Dear Poet Friends, being fond of Art, I wanted to compose on
this topic for a long time in a simplified form! Egyptian Art and
Architecture influenced the Early Greeks, who in turn influenced the Romans and other civilizations! Initially Art and architecture, religion and culture, were all closely inter-related! Real distinction emerged with the Italian Renaissance. Here I have used only a portion of my personal notes. Hope you find this interesting to read! Sorry for the length! Kindly give Comments after you have managed to read the entire portion in your spare time. Thanks, -Raj
INTRODUCTION TO THE STORY
OF WESTERN ART IN VERSE:
* BY RAJ NANDY
Art over the centuries has been variously defined,
But an all embracing definition is rather hard to find!
Ayn Rand defined Art as a recreation of reality according to
artist’s values, his view of existence, and choice;
Who recreates by a selective rearrangement of the elements
of reality, and not simply out of a void!
Study of Art History is a study of man’s creative evolution;
A progress of his wakened consciousness, and a restless
striving towards perfection!
The progress of his mind, taste and skill, which has gradually
evolved through past traditions;
Finding ultimate expression in his multi-faceted creations!
I commence this story from its earliest days, and mention those
Ancient Civilizations which influenced Art in many ways.
Art has been greatly influenced by religion, culture and history;
Therefore, knowing these aspects becomes necessary to
fully appreciate this Art Story!
PREHISTORIC STONE AGE ART:
Let us take a ride on the magic carpet of History, down
past millenniums to begin our Art Story;
Right into the ancient Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic
Eras of the Stone Age,
When early humans left their creative imprints on rock
surfaces and on walls of caves!
Long before the evolution of any proper coherent speech
In some 350 caves of France and Spain are seen paintings
of large wild animals like horses, antelopes and bison;
Bearing witness to the story of gradual human evolution!
The cave paintings of Chauvet, Cosquer, and Lascaux, date
between 8000 and 1700 BC,
Drawn by nameless and faceless people who emerged from
an inhospitable Ice Age;
Those nomadic tribes who were hunter-gatherers living in
The Story of Art therefore begins before recorded History,
Pieced together by scholars with the help of science and
During the Neolithic Period beginning around 8,000BC,
Ancient man became gradually sedentary, engaging in
agriculture and animal husbandry!
With these nomads settling down in small communities,
Art became mystical and monumental in range;
As seen in the megalithic (large stone) structures of the
This type of post and lintel structure is also found in ancient
Egyptian architecture, and later in Greece as its special
Art History spans the entire history of mankind,
Right from the pre-historic days, up to our modern times!
Man’s everlasting quest for immortality lies etched on
rocks and raised stone edifices, defying marauding Time!
MESOPOTAMIAN ART (3500-300BC) :
Let us now travel fast forward on our magic carpet to reach
the Fertile Crescent,
Where the Tigress and the Euphrates Rivers flow, to the
Ancient Civilization of the Sumerians! (3500-2300BC)
The birth of civilization has been traced to Southern
Mesopotamia, where the Sumerians built their first cities,
As the earliest River Valley Civilization around 3500 BC!
It was a period when writing got invented in its earliest
Cuneiform form; (around 3400 BC)
When Patriarch Abraham established the worship of a Single
God, in a revolutionary religious reform! (Judaism)
Mesopotamian Civilization as the source of our earliest
surviving Art dates back to 3500BC;
When major civilizations like the Sumerian, Akkadian,
Babylonian, Hitties, Assyrian, and the Persians, in this
chronological sequence, contributed to Art History!
Mesopotamian Art in general glorified their powerful rulers
and their connection with divinity;
Reflected on their city gates, palace complexes and ziggurats,
are scenes of both victorious wars and their prosperity!
Art was then highly functional and repetitive; depicting
love of beauty, a sense of order, and power of hierarchy,
- in their sculptures and motifs.
However, no signatures were ever found bearing the name
of the Artist!
It is interesting to note that both the potter’s wheel and the
cart wheel, made their first appearance around 3500 BC
and 3200 BC respectively;
With the Sumerians contributing to art and culture, and the
progress of Human Civilization immensely!
(Ziggurats are semi-pyramid like structures with steps, a temple complex located in the center of all ancient Sumerian cities-states! Saragon the Great of Akkad from the North, defeated the Sumerians in the South, & united entire Mesopotamia around 2300 BC, for the first time in Mesopotamian History, & they ruled for 200 years.)
ANCIENT EGYPTIAN ART :(3000 BC -500BC)
Next we travel to an isolated area of north-east Africa,
Where the White Nile flows down from Lake Victoria.
The Nile enters Upper Egypt traveling through Sudan,
Is joined by the Blue Nile at Khartoum to become one!
Continues its flow north through Egypt Lower, flowing
into the Mediterranean as the World’s longest river!
Historian Herodotus had called Egypt ‘the gift of the Nile’;
Ancient Egypt became a rich treasure trove of art and
architecture for all times!
The Nile valley area was protected by the desert on its
east and the west;
In the north by the Mediterranean, and towards the
south by a rugged mountainous terrain!
Annual flooding of the Nile along with an effective
Ensured Egypt’s prosperous stability, congenial for her
many innovative architectures and art works!
Egyptian Art got shaped by her geography, mythology
and her polytheistic religion;
Also by their preoccupation with after-life and belief in
the immortal soul’s continuation;
Thus elaborate funeral rites were performed by priests for
the body’s preservation by mummification! *
(’KA’= was a real astral twin or stellar double of an Individual, which continued to exist even after death, requiring the same sustenance as the humans, so food offerings were made in the coffins! ‘BA’= shaped like a human-headed bird, composed of non-physical attributes of an Individual. ‘BA’ collected the deceased’s personality after death from the mummified remains & united it with the ‘KA’, making a person complete; thereby making it possible for the person to be reborn as ‘AKH’ (Star), - in its ultimate unchanging form, to join Osiris in the ‘Happy Fields’! Since this journey to the next world was fraught with danger, magical funerary spells & rites were performed by the priests, with incantations from the ‘Book of the Dead’, inside the funeral chamber of the Pyramid!)
Art During Old, Middle, and New Kingdom Period:
Egyptian Art was concerned with ensuring continuity of the
universe, their Gods, the King and the people;
A projection into eternity a version of reality pure and free
from all earthly evil!
Therefore in ancient Egyptian society, conformity over
individuality was always encouraged;
Artists worked in groups with conservative adherence to
rules, order and form,
And all individual artistic initiatives strictly discouraged !
Their earliest pyramids the Mastaba, the Step, and the Bent
Pyramids were all prototypes;
While the Great Pyramid of Giza built for Pharaoh Kufu,
- was the first true pyramid which still survives!
Art comes down to us as ‘funerary art’ designed for the tombs,
Which was to accompany the royalty in their journey to an
afterlife, with its symbolic forms!
This symbolism is seen in their paintings, statues and architecture;
In vibrant color codes of their paintings as a special feature!
Where White was the symbol of purity, Black for death and night;
Green for vegetation or new life, Blue for water and the sky;
Red for life and victory, and Yellow like Gold as the flesh of the
Gods and also the Sun God ruling the sky!
Thanks to Jean-Francois Champollion’s translation of the Rosetta
We are able to decipher many mysteries of the Ancient Egyptian
with the cracking of the Hieroglyphic Code!
Larger than life statues with poise and austere harmony at the
Luxor Temple complex survive;
Symbolic of the individual’s status, while creating zones of
strangeness for imagination to thrive!
(’Matsaba’= Egyptian for ‘bench’, referred to bench shaped pyramids;
“Step Pyramids” = were like benches placed one on top of the other in
a tapering form going up vertically!)
The Old Kingdom Period covers a five hundred years span
of Ancient Egyptian History, (2686-2181BC)
Known as the ‘Age of Pyramids’, with Pharaohs from the
Third to the Sixth Dynasty!
“The World fear Time, but Time fears only the Pyramids”,
- is an Ancient Egyptian Proverb;
Whose ‘heterogeneous structure’ made it earthquake
proof, making Time to reluctantly serve! #
Here we find formalized figures with long slender bodies,
idealized proportions and large staring eyes;
Where Kufu’s Great Pyramid of Giza raises its mighty head
as the highest, on the west bank of the Nile;
And the mighty Sphinx guard the entrance to those ancient
royal tombs, though defaced, still survive!
These pyramids were like Pharaoh’s getaways to eternity,
An insurance to an afterlife of peace and prosperity!
(# Pyramids with stone blocks of different sizes & shapes made them
Earthquake resistant; & use of pink granite in the inner chambers
made them erosion resistant against Time!)
The Middle Kingdom Period (2040-1650 BC) :
Following 150 years of civil disorder Theban ruler Mentuhotep
the Second, reunified Egypt and ruled up to Nubia, (Sudan)
And began the Classical Era when Block Statues appear,
indicating political stability;
When artisans worked with bronze and copper alloys, designing
Kings now preferred to be buried in secret tombs, Pyramids
having lost their appeal,
And work began on the west bank of the Nile, in the Valley of
(Inside those rock cut ‘funerary temples’ on the East bank of the
Nile, opposite Ancient Kingdom of Thebes ; Pharaohs from the
Early and Late New Kingdom Periods were buried, including
Early New Kingdom Period (1550 -1295 BC):
Between the Middle Kingdom and this Era, Art remained
static for almost a hundred years,
When the Hyksos from the Near East fought the weak Theban
In 1550 BC Theban Prince Ahmose reunited Egypt, and was
succeeded by able rulers, who ushered in the Golden Age!
Art works continued to maintain its basic traditional style,
With successive Kings from the 18th Dynasty consolidating
their kingdom’s wealth and power all the while!
But Egypt witnessed a change with an innovative style in Art,
When Amenhotep IV in 1353 BC became King, initiating a
This king changed his name to ‘Akhenaten’, the spirit of Aten,
-- ‘The disk of the Sun’;
Abandoned the pantheons of Gods with Aten as the ‘sole God’,
and a religious revolution had begun!
His new capital city of Amarna, 200 miles north of Thebes,
Got decorated with a new kind of art work to make it complete!
The statues now appear more realistic displaying emotions,
With fluidity of movement, unlike those rigid earlier creations!
The artistic talent of this Amarna Period gets best exemplified,
In the exquisite bust of Nefertiti, Akhenaten’s Great Royal Wife!
Regarded as ‘icon of international beauty’, a great archeological
find ! **
(Discovered by a German team of Archeologists in 1912 at Amarna! This 19 inch long limestone Nefertiti statue weighs around 20 kg, now housed in Berlin Museum; comparable only to the artistic Golden Mask of Tutankhamen!)
King Tutankhamen (1336-1327 BC):
Akhenaten’s unpopular rule was short-lived, with those humiliated
Theban priests calling him the ‘Heretic King’!
A nine year old boy Tutankhamen (‘The living image of Amun’),
was next to succeed him!
King Tut restored the worship of Amun, in a back-lash against
Shifted the royal palace back to Thebes, with the religious center
at Karnak once again!
King Tut’s short ten year’s rule remained buried in 3000 year’s
of Egyptian History,
Till Howard Carter found his richly laden intact tomb, in the
Valley of the Kings! (1922)
King Tut’s priceless and exquisitely carved golden face mask,
reflected the exalted standard of art work;
Weighing ten kilos, inlaid with semi-precious stones, and eyes
made of obsidian and quarts!
With the King’s early death, the 18th Dynasty of Pharaohs came
to an abrupt end,
And the 19th and 20th Dynasties of the Late Kingdom Period
The famous rock temple of Abu Simbel now got built, under the
warrior and builder Ramses II, one of Egypt’s greatest Kings!
Pharaoh Ramses-II of the Late Kingdom Period :
Here I sweep across centuries of Egyptian History, to mention
King Ramses-II’s contribution to our Art Story!
In Shelly’s famous poem titled “Ozymandias of Egypt” he is
immortalized; (Greeks called Ramses-II “Ozymandias”!)
And as the Pharaoh associated with Moses in the movie “The
Ten Commandments”, he is popularized!
Egyptian Art is intrinsically bound with its religion, pyramids,
hieroglyphs, and architecture;
With a concentrated focus on ‘afterlife’ as its special feature!
In 1270 BC young Ramses took over from Seti the First,
And his rule for a period of 66 long years did last!
As the third Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, he had ruled with a
Recovered lost territories from the Hittites and the Nubians,
- earlier captured Egyptian lands!
He enlarged the territories of Egypt ensuring prosperity and
Became renowned as the famous Warrior and Builder King
of Ancient Egyptian History!
Ramses-II had expanded most of the temples, as recorded in
the artistic motifs and hieroglyphic symbols;
Here a special mention must be made of the Temples of Luxor,
Karnak, and Abu Simbel !
Temples of Luxor and Karnak in Ancient Thebes:
Ancient Thebes was located on the eastern bank of the Nile,
where the modern City of Luxor stands;
Thebes was once the capital of the 11th and 18th Dynasties,
And the power and religious center of all Egyptian land!
Gets mentioned in the 9th Book of Homer’s ‘Iliad’ where “heaps
of precious ingots gleam, the hundred-gated Thebes”!
Excavation work began in Thebes during the late 19th century;
And the gradual unearthing of the Temples of Luxor and
Karnak, added a new dimension to Egypt’s Art Story!
It must be remembered always, that the Ancient Egyptians in
those early days,
Structured their temple architecture to the point of ‘Sacred Art’!
With their knowledge of astronomy and geometry, they
aligned their temples so perfectly,
That the light of the rising sun fell on the temple’s innermost
sanctuary! (Temple of Abu Simbel is a great example,)
Where the Egyptian priests, who were also the artists, healers,
mathematicians, astronomers and scribes;
In dimly lit incense-filled sanctuaries performed the sacred rites!
The temples symbolized the cross roads of the cosmos, where
the divine and the mortal met in perpetual harmony!
These divine scenes were integrated into the very fabric of the
Egyptian society through chants and rituals;
With cosmological symbols of magical hieroglyphs, which
priests alone could transcribe in those days!
(Thebes began to decline rapidly after Alexander the Great
established the port-city of Alexandria as Egypt’s new Capital
around 332 BC !)
Luxor Temple built by Amenhotep-III, was dedicated to God
Amun, his wife Mut and son Khonsu, - the Theban Triad;
Tutankhamen and Ramses-II expanding the temple during the
New Kingdom Period!
Creator God Amun became assimilated with the Sun God Re;
Was worshipped in Thebes, and in the cult centers of Luxor and
Karnak, - as Amun-Re!
The walls and columns of these cult temples were decorated
with carved and painted relief,
Depicting the interaction with Gods, and military exploits of
Egyptian Pharaohs and Kings!
The sun temple of Amenhotep-III at Luxor has many columns
resembling papyrus bundles,
Symbolic of the primeval marsh from where Creation was
believed to have unfolded !
A Sphinx Alley excavated between Luxor an