Byzantine Iconoclasm and the Triumph of Orthodoxy

Who were the players and what was this Controversy all about? Introduction The “Iconoclastic Controversy” over religious images was a defining moment in the history of the Eastern Roman “Byzantine” Empire. Centered in Byzantium’s capital of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) from the 700s–843, imperial and Church authorities debated whether religious images should be used in Christian[…]

A Conspiracy So Dense: Richard Hofstadter’s “Paranoid Style”

It’s critical to revisit the cultural moment that gave rise to the elite-baiting, conspiracy-mongering turn of the modern right. Introduction At the outset of the Trump era, historian Leo Ribuffo declared that “Richard Hofstadter’s famous catchphrase, the ‘paranoid style in American politics,’ should be buried with a stake in its heart.” It’s safe to say[…]

‘Nouveau Hercules’: Colossus of the French Revolution

It could be an early scene in a monster movie. In fact, it’s an image of the French Revolution. This article, The Revolutionary Colossus, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ As the French Revolution entered its most radical years, there[…]

The Formation of a French School: The Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture

The Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, established in 1648 oversaw – and held a monopoly over – the arts in France until 1793. Introduction In a room filled to the brim with painting and sculpture, well-dressed men in powdered wigs assemble around a desk while stragglers chat with their neighbors. Jean-Baptiste Martin’s small painting[…]

A History of Renaissance Architecture

Renaissance architecture was an evolving movement that is, today, commonly divided into three phases: Early, High, and Mannerism. Introduction Renaissance architecture originated in Italy and superseded the medieval Gothic style over a period generally defined as 1400 to 1600 CE. Features of Renaissance buildings include the use of the classical orders and mathematically precise ratios of height and[…]

‘The Roundabout Queen’: How Phyllis Lamphere Helped Shape Seattle

The Seattle Times described her “earthy sophistication and humor,” “highly expressive face,” and “mastery of words. By Bob Young Minnie Hagmoe was always inspiring her daughter Phyllis. Plucky and adventurous, Minnie became the breadwinner when her alcoholic husband went missing. Like her relatives, she worked for the City of Seattle, where her long career included[…]

Centuries of Representing Muhammad in Words and Calligraphic Art

Islamic literature shows how Muslims used textual imagery to give a vivid picture of their prophet. Introduction Visual depiction of Muhammad is a sensitive issue for a number of reasons: Islam’s early stance against idolatry led to a general disapproval for images of living beings throughout Islamic history. Muslims seldom produced or circulated images of Muhammad or other notable[…]

Anarchism and the Avant-Garde: The Art of Félix Fénéon (1861-1944)

A spate of political bombings in 1894 would lead to the so-called Trial of the Thirty in which Feneon was narrowly acquitted. The Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting Félix Fénéon: The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde – From Signac to Matisse and Beyond, examining the immense influence of this art critic, editor, publisher, collector and[…]

How Plagues and Disease Have Influenced the Arts since the Ancient World

Throughout history, writers and artists have explored the impact of plagues and pandemics on humanity. One of the things about literature is that it always responds immediately to what’s happening in the environment, says Associate Professor Justin Clemens from the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. “People started writing responses to[…]

An Introduction to Icons in the Medieval Byzantine Empire

Christians initially disagreed over whether religious images were good or bad, resulting in the iconoclasm controversy. What Is an Icon? In our time, we often refer to celebrities as cultural icons, pop icons, and fashion icons. Rebels are sometimes labeled iconoclasts. Icons are also the little images that populate the screens of our computers, phones, and[…]

‘Shahnama’: The Making of the Medieval Persian Book of Kings

Exploring its use (and misuse) over the centuries as political propaganda, loot, and even fodder in the international art market. Introduction Illustrated manuscripts are one of the glories of Persian art, especially those made during the heyday of production from the fourteenth century to the sixteenth century. The most popular text was the Shahnama, or[…]

China’s Rendition of the Trojan War in the Abduction of Helen Tapestry

This tapestry, made in China to be sold in Portugal, is an example of a transcultural object, or one entangled with multiple cultures. The Story of Troy Twisting, overlapping warriors fill the foreground of a massive 12 x 16 foot tapestry. It can be difficult to tell where one person begins and another ends, making the[…]

The Virgin of Guadalupe: More Than a Religious Icon to Catholics in Mexico

A scholar explains the history of the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and its connection to Mexican people. Introduction Each year, as many as 10 million people travel to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, in what is believed to be the largest Catholic pilgrimage in the[…]

An Introduction to Medieval Spanish Gothic Cathedrals

Like Gothic structures throughout the rest of Europe, Iberian cathedrals were stunning in the richness of their ornamentation. Introduction When Archbishop Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada decided to rebuild Toledo Cathedral in 1227, he knew that he was setting into motion something important. He was beginning construction on Spain’s first Gothic cathedral, and he made sure[…]

The Compensations of Plunder: Looting China’s Art, 1790-1930

Was the removal of antiquities from China simple theft or something more complicated? “After you have the institutionalization of the discourse of nationalism, a Chinese bronze that is buried in the ground belongs to the ancient Chinese nation. So now anyone who removes this artifact is a thief.” From the 1790s to the 1930s, archaeologists[…]

The Ancient Greek Kouroi of Kleobis and Biton

In 1893 and 1894 French archaeologists uncovered two extremely similar kouroi while excavating the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. Introduction In one of his memorable anecdotes, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus recounts the events of a fateful day in the city-state of Argos (on the Peloponnesian Peninsula). A priestess of the goddess Hera found herself[…]

‘The Three Greats’ of Mexican Modernism Fought Tyranny with Art

Zapata fought with guns. Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros fought with their own talent – art. It’s such a peaceful image. A woman handing out fruit to a group of young people. But the print is the product of conflict and pain. The bloody, brutal Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) is the theme[…]

Lang Jingshan and Early Chinese Photography

Photography arrived in China from Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. Introduction Can a photograph be appreciated in the manner of a Chinese painting? This is the question that Lang Jingshan (also spelled Long Chin-San, 1892–1995, born in Jiangsu Province), a pioneer of early art photography in China and the so-called “father of Asian photography,” asked[…]

An Introduction to Ancient and Medieval Chinese Calligraphy

In the general order of their appearance, there are: seal script, clerical script, cursive script, running script, and standard script. Art of the Line Calligraphy is the world’s oldest abstract art—the art of the line. This basic visual element can also hold a symbolic charge. Nowhere has the symbolic power of the line manifested itself[…]

Monsters, Marvels, and Mythical Beasts from Ancient Lore to Today

Monstrous figures continue to captivate today and remain a popular source of wonder and curiosity. What makes a monster? A monster is seen to be any creature that deviates from the norm…We feel pity and compassion, but we are also greatly unsettled. John & Caitlin Matthews, The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, 2008 Introduction Monsters are[…]

‘The History of Mexico’: Diego Rivera’s Murals at the National Palace

In an overwhelming and crowded composition, Rivera represents pivotal scenes from the history of the modern nation-state. How Is History Told? Typically, we think of history as a series of events narrated in chronological order. But what does history look like as a series of images? Mexican artist Diego Rivera responded to this question when[…]

An Introduction to Hispanolia’s Early Colonial Art

The European invasion and colonization of the Americas was launched in 1492 from Hispaniola. Introduction In the Lázaro Galdiano Museum in Madrid, a small painting shows Saint Christopher presenting Christopher Columbus to the Virgin Mary and Christ child. Columbus wears a gold-braided waistcoat inscribed with the Spanish heraldic motto of “Plus Ultra” (“Further beyond”—a Latin[…]

Hannah Höch and ‘the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany’

This cut-and-paste aesthetic was wholly embraced by Berlin Dada as a form of political and social critique. Introduction If we look closely at the cacophony of seemingly random images that make up Hannah Höch’s large-scale photomontage, a cross-section of Weimar Germany’s cultural and political milieu comes into focus. Here, the “Kitchen Knife Dada”—a metaphor for[…]

Architecture in 18th-Century Germany

Germany’s superior woodworking and stuccowork traditions aided in refashioning the imported Baroque and Rococo styles. Introduction On a bright summer day, when sunlight pours through the windows of Vierzehnheiligen Church at just the right angle, the interior glows with dazzling warmth. Joyful painted and sculpted putti fly overhead, while sculpted foliage and leafy cartouches seem to organically grow over[…]

Gustave Moreau’s ‘Salome Dancing before Herod’

The theme of Salome is one that Moreau returned to time and again. Salome dancing before Herod, with its bewildering subject matter and lush colors, is without a doubt one of the most remarkable paintings of the nineteenth century. The painting was first exhibited at the 1876 Salon (and shortly thereafter at the 1878 World’s Fair), along[…]

18th-Century Art Appropriation in France – Exploring the Louvre’s Loot

After the revolution, one of the ways the French government seized assets, property, and art collections. Introduction The Louvre Museum opened its doors on August 10, 1793 as the Muséum Français, allowing the French public unfettered access to the new national art collection. Paintings, bronze sculptures, marble tables and statues, porcelain, and other “curiosities” had[…]

The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia in Ancient Roman Palestrina

The presence of wealthy Romans led to the expansion of the temple structure and its continuing decoration. Introduction The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina (ancient Praeneste) in Italy was built in the 2nd century BCE to honor the goddess Isis and the goddess Fortuna. The massive site spans a mountainside, built with Roman cement or[…]

Bronze Age Ambition and Luxury: Marquis Yi of the Zeng State

How early burial customs and practices could not only reflect someone’s ambition, but also elevate their status. Introduction Imagine stumbling upon an undisturbed tomb filled with 15,000 items—from hundreds of jade and golden objects and enormous bronze wine vessels to massive lacquered coffins and a vast assortment of musical instruments. In 1978 in Leigudun, Suizhou,[…]