Friday 12 July 2013

Evolution of sacred art

I was reading an article recently regarding Hinduism and other traditional ethnic religions, and I found this part especially interesting:

"Neo pagans (polytheists) often use images of gods and goddesses as they were depicted during pre-Christian era. Similarly Hindus had images of Hindu gods and goddesses that belonged to ancient periods. But unlike images of gods and goddesses of the pagans, Hindu imagery of gods and goddesses has undergone great transformation, starting with the emergence of printing press in 19th century. The images were enhanced to appear super realistic, well ornamented and clothed, with an aura surrounding their head. These images of Krishna, Durga and Shiva invoke great appeal and arose the feeling of devotion and great admiration... the feeling of devotion becomes predominant which help one to focus and unite with the universal consciousness without being perturbed by other feelings."

This got me thinking about evolution of art in Canaanite religion.  Now, obviously, the evolution of culture in Canaan (including art) is somewhat different to the Greek (which includes Pre-Archaic, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods, as well as Modern images) or the Indian (which includes Ancient, Medieval, and Modern).  Though with Canaan, art could be influenced by surrounding cultures.  I've divided them into different eras: Early, Ancient, Classical, Late Antiquity/Byzantine/Medieval, and Modern.  Hopefully you will enjoy this sacred journey through our sacred art:

Early Period:

The earliest era of art showed figures.  They were often lacking in major details, but still very interesting and beautiful to look at.   

A woman with an exaggerated vulva, carrying a pot

They showed figures, sometimes warrior gods and protective gods, other times female figures associated with fertility, and other times animals (animals are often sacred to the gods in Canaanite religion). 

A ram
This early form of art shows some symbolism which will become more apparent later.  The art style present in the early period was very common at the time.  Many ancient households possessed some of these figures, while others (especially those of gods) were in the temples.

A tall warrior god, made of bronze, in a smiting pose.  He wears a crown similar to the crown of the Egyptian god Amun.  This early era of Canaanite art seems to have an influence on very early pre-archaic Greek art as well.  Figures similar to this show up in Thessaly to represent Achilles, one thousand years later

Ancient Period:

At some time during the middle Bronze Age, Canaanite civilization began to flourish like it had never seen before.  The many city-states grew prosperous, and the art does seem to get slightly more complex as well.  Images of gods, animals, warriors, and kings show up with their own iconography.  The winged solar disc, coming as an art motif from the Hittites, begins to show up a lot.

A lion scarab

Statue of El

Attention to detail begins to become more apparent, as does the design on the robes and crowns of the kings and gods.  Iconography such as the horns on a god's crown show how powerful he is.

A prince from Ugarit

Ivories from Megiddo show remarkable detail present, sometimes incorporating foreign motifs from Egypt, and even foreign gods like Bes.

A sphinx ivory

These images are again used in temples and homes, and sometimes even to decorate furniture and buildings, including the royal palace of the king.

A statue of Resheph

A statue of Baal, again in the 'smiting' pose

Also common at this time is the image of the mortal king coming into the presence of one of the gods, usually El, as can be seen in the story of King Keret.  It also has similarities from in Mesopotamia.  Images of the king also show him on his throne greeted by his attendants and royal court, and his servants.

A king on his throne with his attendants and palace staff

Classical Period:

With the climax of the Bronze Age, the Iron Age began slow but eventually brought a new age of prosperity.  The images begin to become more 'lifelike' and three dimensional, showing even more attention to detail.

A youth praying

A lion attacking a youth, possibly a Cushite

Scarabs also pay more attention to space, dimensions, clothing, and detail.  They also give a more three dimensional portrayal of the human figure.

Scarab showing the head of a soldier, with his helmet resting atop his head

A warrior on horseback greets another soldier with a dog, on this scarab.  The art is more three dimensional than earlier art, and it pays more attention to clothing
Statues of Melqart, showing more attention to his body and the naked human physique

A winged horse, on a coin, showing a lot of detail, and suggesting flight and movement
A votive statue of a child, three dimensional and showing much detail on the human figure
A youth praying, wearing his kappu amulet.  He has jewelry, including an earring.  Oddly, he is naked, which is odd for praying
Melqart, again showing detail to the human physique
Abd-Melqart Baraq, famous general and father of the famous Hannobaal
The goddess Tanit playing a musical instrument.  The attention to detail is striking
A stele showing a priest and a winged sun disc above, symbolizing the omnipresence of divinity.  The figures become more 'lifelike' than they were in earlier times
The twin gods, Kastor and Polydeukes
A fearsome grotesque demon, used on temples to scare away evil spirits.  A lot of attention is paid to the facial expressions

Art on sarcophagus becomes popular, including scenes of banqueting, and scenes from the life of Alexander the Great are common themes.                       
A sarcophagus for a governor, showing him reclining and banqueting.  The design includes a palm tree motif
From a Roman arch, built for the emperor, showing the city's protective gods (Melqart and Shadrapa) in a chariot along with the city's Gad (Fortune)

Late Antiquity/Byzantine/Medieval Era:

Nearing late antiquity, the influence of Christian and Jewish art (itself influenced by art of the polytheists, and used to decorate churches and synagogues in the same way as temples were decorated) becomes more apparent.  Colossal statues of gods begin to fill the temples (they were very small before that).  The art becomes so extravagant and devotional.  The gods are shown with haloes, representing their divinity.  Frescoes and mosaics, decorating walls and floors, become very common.  Anachronisms also abound: early Philistine soldiers are shown dressed as Romans from contemporary times, and figures from the Bronze Age are shown in Byzantine/Early Medieval dress.  Symbolism becomes highly important.  Scenes from dramas and plays (which re-enacted myths) are also used as a basis for the art showing the stories from the myths themselves.  Scenes from the creation up until the present day were shown.

The Roman goddess Diana with a deer, on a mosaic

Temple roof decoration, showing an angel with vines, representing fertility triumphing over sterility

A temple roof carving showing Queen Cleopatra of Egypt with an asp

A mosaic showing the abduction of Europa.  This scene and myth, because it deals with the city of Tyre, became popular

A colossal statue of Marna

A mosaic showing scenes of vines and ecstatic joy
Scenes showing soldiers offering sacrifices to gods, the goddess Atar'atah (with a halo), and various Gads (Fortunes)

Fresco scene from an ancient battle between Israel and the Philistines.  The Philistines are shown wearing early Medieval dress and they have captured the Ark of the Covenant, associated with the god Yahweh, from the Israelites

These images tend to emphasize life over death, a central theme of Canaanite religion.

Modern Era:

Finally, the modern era has seen many beautiful works of art, many of these being devotional pieces.  They are useful in devotion to the deities and help focus on their adorable forms.




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