Her Hairdresser Loved the Wallpaper

Art History: Prehistoric Art

Video about Prehistoric Art and some text focusing on the “Venus of Wilendorf”
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"Venus" of Willendorf
c. 24,000-22,000 BCE
Oolitic limestone
4 3/8 inches (11.1 cm) high
(Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna)
Why is the “Venus of Willendorf,”so important.

In our world there are certain artifacts and works of art that are ideal examples of how (western culture) views a historical period or art movement.

Starting with the title of the so called “Venus of Willendorf,” is now considered misnamed because most historians do not believe it is a love goddess such as we think of the Roman goddess of love and romance Venus. When it was found in 1908 by the archaeologist Josef Szombathy in the country of Austria near a place called Willendorf, archeologists believed that “cave men” (also a term that isn’t used much) saw this figurine as a kind of ancient porno magazine.

In the 1960s, after anthropology and archeology really got going as disciplines, academics felt that the figurine probably represented an image of a woman who was sturdy, well fed, and healthy. A woman with a large amount of body fat would be nice to snuggle with during the ice age. So historians see this small sculpture in different ways and from different points of views based on when they lived, what they believe, and the culture that the person who is looking at it from. One other thing that you should know, they’ve found a lot of figurines that share very similar qualities and date from the same period.

You can decide what you want to believe it is after you get some facts about it. I think that disregarding other interpretations and just describing it is a good way of figuring it out.

It’s small, about 4 inches long. It was made out of stone. The feet are broken off. It has a a dot or small circular impressions where the face should be. The “hair” is a repeating slightly geometric pattern that looks almost like a series of ovals in rows. The breasts, stomach, butt, and thighs are very large while the arms which are crossed across the chest are almost just etched shapes. The vagina is very clearly defined. The sculpture has some traces of reddish paint on it.

There are a range of interpretations of the large body parts, the hair and the lack of realism in the features of the face and the hair. The body is very naturalistic and so are the genitals. The contrast of real looking stuff to abstract or cartoonish stuff maybe an indication that the face was less important than the body or the reverse could be true. Maybe the face was so important that there was a reason to make it just a hole. Here’s the most reasonable explanation for what this sculpture is.

The sculpture is probably a representation of some kind of ideal woman. The extra body weight and exaggerated sexual characteristics might have represented a “sexy” woman or a “motherly type” or both at the same time. The stylized repeating pattern on the head is probably some sort of cap, but more likely it represents hair and could represent braids, of a type of mud encrusted hair style that some people use even today in parts of Africa.

Probably the reason why this “Woman from Willendorf” is the most popular is because it was one of the first ones found and was popularized because of it.

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Artist: Shang Ma


Artist: Franz von Defregger

Art History: Minoan Art

Minoan Art (AP and Survey Level Art History)

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Aegean Art and the Cyclades     2800 BCE - 1100 BCE
Crete     2000 BCE - 1375 BCE
The Palace at Knossos 2000 BCE - 1375 BCE
Old Palace period c1900-1700
Second Palace c1700-1375

The Palace at Knossos
2000 BCE - 1375 BCE
Old Palace period c1900-1700
Second Palace c1700-1375

Knossos, Crete

Form:  The palace at Knossos is actually a large warren of complex and confusing passageways, rooms, and patios that cover approximately six acres of space.  It was originally laid out on a grid plan but because of earthquakes and rebuilding the complex in some areas has deviated from its original plan.

The overall plan includes loving quarters, gathering spaces and storage areas.  Some of the planning and technologies used in the complex include underground terra-cotta pipes, bathrooms and toilets, submerged food storage areas and airshafts and internal courtyards which allow for cool air to circulate throughout the structure.

Much of the complex is built with dressed stone (mud bricks and rubble faced with local cut stone), ashlar masonry (alternating courses of masonry) and trabeated (post and lintel) masonry.  The columns used to support the structure were originally made of wood however, modern restorers have decided to replace the lost columns with concrete or stone.  Much of the complex was brightly painted with frescoes and some encaustic paint.  It is not known if Sir Arthur Evans' reconstructions and the colors he chose are completely accurate.

Iconography:  Aside from the obvious size and opulence of the buildings we are not quite sure how the palace at Knossos have been views or perceived by the people of Crete; However, we do know that the ancient Athenians viewed Knossos as a place of horror and the home of the inventor Daedelus, his son Icarus, and the monstrous and foreign Minotaur (see the Legend of the Minotaur in Stokstad's "Art History" page 134). or go here : http://www.bulfinch.org/fables/bull20.html

Context: The people of Knossos seem to have been a peaceful, wealthy and self sufficient culture.  They possessed a writing system.  We can assume that they had engineers, artisans and a similar distribution of labor that we have.  We do not know what kind of government or religion they had although recent scholarship seems to indicate that there were a series of royal families located at different sites around the island.

We do know that the palace was legendary to the ancient Greeks of the mainland who saw the Minoans as ancient enemies who were responsible for committing treacherous acts against the ancient Athenians (see the Legend of the Minotaur in Stokstad). 

The motif of a double headed ax exists throughout the decorations at Knossos and through a series of historical games of "telephone" the term labyrinth (the Greek term for double ax) has been passed down to us through the Greeks and come to mean maze.Around 1900 Sir Arthur Evans, a British archaeologist and treasure hunter discovered, excavated and renovated much of Knossos.  

Much of what we see today may not be accurate because Evans replaced and rebuilt sections according to whims and aesthetic choices based on his opinion rather than careful research.  It is unfortunate that Evans took some of the liberties he did because archaeological sites are finite resources and once they have been explored they are left depleted.

Today, archaeologists and art historians follow a much stricter code of conduct and rules that govern how a site is excavated and in what order.  This preserves the site and allows a much better picture of the culture based on scientific method.

Stairwell In The East Wing
1700 BCE - 1400 BCE
Knossos, Crete

 Form: This is one of the internal airshafts that allowed for light and air to circulate.  This type of structure is referred to as trabeated or post and lintel.  The columns serve as the posts and the wood or stone that spans the space is called the lintel.  The original columns were made of wood and were designed to have an inverted style.  The thin end is at the bottom and the shaft of the column grows thicker near the top or capital.  This is very different compared to similar columns from Greece and Egypt.

Iconography:  These columns unique shape is iconic of Knossos.

Context:  The unique shape of the columns is unique to the structure of Knossos but there is a sculptural representation of this column on the mainland at Mycenae and this may indicate some kind of trade between the mainland Greek culture and the Minoans.

The Queen's Megaron
c1500 BCE
Knossos, Crete

Form:  The central scene is a maritime scene that does not appear to have a central focus.  The paintings of the dolphins are done with contour lines that are then filled in with color.  All of the fishes are done in profile and there is no attempt to show any kind of pictorial depth or space.  Instead the fishes bodies are scattered about as a type of wallpaper pattern.These paintings were done in a technique called fresco.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (1)
fres.co n, pl frescoes [It, fr. fresco fresh, of Gmc origin; akin to OHG frisc fresh] (1598) 1: the art of painting on freshly spread moist lime plaster with water-based pigments 2: a painting executed in fresco -- fresco vt

Iconography:  It is also possible that the Minoans viewed dolphins in a similar way that we do.  Seeing them as intelligent and friendly and possibly entertaining creatures.

Context: These frescos are restored versions of the originals.  On the lower left of the fresco you can see how the frescos were layered over time and that the designs changed over time.  The use of porpoises or dolphins in a marine motif probably is indicative of the Minoan's familiarity and reliance on the sea. The curvilinear wave like patterns at the borders of the image may also be based on Minoan observation of nature.  The function of these frescos was probably just for entertainment and not didactic or religious in nature.  The subject matter while similar in the fact that it is a genre scene serves a very different function to its Egyptian counterpart.  (See the fresco from the tomb of Nebamun.)

A problem with these frescoes is that Evans found them in the center of the room and it is possible that they were actually floor paintings.  There was a Minoan tradition of this.  Also, Evans only found two or three dolphins, the rest are restorations.


Artist: Victor Bauer

Art History: Duccio di Buoninsegna, Virgin and Child in Majesty (Maestà) main panel from the Maestà Altarpiece,

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Virgin and Child in Majesty (Maestà)
main panel from the Maestà Altarpiece, from Siena Cathedral
1308-11 Tempera and gold on wood, 7'x13'  (214 x 412 cm) 
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena

Form:  The overall composition of this work is symmetrical.  The largest figures of Mary and Jesus are at the center of the composition and they are flanked by two rows of angels and Saints overlapped as if they are standing on bleachers.  In order to create space, Duccio uses the same convention of vertical perspective we saw in Pisano's pulpit.  The figures that are highest up in the picture plane are furthest back.

This painting was rendered with tempera paint and gold leaf.  Tempera is a medium which is made from egg (sometimes just the yolk sometimes the whites) glue and ground up minerals that serve as pigment or colorant.  The egg actually glues or binds the pigments to the surface.  The paint is applied in small distinct brush strokes that show the brushwork when looked at closely. 

The background is gold leaf on a wooden panel that has been painted with a combination of glue and marble dust or chalk referred to as gesso.  The gold leaf is then incised and punctured with designs (Sometimes refered to as punchwork.)  Gold leaf has also been added to the drapery as a means to highlight the folds. 

The rendering of color and value in this painting is fairly limited.  There is no distinct source of light and very little tonal variation on the faces or drapery of the individual figures and there are no real differences of character or appearance from one face to the next.

Duccio's rendition of the Virgin is very similar to the one from Auvergne and Cimabue's.  This painting, like the sculpture, is both naturalistic and stylized.  Again the rendering of the face and hands was an attempt by the sculptor to represent convincing human forms however, the faces show no real expression and the bodies are completely covered with an almost Byzantine style of drapery that almost completely conceals both figures' bodies.  The child Jesus is not rendered as a child but rather a stiff looking miniature adult.  The poses of both figures are stiff and fairly wooden but in the case of Mary, this is appropriate if you look at her role in  terms of the work's iconography.


Eskimo Whisperer

So many of my artist friends art outraged when someone reproduces their artwork without permission.

Maybe it could help you both?

Here's an alternative point of view. Use the experience to create a relationship with more collectors. Try promote it that a website, or author, or product chose to use your painting.

When you advertise new work also mention that you are honored that someone is using your work and chose to you use your art.

If you write to them you may even be able to convince them and to give you a shout out. What about sharing your work and asking them to help you too both for free? I do this all the time with authors and magazines and never charge them. The "good will" helps me sell my art.

Artist: Emily Stedman


California Arts Council

A new FAQ plus a deadline extension for our JUMP StArts program!
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JANUARY 19, 2018

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