2004/06/11

Art under the gods

The transition to the human creation of gods takes place at different times for each center of civilization. China and Sumer invent their first gods sometime 5-6,000 years ago or earlier. Other centers will follow up later on. Some ethnic groups are even living in animist cultures till today. All that shows us a deep differentiation between the people of this earth in their levels of societal development.

So the historical phase of religious domination of the minds starts some 5-6,000 years ago for the most advanced societies of that time, China and the Middle East. This movement reaches its zenith and starts to decline around 1000-500 BC in China while we have to wait for the 18th-20th centuries in Western Europe. Most other societies remain firmly entrenched in their religious beliefs as of today.

In religious times, art and design over time came to serve as PR, advertisement techniques for the religious powers. Visual arts, in societies under religious ideology, are a non stop succession of images illustrating the content of religion. Architecture and music serve to impress the population, that is largely uneducated, in order to instill fear in the small individual for the power of those representing those grandiose architectural constructions and the music served in them. In other words, grandiose religious architecture has to serve the grandeur of the religious authority. The same kind of reasoning is valid equally when applied to the palaces of the aristocracy. The architectural target was to make individuals feel very small.

In the period that leads to the formation of capitalism in medieval Europe, the Roman church kept the upper hand and the secular power sought to use its relation with the religious authorities to affirm itself. Religious belief during this period appeared in two forms. The educated were studying illustrated latin sacred books copied from Roman golden times and the majority of the people who were illiterate received the message of the little few who were educated in the form of painted and carved images. Such images constituted the exclusive subject of the artists of this epoch who, with the distance of passed time, appear to us today having been a lot more like propaganda craftsmen than artists.

Production by the craftsmen and commerce of their goods was exercised under the principles defined by the church. Each craft was under the supervision of its internal “police”. The “guild” or corporation regulated all aspects related to production and sale in compliance with the edicts of the priests. In such an environment, market competition was excluded. The only area not restricted was the work of the craftsman himself, he had to offer goods complying with the minimum quality standards set by the guilds and as such, the quality of the goods, their finishing touch appeared as a natural way for craftsmen to differentiate themselves from one another. Competition in Western Europe has long been limited to the quality of the goods on offer. Not surprisingly this induced a very deep care for the details in all productions and craftsmanship reached the level of an art.

Click here to view very good religious art in the 'Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry' which is usually referred to as 'the king of the illuminated manuscripts', it is a pinnacle in the entire history of painting. Commissioned by Jean, Duc de Berry in 1413, it was painted by the Limbourg brothers who left it unfinished at their (and the Duc's) death in 1416. The Duc Charles I de Savoie commissioned Jean Colombe to complete the painting of the manuscript between 1485-1489”.

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