Essay, Research Paper
Art as Reflection of Anciant Civilization
Ancient Egytian and Greek sociaties both made significant contributions to western civilization, specificaly in the areas of politics and social structure. The political system of antient Egypt was primarily based on the religios belife that the Pharoah was a divine entity, while Greek politics were based in a democratic system that valued individuals in a unique way. The poitical and social advancments of both Greek and Egyption civilizations are best reflected in the advancement of each cultures artwork.
In the early kingdom of the Egyption civilization the Pharoah rulled as a God-King and dictated the religion and laws of the land. He promoted a polytheistic religion that was used to explain natural phinaminans and life after death. Accourding to this religion all Egyptions not only the ruling class were offered the hope of survival in the next world, as a reward for a good life in the present world. The idea of a good life is defined by the devotees accomplisments in the eyes of Osiris ?the judge of the dead?. Funeral services were divised to exeplify these belifes and help to guid the spirit of the dead into the afterlife (Cunningham and Reich, 6). The ridged structure of this Thocracy greatly limited individualism in all aspect of life, but most importantly art.
The art of the Early kingdom was prodominetly bassed on the divinity of the Pharoh, and his statuse in sociaty. The most famuse example of the Theocracies influance on art would be the Great Spinx and the Pyramids of Chefren. These emence works of art were created to show the importance and divine power of the Pharoah, as well as, to serve as a burial tomb. The Sphix itself is sculped with great percisian and close attension was paid to the basic anatimy of the human face, but the fetures of the Pharoah are idialize. ?It is a portiat not of an individual but of the concept of divinity? (Cunningham and Reich, 9). The lion body, falcon headdress and transendental stare of the Sphinx shows a certain calmness and mystery, that encapsalates the ideal perfection of the ideal perfection of the Pharoah.
In the Middle Kindom Akhenaton came to power and changed the religius structure of Egypt. He belived in a monotheistic system that placed all faith in one God, Aton-Ra. Akhenaton did not dipict himself as an all powerfull God-King, but a messenger through which Aton-Ra spoke (qtd. Picco). The changes in the role of the Pharoah, dramaticaly changed the art of the time. Art began to dipict more physical human characteristics, and less divine idialism. A stone relife that shows the royal couple and their three children sitting under the raise of the sun God is a good example of this change. No longer is the Pharoah dipicted as the most important figure in Egyption art, and for the first time other people are shown on the same level as the Pharoah (qtd. Picco).
This monothiestic reign strongly conflicted with the interest of the priests, ?who had a vested interest in preserving the old polytheistic traditions? (Conningham and Reich, 11). Directly following his death Akhenatons seccessors eched his name from the historical monuments and brought back the traditional polytheistic religion (Conningham and Reich, 11). By the end of the New Kingdom art was back to the standards of the Old Kingdom. Large pyramids and high relife sculpture that idialized the divinity and greatness of the Pharoahs were once angain built, and the monotheistic art of the late Middle Kingdom was forgotten. The influance of this poleithistic rleigion became so strong, that even direct contact with occupying cultures did not effect the art of the New Kingdom (Conningham and Reich, 12).
Greek civilization placed much more importance on individuals, rather than on a single king or God. Greace was broken up into City States and ruled by a number of politision, much like our present consept of democrocy. The religion of the time was poleithistic, but because of the seperation of the City States, it never developed the structure of the preceading Egyptian religion. The Greaks ?used their religion to illuminate their own lives, rather than to give them divine guidance.? ?They turned to art and literiture, rather than prayer, as a means of trying to discover themselves? (Conningham and Reich, 36-37). This enphicis on self spawned new beliefs about mans order in the universe. Contrairy to Egyptian belifes, the Greeks did not see their Gods as the center universe, and belived that they as humans had some controle over their own destiny (Conningham and Reich, 39).
The freedom to explore the self allowed the Greeks to make advances in mathmatics, philosophy, and art. The advances in philosophy and mathematics had direct influance on the art of the time. This is first seen in the Protogeometric and Geometric art of the first three centuries of Greek civilizations. These unique styles show a meticuluse order and persion that was not seen in any preciading period. As the domanint style changed from Protogeometric to Geometric this order and persion was aplified. The populare ?circle and semicirlce paterns were replaced by linear disigns, zigzags, triangles, diamonds, and meanders? (Conningham and Reich, 40). The increased interest in order, seems to have been a relfection of the Greek fascination with nature, and mans relationship to nature.
This interest in the order of nature, eventualy evolved into a fasonation with the human form and the idea of human perfection. Although early Greek sculpture highly resembled Egyptian cult statues, distict diferaces in design made Greek sculpture remarkably unique, and in consiquence showed a major difference in the Greek social stucture, and thier view the man. The first and probably most improtant diference of the Greek sculptural disign was that the figures were mainly shown as nude (Conningham and Reich, 44). This variation on the basic Egyption sculpture shows a definet seperation from the rigid class system of Egypt. By removing clothes from the human figure the pure and true identity of the subject is revealed. The subject is no longer seen as a product of sociaty but as a creation of nature.
This view of man was futher explored as Greek thought continude to progress. This progress is best shown by examing the change in stile from the Kouros, form Attica to the Kritios Boy, from Acropolis. The Kouros, from Attica showed a difinet atempt to revele the true human form. Although the sculpter put great effort into portraing the real muscle and bone structure to the subject, he still uses the transendental stare that was so popular in Egyption relife. As Greek philosophy progressed, the idea the human perfection was further explored in the arts. By 490 B.C. the Kritios Boy, from Acropolis was created and the perfect human form was found. The extemely accurate portrail of human anatimy and the realism of the facial expretion, are exeplified by the relaxed stance of the figure. ?For the first time in ancient art the figure is no longer looking or walking stright ahead? (Conningham and Reich, 44). His head and sholders are shifted to one side while his hips are shifted to the opposit side, and his wieght is placed on one leg. This was the most advanced and realistic portrail of a human figure in the history of anchient art, and is a direct reflection of the Greek interest in the true nature of man.
The changes in art from the begining of Egyptian civilization to the early stages of Greek civilization reflect the evolution of human thought and social structure. The Egyption art of the Old Kindom portrade a ridged and powerful Theocracy that gave little room for personal interpritation of art. In the Middle Kingdom Akhenaton lead the first artistic revolution by introducing a new religius system. But after his death, religion and art both reterned to the tradisional style of the Old Kingdom. The Greeks however took on a new view of the heavens in wich they put less emphasis on the Gods and more emphasis on the human spirit. This new belife system allowed the Greeks to break away from a rigid social structure and explore the human form in it?s most pure state.
Culture and Values
Lawrence Cunnincham, John Reich