November 7th, 1997
World Art History 1010
The Great Ages
When we think of history we don’t often think of art. We don’t realize how the history of art can help us learn more about the people, the cultures, and the belief systems of those who lived hundreds and thousands of years before us. Art has developed, influenced, and contributed starting from the great Stone Age to the present day. Art gives an insight into the changes and evolution that man and culture have gone through to become what is today. Art is culture, art is the essence of the people who make it and the best way to appreciate art is to look at the history of it and it’s evolvement through time.
The Great Ages consists of four distinct ages: The Old Stone Age, The New Stone Age, The Bronze Age, and The Iron Age. These four Great Ages is the complete history of art from the beginning to the present day. Each age is named characteristically for the type of material used for that time. Stone was used in the Old and New Stone age, bronze in the Bronze Age, and iron in the Iron Age.
The Great Ages began with The Old Stone Age starting at 100,000 BCE. The people lived in tribes and clans and often moved from place to place, hunting and gathering to live. They believed all life was sacred and all beings were divine, including animals. The tribal teachings taught that man and nature are one. Hunting and gathering was a sacred ritual because they would often believe they were at one with the animal being hunted. Shamens and shamenesses, spiritual healers and seers between the people and spirits of animals, would often lead hunts and call forth the spirit of the animal to which they would ask the animal to offer their life willingly for a successful hunt.
An illustration in Art Through The Ages, 1-4, (Hall of the Bulls found in Lasacux, c 15,000-13,000 b.c. Largest bull approx. 11’6” long) a beautiful cave painting of Bulls. It shows how sacred these animals were to the people. The painter took the time not only to paint such a true to nature image but also purposely put it in a remote location hundreds of feet above the entrance. The location of the painting suggest that it was used as a spiritual image that perhaps shamans would use to communicate with the spirit of the animal.
The Shamans were necessary to the tribe, not only for healing and for favorable hunts but also for communing with the Great Goddess, who represents all forms of life. The Great Goddess is the pivotal figure among the tribal people. She is worshiped and prayed to in hopes that she is fertile and fruitful for, She is the lone creator of all that is. She is female in all aspects, but yet she has male powers. Many consider the Great Goddess to be an androgyne because she is self-created, self-fertilizing, and self-existent. She is both male and female. An Androgyne was thought to have achieved “balance of reason and intuition, of wisdom and compassion”; they are supreme beings. She is the creator of the universe, of life and of death and special rituals would be carried out to insure that she would continue to create.
One of the first images of the Great Goddess is represented in Illustration 1-8 (Venus of Willendorf (Australia), c 28,000-23,000 b.c. Limestone, approx. 4?“ high. Naturhistorisches museum, Vienna). She is only 4 inches tall, but a very sacred piece of sculpture. Her body is significantly voluptuous, representing fertility. She appears to be pregnant and her breasts heavy with milk. She is faceless, emphasizing that She is everything. She has no particularity, no image, because she is beyond particularization, she is everything known to man in the universe.
As 10,000 BCE came around so came about the starting of the New Stone Age and the end of the Old. In the Old Stone Age, the Great Goddess, alone made the universe, but as the New Stone Age emerged, it was thought that she needed a male partner. This is one of the significant differences between the Old and New Stone age.
The thought that the Goddess needed a partner in the creation of the universe led to the partnership between the Great Goddess and Great God. In the New Stone Age rarely is this partnership broken. Neither can create without the other, they are equal in all aspects and due to the mindset of their theology, gender equality was very consistent in the New Stone age society. An annual ritual would often be reenacted to show the Sacred Marriage of the Goddess and God in the creation of the universe. One of the more common examples of the divine couple is Father Sky and Mother Earth.
A further representation of the sacred marriage is the Stonehenge, 1-21 (Stonehenge, arial view, c 2000 b.c. 97 diameter; trilithons approx. 24’ high. Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England), an annual renewal ritual, where the beam of light, entering through the Stonehenge at sunrise. It is physically and sexually symbolic of the ultimate act of the creation of all life and form.
During this time Shamans were increasingly important because they performed many ceremonial rituals. The amount of regular spiritual rituals increased due to the fact that the tribes had gotten larger. Many kinds of rituals would be performed from hunting and fertility rituals to initiation rituals. An example of a initiation ritual is illustrated in 4-7 (Bull-leaping (Toreador Fresco), from the palace of Knossos, c. 1450-1400 b.c. Approx. 32” high, including border. Archeological Museum, Herakleion.) . Initiation rituals were life and death acts that altered the mindset of a child into a young adult. In the Bull-leaping scene, young men and women face death head on at the horns of a Bull. They are meant to grab on to the horns and leap over the Bull. Even in this particular initiation ritual, the presence of gender equality is clear, with the young man leaping across the Bull’s back into the arms of a young woman, which shows they had confidence and belief in each other’s ability.
Gender quality continued into the Bronze Age, which made its start in 4000-3000 BCE. People continued to farm and began living in semi-urban areas. The Bronze Age is the earliest beginning of civilization, where the ability to write, monumental architecture, and monumental sculpture were present. These kinds of societies were overseen by a semi-shamanic theocracy, which is a “bureaucracy of literate priests and priestesses”. In this Age society gave priests and priestesses equal power and respect as the divinities because of their services to the Great Goddess and God.
Bronze Age cultures are classified with civilizations that used bronze but not all civilizations in the Bronze Age used bronze and such is the Mesoamerican empires that thrived in the Bronze Age but lacked the use of bronze. One of the distinct characteristics of the Bronze Age, is the common use of pyramids. Egypt is quite famous for their pyramids an example is 3-8 (Great Pyramids (Dynasty IV) of Gizeh. From left: Menkaure, c. 2525-2475 b.c.; Khafre, c. 2575-2525 b.c.; Khufu, c. 2600-2550 b.c.) These were gigantic pieces of structures that were ceremonial centers for the characteristically large populated cities of The Bronze Age.
One of the strong votes for Mesoamerica as a Bronze Age culture is their use of pyramid shaped architectures. An example of such a structure is the Temple of the Giant Jaguar, 17-8 (Temple I, Maya, Tikal, El Peten, Guatemala, Classic c. 700). This Temple is a step like pyramid characteristic of Mesoamerica and reaches a height of 144 feet. These pyramids were sacred structures that were said to be the home of the Great Goddess and God. They overlooked a vast area so as to be seen by the whole of the city to give the people a sense of being with one with the spirits.
The Bronze Age still maintained much of the traditions of the Old and New Stone Ages, but slowly as towns grew and people started losing their identity with nature, something called individualism came into being. Capitalism replaced herding and farming. Tribalism was slowly being replaced by individualism, where “we” was turning into “I” and where sprit and matter are not longer one but separate. Great changes occurred in the Iron Age, which started in the West in 1200 BCE and spread and still continues, to the present day.
The Iron Age came into being with the use of iron in tool and weapon making. With weapon increasingly stronger and more advanced; violence and destruction and hence power began to over take the mind set of many people; leading to destruction and barbaric acts. These barbarians were warriors who gave little or no regard to the Goddess. They saw females as mere objects and pieces of property. The once Great Goddess was no longer sacred. It was due to her worship that spirited gender equality in the Stone and Bronze Age. The Iron Age became primarily male oriented, which in turn changed many aspects of the culture from past history.
The Iron Age consists of stages; beginning with the Early Iron Age starting 1500/1200 BCE, where Greek art was very dominant. The art itself was very individualistic and had become secular. Artists were painting for themselves and in a very optical realistic way. Artists who were eager to show the individualism of their subjects were creating full human forms, free standing, and secular. An example of such a subject is Michaelangelo’s David, 22-19 (1501-1504. Marble, 14’3” high. Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence.)
One of the significant developments in the later part of the Early Iron Age was the rise of monotheistic cultures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Monotheisum emerged from within a male dominated society, where priestesses, women, played no roles in religious matters as they once had in the Ages before, now only priests remain. Gender balance had come to an end. The Great Goddess was completely pushed out; putting to an end the great partnership that had been the essence of so many cultures. At the end only one God remained who was solely male.
With the fall of Rome in 500 CE so marked the end of the Early Iron Age and the beginning of the Middle Iron Age. The fall of Rome had little impact on Christianity; churches began popping up, with extravagant gothic architecture. Many churches had high volt ceilings; attached figures that seem almost unattached as if floating alongside the edifice and stained glass windows that were mystically illuminated with the sun’s rays. 13-29 (Interior of Ste.-Chapelle), 13-33 (St. Martin, St. Jerome, and St Gregory, c. 1220-1230, from the Porch of the Confessors, Chartres Cathedral France.).
The beginning of the Renaissance around 1500 CE is considered the start of the Late Iron Age, which is still on going. The Renaissance was the age of enlightenment the rebirth of learning and culture where men were going beyond their ability, where artists were considered geniuses, and private pleasure became the subject of art. Great artists like Leonardo de Vinci, Raphael, and Titian emerged from the great period of the Renaissance; they were not only geniuses, but also great individual intellects, who defined the greatness of art. Individualism still prevails today and is the very core of modern society. Male-dominated societies still exist, but slowly the demand for equality is changing that. During the Four Great Ages, many things have changed, many things have been lost, but time has not taken a sudden halt, nor the art; people, cultures, and mentalities continue to grow and change, and from growth comes greatness.
Arts and Painting