Monjas Coronadas: ‘Crowned Nuns’ of Colonial Spanish America

Why were such lavish portraits of nuns created on the occasion of their profession, and who were they for? Introduction One of the most famous types of female portraits in the colonial Spanish Americas are the monjas coronadas, or crowned nuns, so named for the elaborate floral crowns atop their heads. In these portraits, nuns are[…]

Defensive Saints and Angels in the Colonial Spanish Americas

The theme of protection of Christians and the Christian faith was common in the Spanish viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru. Guardian Angels Brandishing a fiery sword, standing in a balletic pose, and stretching almost top to bottom in a painting, an angel protects a young boy. His pink and green clothes flutter behind him[…]

The Art and Architecture of Amiens Cathedral

Amiens Cathedral provides a window into the practice and culture of religious belief of the Middle Ages. By Emogene CataldoPhD Candidate in Art HistoryColumbia University Visiting Amiens Cathedral With its two soaring towers and three large portals filled with sculpture, Amiens Cathedral crowns the northern French city of Amiens. The cathedral is still one of the tallest[…]

Anna Atkins and the Cyanotype Process in Botanical Illustration in the 19th Century

Although today Atkins’s prints are sold and viewed as art, they were originally made as botanical illustrations. By Elliot KrasnopolerPhD Candidate in Art HistoryBryn Mawr College Who Was Anna Atkins? We are looking at a white-ish blue, organically-shaped form radiating from a central point, and surrounded by a rich, flat cyan-blue tone. Little here gives[…]

From the Society Pages to the Museum in the 18th Century

How Gilda Darthy’s bed tells a story about writing women back into history. By Amanda BermanCuratorial Assistant, Department of Sculpture and Decorative ArtsGetty Museum With its grand size and luxurious upholstery, this bed makes a statement. However, it is also special because we know so much about it. It’s unusual for an 18th-century piece of[…]

The Ancient Peruvian Moche Royal Tombs of Sipán

The tombs were found almost completely undisturbed. A Golden Discovery In 1987, Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva received a tip from the police that local villagers had discovered gold in one of the huacas (a term for ancient sacred sites used widely in Peru) and were looting artifacts at the site of Huaca Rajada in the town of Sipán, near[…]

Hokusai’s Printed Illustrated Books in 19th-Century Japan

The technology of printing had advanced rapidly as it became available to commercial publishers in the seventeenth century. Introduction Katsushika Hokusai is among the most celebrated Japanese painters in the world. His print Under the Wave off Kanagawa, or The Great Wave (1830) is instantly recognizable. While Hokusai is primarily known today for his prints[…]

Japonisme: Japanese Artistic Influence on the West in the Nineteenth Century

The Western fascination with Japanese art directly followed earlier European fashions for Chinese and Middle Eastern decorative arts. Introduction James McNeill Whistler’s Whistler’s Caprice in Purple and Gold (above) is an early example of Japonisme, a term coined by the French art critic Philippe Burty in 1872. It refers to the fashion for Japanese art[…]

The Prehistoric Megalithic Temples of Malta

The evidence we have suggests that the first settlers on Malta were a community of farmers. By Ollie Wells Introduction The megalithic temples of Malta and Gozo rank amongst the oldest free-standing buildings in the world. Construction of these temples started c. 3500 BCE, an impressive architectural feat for their time, particularly given that the[…]

An Introduction to the Art of the Neolithic Period, c.7000–1700 B.C.E.

Neolithic people did not write. However, because they lived in settled communities, they left many traces. By Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art Introduction The Neolithic period, or New Stone Age, is characterized by the beginning of a settled human lifestyle. People learned to cultivate plants and domesticate animals for food, rather than rely solely on hunting[…]

A History of Polar Bears in Art and Their Changing Symbolization

A fearsome predator? A fragile icon of impending extinction? What these arctic giants have stood for in art has continually evolved. Introduction Polar bears have long held visual artists in their thrall. Over time, the mythologies around these extraordinary animals have evolved – and so have the ways artists have depicted them in their work.[…]

Cartography, Politics, and Mischief: Gilman’s 1848 Map of the United States

This 1848 map proved more useful in Congress for its statistical data than for its colorful depiction of U.S. geographic contours. In December 1848, the U.S. General Land Office produced a map of the United States by its principal draftsman, Ephraim Gilman. It displayed all of the existing states, territories, proposed territories, and the area[…]

Rethinking Descriptions of Black Africans in Ancient Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art

Communicating the diversity of the ancient Mediterranean. By Paula Gaither, Elisa McAtee, Kenneth Lapatin, and David Saunders Introduction Museums have much work to do. The Black Lives Matter movement’s call for social reform extends to arts institutions, bringing focus to the need for inclusivity and equity. The ways in which we present and describe artworks[…]

A Supernatural Paracan Bird Mantle from Ancient Peru

Heads are a frequent motif appearing in all phases of Paracas art, and severed human heads have been found within some of their burials. By Dr. Mary BrownArt Historian The Transcendent Bird Birds and winged creatures have often been tasked with duties of great symbolic importance in human culture. From harpies to storks, interfacing with[…]

Many Iraqis Visit Babylon and Other Ancient Heritage Sites for the First Time

The Babylon ruins, once the capital of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, are among some of the world’s oldest and most magnificent cities. On a mild winter weekend, the sun pours down on the yellow archways of the reconstructed palace of King Nebuchadnezzar II at the site of the ancient city of Babylon. Nearly three millennia after Nebuchadnezzar’s[…]

Black Photography as a Tool for Social Change in the 19th Century

Cameras played a critical role in the quest for social equality for Black Americans in the post-slavery era. Introduction Frederick Douglass is perhaps best known as an abolitionist and intellectual. But he was also the most photographed American of the 19th century. And he encouraged the use of photography to promote social change for Black equality. In[…]

Miniature Mosaics in the Byzantine World

The Byzantines began creating portable mosaic icons by setting small tesserae into wax or resin on wood panels. Introduction For many of us, the term “mosaics” evokes the soaring golden walls and ceilings of the Eastern Roman “Byzantine” Empire. But from approximately the twelfth to the fourteenth century, the Byzantines also began creating mosaics that[…]

A Work in Progress: Middle Byzantine Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia

These mosaics illustrate the ways Hagia Sophia became entangled in and responded to theological controversies and more. Introduction Who was the artwork’s patron? What were the artwork’s original meanings and functions? When art historians study a work of art, they ask questions about the artwork’s initial creation. But often, works of art and architecture change[…]

Defending Thought: A Ghost of Galileo in the Early Modern English Civil War

Of all the causes to which Galileo’s image has been applied, freedom of thought and expression is the weightiest. Our world is full of symbols that orient, instruct, annoy, or command us. Think of traffic signs, corporate logos, national flags, religious objects and apparel, emojis, as well as individuals representative of causes we may oppose[…]

Secular Learning and Sacred Purpose in a Medieval Carolingian Manuscript

This quadrivium miniature has often been cited as evidence for the prescience of the Carolingian educational reforms. Introduction Of the early medieval copies of Boethius’s De institutione arithmetica, by far the most sumptuous is a ninth-century manuscript that is presently housed in the Staatsbibliothek in Bamberg.[2] (Figure 1 above) Unlike other versions of the treatise,[3][…]

Medieval Byzantine Secular Art

The Byzantines also created art and architecture with no religious imagery and without explicit religious functions in mind. Religious vs. Secular? Admittedly, classifying medieval art in tidy categories of the “religious” or “secular” is a bit anachronistic, especially in the arts of the Byzantine court, where religious and political elements were often seamlessly blended. For[…]

Stephen Mopope’s Native American Post Office Murals in Andarko, Oklahoma

The sixteen murals displayed within depict the life and traditions of the Kiowa people, a Plains Indian tribe. Introduction In the narrow lobby of the Anadarko Post Office, a buffalo hunt ensues. A pair of Eagle Dancers perform their ceremonial waltz in the entryway. Over by the P.O. boxes, a Kiowa family begins the long[…]

Ancient Etruscan Tomb Paintings

They were not seen by anyone except at the burial ceremony or perhaps briefly when another family member was later interred. Introduction The Etruscans flourished in central Italy from the 8th to 3rd century BCE, and one of their greatest legacies is the beautifully painted tombs found in many of their important towns. Tarquinia, Cerveteri,[…]

Art in Ancient Minoa

There is a vibrancy in Minoan art which was not present in the contemporary East. Introduction The art of the Minoan civilization of Bronze Age Crete (2000-1500 BCE) displays a love of animal, sea, and plant life, which was used to decorate frescoes and pottery and also inspired forms in jewellery, stone vessels, and sculpture. Minoan artists delighted in[…]

Cristóbal de Villalpando’s ‘View of the Plaza Mayor of Mexico City’, 1695

We see an artist attempting to represent the diverse ethnic makeup of the Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain. Introduction In Mexico City’s main plaza, a bustling scene unfolds before our eyes. Horse-drawn carriages carry the city’s elite. Most people are on foot, and some can be seen promenading in a line at the canvas’s bottom[…]

Buddhist Art of Salvation: The Medieval Dazu Rock Carvings at Mt. Baoding

The complex served as the major cult center dedicated to the enigmatic saintly figure Liu Benzun. Introduction The monumental sculptural complex at Mt. Baoding, Dazu, Sichuan province, China consists of nearly 10,000 painted and gilded images of Buddhist deities and narrative scenes carved out of sandstone. Mt. Baoding is the richest repository of sculpture of[…]

A History of Handwoven Shawls in India’s Kashmir Region

This wool cloth is now sometimes known as “cashmere” after the old English spelling of “Kashmir”. Introduction For centuries, handwoven cloth from the Kashmir region of the Indian subcontinent has been revered for its exquisite softness and decorative surface patterns. The fleece used to make the cloth is known as pashm, meaning “soft hair” in[…]

The Mỹ Sơn Hindu Temple Complex

The Mỹ Sơn sanctuary was built by the Chams, who once dominated what is today southern Vietnam (Champa). A Sacred Sanctuary of the Chams Before the formation of modern-day countries in Southeast Asia, there were ancient kingdoms with magnificent temples. One location stands out—the Mỹ Sơn sanctuary, home of the Hindu gods. Today this is[…]

Andries Beeckman’s ‘The Castle of Batavia’ and 17th-Century Dutch Colonialism

The Dutch occupied this city, as well as several others in Asia, for centuries. A Castle on Colonial Soil The air feels humid with a thick layer of clouds covering most of the blue in the sky. Tall palms stand in unnaturally precise rows and shade a busy marketplace of exotic goods and colorfully dressed[…]