Bauhaus abstraction and German modernism. Bauhaus influenced her strong emphasis on design, color, and abstraction.

In much of her early work, Andrade shows the influence of Surrealism and Cubism. A large part of her early body of work included watercolor collage and ink drawings of abstracted landscapes. In the 1950s she painted abstract, geometric works in a limited palette. This interest in precision and geometry led to her interest in Op Art in the 1960s. Influences on her style included Paul Klee (1879–1940), Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), and Bauhaus geometric abstractionist Josef Albers (1888–1976).

Edna Andrade, Disappearing Man and Conch Shell, 1948.Opaque watercolor on paper, 8 1/8" x 9 ¾" (20.6 x 24.8 cm). Image © 2017 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-4329)
This early work suggests the work of Salvador Dalí (1904–1989), and the influence of Surrealism.

Edna Andrade, Cape Ann Beach, 1958. Pastel on paper, 22 3/8" x 29 ¾" (56.8 x 75.6 cm). Image © 2017 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-6593)
Even while experimenting with Surrealism and abstraction, Andrade continued to produce beautiful landscapes such as Cape Ann Beach. In her treatment of the rocks that dominate this work, one can see how she began to section elements of a composition—in the case of this work, the rock forms—into an abstract configuration such as is seen below. 

Edna Andrade, Star Night, 1967. Screenprint on paper, 29" x 29" (73.7 x 73.7 cm). Image © 2017 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-6424)
In her fully-developed Op Art pieces like this, Andrade’s work definitely takes on an aesthetic similar to that of Riley, and particularly Victor Vasarely (1906–1997).
Correaltions to Davis Programs: Explorations in Art 5 3.15, 3.16; Discovering Art History 17.2; Discovery Art History Digital 17.2

Monday, December 4, 2017

Temple on Active Volcano’s Slopes!

Bali, Indonesia, Pura Besakih (Mother Temple), view from the Pura Penataran Agung, 900s–1300s CE. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-10151)

I’m naturally concerned for Pura Besakih (Mother Temple). It is situated on the slopes of Mount Agung, which is currently causing havoc with its eruption in Bali. It survived a major eruption of the volcano in 1963, when the lava miraculously parted and flowed around the temple. It would truly be tragic if anything happens to this treasure. That would also include ignorant, disrespectful tourists taking crude selfies, as recently happened Wat Arun in Thailand!

Pura Besakih is a complex of twenty-three temples that sit on parallel stepped terraces. Each of these temples has a “meru,” a tiered, pagoda-like tower that reflects the built-up pyramidal shapes found in Indonesian temples. In both cases, the rising form symbolizes the legendary Mount Meru, a golden mountain that stands in the center of all creation outside of the physical plane. The pura itself is built on the side of Mount Agung, considered a sacred mountain, and the stairs that connect each terrace represent a symbolic ascent of Mount Meru toward the Hindu gods. 

Besakih temple was originally a terraced temple dedicated to the dragon god Besakih, who is believed to inhabit Mount Agung. After annexation by the Majapahit rulers in the 1300s, the temple was dedicated to Hindu gods. The merus at Besakih consist of a masonry base about three feet (one meter) in height with a wooden ante-chamber raised on stilts. The ante-chamber is surmounted by a series fiber-thatched roofs in diminishing size. Various relics are buried in parts of each meru to make them acceptable to receive visits by the deities. The number of roofs is always an odd number, related to the god for which the temples are a temporary residence. Eleven tiered-temples such as these are usually dedicated to the highest gods in the Hindu pantheon, such as Siva, Brahma, or Vishnu. 

Bali, Indonesia, Pura Besakih (Mother Temple), gargoyle figures, 900s–1300s CE. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-10152)

“Gargoyles” in the temple precinct served the same function as guardian demons in Buddhist temples, or gargoyles on Christian cathedrals: ward off evil. 

Bali, Indonesia, Pura Besakih (Mother Temple), view of the temple precinct from the Pura Penataran Agung, 900s–1300s CE. Image © 2017 Davis Art Images. (8S-10150)

Fossilized human remains indicate that prehistoric Bali was occupied going back to the Paleolithic era, as early as 248,000 BCE. Cave paintings and jewelry made from animal bones have been found on the island of Sulawesi, northeast of Bali, that date between 38,000 and 20,000 BCE. Bali was occupied by Austronesian migrants sometime between 3500 and 2000 BCE, judging by the existence of stone tools and earthenware vessels near Cekik in west Bali.

The Austronesian migration southward toward New Guinea, and ultimately Australia, originated on the mainland of Southeast Asia. Rice, raised in China as far back as 9,000 BCE, extended to Indonesia around 1500 BCE, and possibly to Bali by 900 BCE. Metal artifacts discovered near Cekik indicate that Bali's bronze age had begun by 300 BCE.

Bali received Indian and Chinese migrants starting in the 100s CE. Hinduism had begun to spread by the 400s CE, and Buddhism by the 500s. By the 900s, rice cultivation was active in Bali. Bali became a colony of the Majapahit Empire (flourished 1293–1520 CE) in 1343. When that empire declined in the 1400s due to the growth of Islamic kingdoms in Java, there was a large migration to Bali of Javanese artists.

The word “pura” originates from the Sanskrit word “puri,” which means “walled city,” “city,” “towered city,” or “palace.” In Balinese architecture, it has come to symbolize a Hindu temple complex. Because so many have been built there, Bali is sometimes called the “Island of a thousand Puras.” Most Balinese temple complexes, like Besakih, were planned in three zones: outer, middle, and inner courtyards, each containing a number of shrines.

Correlations to Davis programs:  A Global Pursuit: 8.5; The Visual Experience: 13.3; Discovering Art History: 4.5; Discovering Art History Digital: 4.5