Picturing Equality: How Imogen Cunningham Lived and Worked

A new book explores the photographer’s dedication to feminism and civil rights in the early 20th century. By Zoe Goldman and Estefana Valencia Introduction Photographer Imogen Cunningham was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1883, when the fight for equal rights for women—legally, politically, economically, and socially—was gaining ground in the U.S. Cunningham’s career and life[…]

How the Needs of Monks and Empire Builders Helped Mold the Modern-Day Office

The needs of the times have always influenced office space – whether for the colonial empire or a growing commerce. Introduction The coronavirus pandemic has forced most people to create an office space of their own – whether by devoting a room in our homes for work, sitting socially distanced in common areas or just[…]

Medieval Monastic Cistercian Architecture

Most Cistercian abbeys and churches were built in remote valleys far from cities and populated areas. Introduction Cistercian architecture is a style of architecture associated with the churches, monasteries and abbeys of the Roman Catholic Cistercian Order. It was headed by Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), who believed that churches should avoid superfluous ornamentation[…]

“More Lively Counterfaits”: Experimental Imaging at the Birth of Modern Science

Exploring forms of image making which pushed the boundaries of 17th-century book printing. This article, “More Lively Counterfaits”: Experimental Imaging at the Birth of Modern Science, 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/ From infographics to digital renders, today’s scientists have[…]

Medieval Stave Churches of Norway

The churches incorporated local ancient traditions of woodcarving and stone architecture more common on the European continent. Introduction Stave churches are the most famous medieval buildings in Norway and are admired for their unique architecture and beautiful decorations. They are named after the staves or masts that hold up the main structure of the church. Only 28 stave churches are[…]

Architecture of Great Churches and Cathedrals since Late Antiquity

The earliest large churches date from Late Antiquity. Different styles of architecture developed and their fashion spread. Introduction The architecture of cathedrals and great churches is characterised by the buildings’ large scale and follows one of several branching traditions of form, function and style that derive ultimately from the Early Christian architectural traditions established in[…]

Babylon Rising: The Art of an Ancient Middle Eastern City

In recent decades, the site of Babylon has suffered considerable damage from problematic reconstructions of ancient buildings. The city of Babylon lay on the River Euphrates in southern Mesopotamia, in what is today Iraq. Although it was not among the oldest cities in this part of the world (the earliest of which is normally considered[…]

Art of the Viking Age

Interacting with many cultures and settling in many regions, the Norse were more cosmopolitan than they receive credit for. Introduction Modern representations of the Vikings can be fun, but are often limited to sensationalized depictions of violent, raiding warriors. In reality, Vikings were a small group of a larger community of people called the Norse[…]

The Ara Pacis Augustae: State Religious Ritual in Ancient Rome

The Ara Pacis is, at its simplest, an open-air altar for blood sacrifice associated with the Roman state religion. The Roman State Religion in a Microcosm The festivities of the Roman state religion were steeped in tradition and ritual symbolism. Sacred offerings to the gods, consultations with priests and diviners, ritual formulae, communal feasting—were all[…]

Jane Alexander’s ‘Butcher Boys’: Art, Trauma, and Political Violence

They are unnameable beings without classification. They are neither man nor beast but rather both. Men or Beasts? Inside the Iziko South African National Gallery there are three monstrous figures that sit casually on a wooden bench thoroughly indifferent to their environment. Their indifference confounds gallery-goers who struggle to answer questions such as: Are these[…]

Monsters and Mythical Beasts: An Introduction to the Medieval Bestiary

A bestiary, or “book of beasts”, was an attempt to describe the world as it was known (or imagined) in combination with allegory. In the Middle Ages, animal stories were immensely popular throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The people of the time were, of course, dependent on wild and domestic animals for[…]

Thinking Outside the Boxing Ring: How a Tattoo Helped Identify a Boxer

The 1950s were a popular time for boxing as a number of extraordinary fighters came on the scene during the time. It’s a quick moment of action frozen in time. Joey Maxim, World Light Heavyweight Champion, is being knocked to the side, his face contorted from a powerful blow. His opponent, fists raised, can only[…]

American Scenes of Everyday Life, 1840–1910

Examining how representations of American life changed in art over the course of 70 years. Between the eve of the American Revolution and World War I, a group of modest British colonies became states; the frontier pushed westward to span the continent; a rural and agricultural society became urban and industrial; and the United States—reunified[…]

Medieval Bookbindings: From Precious Gems to Sealskin

These deluxe bindings are known as treasure bindings, because of their lavish and high-quality materials and craftsmanship. We tend to focus on the inside of the Library’s collection items, on their varied texts and remarkable illustrations. But the physical outside of a manuscript can be just as intriguing. Most medieval and early modern manuscripts no[…]

National Identity and Cultural Images in the Ancient World

The presentation of people, events and ideas through history has always been contentious and tied to contemporary political concerns. Since at least the third millennium B.C., economically, socially and politically marginalized people have questioned authority by mutilating public images of rulers. And those in power have destroyed monuments to reinforce their authority and erase the[…]

Ancient Greek Sanctuaries as Artistic Hubs

Greek sanctuaries were perennially lively venues, each with their idiosyncratic myths and rites. Introduction For the ancient Greeks, religion was inextricably tied to everyday life. Gods and many other supernatural beings could manifest anywhere, at any time, and often in unexpected forms. Yet even within such a boundless concept of religion, there were locations deemed[…]

The Legendary (or Not) Ancient Funerary Mask of Agamemnon

In the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, the authenticity of the mask has been formally questioned, Introduction The Mask of Agamemnon is a gold funeral mask discovered at the ancient Greek site of Mycenae. The mask, displayed in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, has been described[…]

A Brief Historical Overview of Death Masks since the Ancient World

Not until the 1800s did such masks become valued for themselves. Introduction A death mask is a likeness (typically in wax or plaster cast) of a person’s face after their death, usually made by taking a cast or impression from the corpse. Death masks may be mementos of the dead, or be used for creation[…]

Fire Gilding of Arms and Armor in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods

The practice of amalgam gilding goes back many centuries. It was used by the Romans to apply gold onto silver, known as silver-gilt. Gilding is the application of gold to the surface of some other material. Many techniques exist for doing this. A surface may be inlaid with gold wire (often referred to as damascening),[…]

Printmaking in Europe, 1400-1800

The printing press was arguably one of the most revolutionary inventions in the history of the early modern world. By Dr. Kylie FisherArt History Scholar Introduction The printing press was arguably one of the most revolutionary inventions in the history of the early modern world. While the fifteenth-century German goldsmith and publisher, Johannes Gutenberg, is[…]

The François Vase: Story Book of Ancient Greek Mythology

The neat labels of Greek text that accompany and identify many of the characters on the vase still help us understand its imagery today. Introduction 270 figures run, fight, and dance across the surface of the François Vase. While the decoration seems dense and busy to our modern eyes, an ancient viewer would have known[…]

Were Women the True Artisans Behind Ancient Greek Ceramics?

A new paper makes the case that scholars have ignored the role of female ceramicists in Greece going back some 3,000 years. By Dr. Max G. Levy Painted over the enormous midsection of the Dipylon amphora—a nearly 2,800-year-old clay vase from Greece—silhouetted figures surround a corpse in a funeral scene. Intricate geometric patterns zig and[…]

The Forum Romanum and Archaeological Context

The city’s monuments (and their ruins) are cues for memory, discourse, and discovery. Views of Rome The Roman emperor Constantius II (the second son of Constantine the Great) visited Rome for the only time in his life in the year 357 C.E. His visit to the city included a tour of the usual monuments and[…]

The Historiography of Aztec Painted Language

The Aztec painted language operated at two levels – identifying glyphs and strategic placement and presentation. Writing with Images Imagine writing a history. More than likely, you would begin by brainstorming the events you would want to include, the characters in your story, and when and where the events took place. Then, you would have[…]

A Natural History of the Artist’s Palette

Exploring the science and stories behind the pigments, from the red ochre of Lascaux’s prehistoric cave to Yves Klein’s blue. By Philip BallFreelance Science Writer This article, Primary Sources: A Natural History of the Artist’s Palette, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please[…]

Hindu Architecture at Rajarajesvara Temple in Tanjavur, India

The Rajarajesvara temple was built by one of the most successful rulers of the medieval period, Rajaraja Chola I. By Dr. Arathi MenonHistorian of Art and Architecture Introduction To see the Hindu god Shiva in the Rajarajesvara temple complex in Tanjavur, we must enter two impressive gateways, walk into a cloistered courtyard, past an enormous[…]

Analyzing an Ancient Indus Seal from Mohenjo-daro

Seals numbering in the thousands have been discovered in excavations of Indus cities as well as in sites in the Persian Gulf in southwest Asia. By Dr. Arathi MenonArt Historian Introduction Incised on this small stone (less than two inches across), we see a large figure seated on a dais surrounded by a horned buffalo,[…]

A 19th-Century Artist’s Effort to Grapple with Representing Tuberculosis

For the grieving painter who lose his wife to the disease, art functioned as a kind of medicine. Introduction Like everyone else, artists have been challenged by new conditions and routines since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have had to adjust what they make as well as how and where they work, coming[…]