Category Archives: Art History

Why The ETA Political Wing Was Banned

Repost from the old site.

I received an interesting email from one Gonzalo Polo (website here), a Spanish nationalist. I am publishing the parts of it that can be published here. I normally don’t post the names of emailers as it is a violation of Netiquette, but he issued a veiled threat to me, so he gets named. If you don’t want me to reveal contents of your mails, don’t threaten me.

I always supported the Basque and even Catalan separatist causes. In the Basque movement, I supported the armed wing called the ETA. This mail points out some less than flattering things about the ETA, so I am running it, and it also tells us some interesting stories about the history of the Iberian Peninsula.

I am posting it to provide another perspective to the National Question in Spain.

I still think that Spain should allow a referendum on independence, and that is really what this whole fight is all about. I understand that Spain will never hold this referendum, which makes me wonder when they crow that only a minority of Basques support separatism. So hold the referendum already. Truth is, I do not think that Spaniards are civilized enough to split up their nation.

Few nations are.

Only the former USSR and Czechoslovakia have broken up peacefully, with Quebec and and the UK showing a willingness at least. Spaniards have always been terribly intolerant as a people, a tradition like the peculiar one of church-burning that is proving hard to break.

At least the intolerance part is traced by Carroll Quigley back to the Arab occupation, said influence of which makes the area from Latin America across the Mediterranean to Pakistan the Peru-Pakistan Axis, as he calls it.

That much of Spain’s industry is in the Basque Region makes separatism supposedly lethal for Spain, but I doubt it. Spain is a mature and wealthy country and I think they could handle separatism just fine, but Spaniards are just too backwards to do it. I include the famously liberty-lovers the French in this backwardsness, and all of Asia, including those supposedly more highly evolved humans in Northeast Asia.

China is utterly insane when it comes to Tibet (as we saw in the past few days) and Taiwan, and in this way they are firmly in a backwards Asian tradition. Burma, Indonesia and India won’t tolerate separatism either, and the result has been horrible massacres and even genocides.

I suggest that a willingness to break up one’s country is the ultimate act of a civilized people, and it is a litmus test for seeing how civilized you are. By that test, most of the world fails except for some Europeans, but that makes sense. Europeans are the only people who will even try to play by the rules of war either.

The Catalans seem to be debating separatism in their media, and there are some interesting debates going on. One of them is revolving around the nature of the ethnic nationalism that Catalan nationalism is. There are good progressive arguments saying that all ethnic nationalism leads to some variety of fascism, since, like the anti-Semitism I discussed previously, the impulse has nowhere to go but to the Right.

Put another way, internationalism is language of the Left (yet note armed separatists are often Leftists) and nationalism is the language of the Right. It was only the stew of 70 years of internationalism that so wore down the nationalist sentiments of the USSR and enabled them to cleave off 15 republics with very little bloodshed.

There were bloody and fascist-like nation-building episodes in many of these new countries, but that’s just the normal nation-building experience, and if we had to deny the legitimacy of every nation that had ever done this, we would have few countries left on the globe.

It’s probable that that same evil Commie internationalism allowed the Czechoslovaks to separate so amicably. You can’t say that 43 years of Goulash Communism didn’t do any good at all.

Nationalism created the Axis in World War 2 and probably led to World War 1 too. All these fetishists of the state that demand states have their precious “monopoly on violence” and that all armed non-state actors surrender all arms immediately or be destroyed as “terrorists” might want to think that one over sometime. Note that the worst enemies of the Axis ultranationalists were the armed partisans, often Communists.

If you lurk around Internet fascist, Nazi or nationalist forums long enough (and I like to do this for a lark) you will notice that these types hate no one worse than Communists. As nationalists are often not members of the towering heights of capital, one wonders what all the fuss is about.

Fascists, and the nationalists who dress up like them once in a while, Halloween-like, hate Commies over the nationalism question. Commies are dubious, at best, about nationalism. The blood drenched soil of ethnic and Lazarus-like nationalism is the essence of fascism. That’s what the whole bloody Commie-fascist fight is all about in a nutshell.

There’s also the fact that fascism is a last-ditch effort of capital to preserve its privileges in the environment of a serious threat by the Left. The seriousness of the Left Threat provokes a deadly anti-Communist reaction in the fascist. Commies are no longer some ludicrous phantasm – they are marching in the streets – and we need to kill as many of them as possible and put the rest in jail.

It’s curious why more don’t support ethnic separatism. Ask an American, if you can get lucky and find one who even understands the concept, and 90% chances are they support the state and oppose the armed separatists everywhere on Earth. Most folks you meet on the Net are the same way.

But go to a separatist region and you will find large numbers who support separatism. It seems we are not empathizing well enough with the national aspirations of our brother humans.

That ethnic nationalism brings out the caveman in anyone is shown how the separatist Catalans are total nationalist pigs when it comes to granting the Occitan speakers their legitimate human rights.

The ETA political wing was banned (although their men were elected in the last elections to the Basque Parliament under another name, and therefore they act as deputies in the Basque Parliament and mayors in some villages) because they used the public money they earned to send it to the ETA, and also because they gathered information about politicians and submitted it to ETA.

They have decided to boycott Spanish elections so they do not present candidates.

The current President of the Basque Parliament (the moderate Basque PNV) and all political parties of Euskadi (including leftist radical but non-violent Basque parties) define the ETA as a terrorist group (the EU and the US also).

In the last general elections of Spain the political wing of ETA asked Basques not to vote. Even considering that in the villages where ETA supporters have more influence, that this means that if you vote you become a target, people who decided not to vote grew 10 per cent since last elections.

ETA murdered a retired socialist politician who walked in the streets along with his wife and daughter a day before the elections. He was a poor man who worked in a highway booth and handed tickets to the drivers. ETA political wing’s major of the village of Arrasate-Mondragon refused to condemn the assassination.

For this reason all the rest of the parties who governed the town in coalition with this party (including radical left parties) determined not to back her position. This means that there will be soon be another mayor in this town formed by a coalition of the rest of the parties.

For your information I would like to highlight that the PNV (the moderate Basque party) is so scared about the ETA that in the last Basque elections, they could not find candidates for some towns. The Spanish socialist and conservative parties found candidates and, for instance, Mrs. Regina Otaola (Otaola is a Basque name and she is 100% Basque) is the current mayor of Lizarra.

All socialist and moderate candidates in the Basque Country have bodyguards. The man who was murdered two days ago had no right to have a bodyguard because he retired from politics so he was an easy target.

I also would like to inform you that the population of the Basque country is diminishing, the reason being that about 1/3 to 1/4 of 100% Basques have determined to run away from their homeland – the reason being that they want their children to live in a non-violent atmosphere so they have moved to other regions of Spain, for instance my brother-in-law Mr. Aguirre Ormaetxea (100% Basque).

For your information, the language spoken in Galicia is not a dialect of Portuguese, although both languages have a common origin. In the 8th century the Arabs invaded the entire Iberian Peninsula except the mountains of the north. Only the mountains of the North of Spain from Galicia to Catalonia were not invaded.

The original Spaniards (a blend of races and peoples united under the Roman Empire and highly sophisticated at that time, as opposed to people from Northern Europe) started to recover territory from North to South.

Little kingdoms such as Portugal, Castilla, Navarra, Leon and Aragon started to fight Arabs. Galicians joined the kingdom of Leon and Portuguese created the kingdom of Portugal.

Catalonia at that time was invaded by the Emperor of the Sacred Roman Empire, a German emperor of the tribe of the Francs who controlled France and Germany under the blessing of the Pope. The Catholic Church maintained the fiction that the Roman Empire was still alive.

Catalans expelled the Francs from the Hispanic Mark (the name of Catalonia at that time that included a province that nowadays belongs to France) and joined the kingdom of Aragon (a big kingdom that nowadays covers the regions of Aragon, Catalonia, Majorca and Valencia). The French Catalans do not have a Catalan department; Catalans have no rights as a minority in France.

The valley of Aran is part of the province of Lerida (Catalonia), although it is located in the Northern part of the Pyrenees Mountains. People from Aran speak an Occitan (Langue d’Oc) dialect similar to the one was spoken in all Provence before the Germanic tribes imposed French (the former Langue d’Oil that was spoken in Norther France).

Occitan is not spoken nowadays in France. The nationalist Catalan parties do not allow the Aranese language to be taught at school, and they force children to learn Catalan instead of their native language.

The Catalan and Spanish languages are spoken in all the Mediterranean coast from the Border of France to the region of Murcia (including the Balearic Islands). Catalan was never spoken in the current region of Aragon except in the border with Catalonia where children are able to learn the Catalan language thanks to the Aragon Government.

In the Regions of Majorca and Valencia, Catalan is freely spoken as well as Castilian. The people of these regions vote PP or PSOE – Spanish conservative or socialist parties. In the last general elections, the winning party was the Socialist Party, and nationalist CIU party obtained only 11 seats. Furthermore, the president of the Catalonian Parliament is also a socialist.

Catalan radical nationalists pretend to create a new country that would include the regions of Catalonia, Valencia and Majorca together with French Catalonia. French Catalans, Valencians and people from Majorca want to remain in Spain and dislike Catalan imperialism.

I would also like to point out that Guernica is a painting the Republican Legitimate Spanish Government asked Picasso (Picasso was born in Andalusia, namely in Malaga) to paint in order to show the world the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Once the painting was finished, it was shown for the first time in the Universal Expo of New York, namely in the Spanish pavilion.

The US government refused to return the painting to Spain once the war was over, and it remained in the Metropolitan until Franco died. I would like to point you out that around one million people died in the Spanish Civil War. Guernica was bombed by the Germans, but many other Spanish towns were also bombed and destroyed by the Russians.

I would like to highlight that neither the US nor the European democracies helped the Republican Government of Spain because they were scared about Hitler so they preferred not to see what it was happening except for Germany (who backed Franco) and Russia (who backed Republicans.)

Once the Civil War was over, many republicans ran away from Spain and stayed for years in concentration camps in France (my grandfather among others).

Many democrats felt that the US and the European democracies were acting in bad faith, so many people (like Hemingway) came to Spain to fight as volunteers with the Republic.

P.S. In a recent poll published by The Economist, you can read that only between 1/4 and 1/3 of Spanish Basques back independence. In the last elections to Spanish parliament Basque PNV party obtained only 300,000 votes in the Basque Country.

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Filed under Art, Art History, Basques, Catalans, Economics, Ethnic Nationalism, Europe, European, Europeans, Fascism, Galician, History, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Internationalism, Italic, Language Families, Left, Linguistics, Marxism, Modern, Nationalism, Occitan, Political Science, Politics, Race/Ethnicity, Regional, Reposts From The Old Site, Romance, Socialism, Spain, Spaniards, Spanish, War, World War 1, World War 2

The Past Was Not Always Worse, and the Future is Not Always Better

There is a thread about Hebrew going in the comments. It started out with a reactionary arguing, in the post against reaction, that the revival of Hebrew was a reactionary act.

Well, not really. Revival of ancient, dying, endangered, or even extinct languages is not considered to be a reactionary act. Many progressives support it, including linguists. Language evolution is not really a sign of progress. The languages of today, or the most modern ones, are not necessarily better languages than the language of the old days. Other than with the use of modern terms to describe modern items and concepts, they’re no better at all.

True, humans progress with time, but some things don’t get better. Language is one of those. Philosophy, literature, poetry, writing, art, music, etc. is another one. We have not figured out any better ways to live our lives than the folks in Socrates and Plato’s time had. The human condition is the same, and common sense wisdom has not progressed at all. In fact, ancient disciplines like yoga hold a lot of wisdom for us modern folks.

We don’t write any better than we ever did. Milton, Shakespeare and Dante have not been toppled, and who knows if they ever will. With time, we can’t figure out how to put sentences together any better than we ever did. Writing relies on the human intellect, and the brightest of us in the 1300’s-1600’s were as smart as the brightest today.

Art is another one. Technically, the finest art was done in the Renaissance by Michelangelo and the rest. Early modernists realized this – that they could not surpass the Masters – hence we moved on to Cubism, Surrealism and whatnot. Now that all that’s been done, we move on to anti-art like pissing in a jar with a crucifix or photographing guys standing next to crosses looking crucified with dead and torn-up farm animals all around them. Bottom line is, technically, we can’t figure out how to draw better than the Masters, so we are just fucking around.

Same thing with music. The classical music of 300 years ago with Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, etc. is written as well as we can write music today. Technologically, music has gotten better, but we can’t figure out how to write music any better than we ever did.

It’s not that the old stuff was better per se, but it’s more that we can’t seem to figure out how to do these things any better than we did them in the old days. Progress has hit a wall or a ceiling with regard to certain things.

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Filed under Afroasiatic, Art, Art History, Hebrew, History, Language Families, Linguistics, Literature, Modern, Music, Philosophy, Semitic

“Blessed Art Thou Among Women,” by Alpha Unit

I don’t think that Mary was Black, but the Jews back then were just Middle Easterners. They didn’t have any Khazarian or European blood in them yet, as most Ashkenazim do nowadays. They probably looked something like the Mizrachi Jews do today. If you’ve ever met any Mizrachis, they are fairly dark people. They look sort of like Arabs.

I always found the Catholic religion quite impressive – not because of any real understanding of it but because of what I could see of it. And what I could see of it was quite mysterious and maybe a bit awe-inspiring, for someone used to the kind of plain religious services I grew up with. Unintelligible prayers. Incense. Sumptuous robes. Ornate crucifixes. I’m not Catholic, but even I kind of like watching the moment they announce a new Pope. Smoke and bells. Nothing like that at my old church!

Gregorian chants are something I actually enjoy listening to, but it’s the kind of thing that would have been creepy to me as a child. And nothing could have prepared me for the first time I saw images of the Nazarenos during a Holy Week celebration. Wait a minute, I thought. This looks awfully similar to some other regalia I’ve seen…

But something especially fascinating to me is the mystery of the Black Madonnas. Most people know about the Black Madonna – images of Mary in which she is shown with dark or sometimes black skin. Since these Black Madonnas are the creation of Europeans, there is speculation and dispute about their origin and significance.

These paintings and statues of Mary date from the 11th or 12th century and were produced throughout the medieval period. And while they have dark skin, they are recognizably European, Typically, those trying to explain this phenomenon state that the wood was naturally dark, in the case of some statues, or that the darkness was a result of color changes in paint over time.

So why did the skin tones alone change color over time?

The darkness is also attributed to candle soot, from the countless prayers offered to the Madonnas over the centuries. Again, though, why did the candle soot only affect the skin tones?

It is often stated that sometimes these Madonnas were cleaned for various reasons but then intentionally re-darkened to placate the faithful. This is one explanation as to why these European-looking Madonnas have black skin.

Besides the explanations attributed to physical factors, there are those that suggest that the darkness of the Madonnas is inspired by Scripture, particularly a portion of the Song of Songs: “I am black but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem…” Others suggest that the Black Madonna is a throwback to earlier depictions of earth goddesses, some of whom had been depicted as black, as they represented fertile soil.

Could it be that the color black represents the Primordial Darkness that gave birth to Light, or the archetypal Feminine? Some feminists think so.

In the view of some Afrocentrists, the Madonna is Black because she is based on the Egyptian goddess Isis, who had to have been Black because the ancient Egyptians were Black. To them, one of the most revered Christian symbols is yet another instance of Whites stealing and trying to pass off Black creativity as their own.

No one knows definitively why Europeans created Black Madonnas. To some of us, it almost doesn’t matter. They portray a powerful and venerated Blackness, and there is a lot to like about that.

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Filed under Alpha Unit, Art, Art History, Blacks, Catholicism, Christianity, Europeans, Feminism, Gender Studies, Guest Posts, Race/Ethnicity, Religion, Whites

A Brief Look at the History of Art in the West, 300 BC – 1350 AD

Updated February 24. I added a few more things here.

I’m just getting into the history of art, and most people don’t know the slightest thing about it either, so let’s take a little jaunt into art history and you’re welcome to come along on my journey.

This will focus mostly on the history of art in the West. This post isn’t complete at all, but at least it gives you an overview of the subject. What it does in brief is gives a list of the finest art produced in the West from 300 BC until about 1400 or so, with a brief jaunt into the 1800’s.

I only link to one of these works of art, but if you are interested in some of the greatest works of art ever produced by men, just copy paste the names of the works below into Google images and you should be able to get a look at what I’m talking about. I’m too lazy to track down links to all of these works, sorry.

First of all, a previous post that suggested that there was little art in the Dark Ages was completely mistaken. What is true is that there was a decline in the great art and architecture produced by the Romans. Roman art came from the Greeks, and I think the Greeks were better sculptors.

Great Greek buildings and statues include The Treasury of the Siphnians and Battle Between the Greeks and Giants (Delphi), Achilles or Spear Bearer, the Parthenon and the Temple of the Olympian Zeus (Athens), Temple of the Athena Nike (Acropolis), Aphrodite of Knidos, Hermes and the Infant Dionysus, the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos (out of this world), Warrior A, The Scraper, Venus de Milo, Gallic Chieftain Killing His Wife and Himself, Athena Attacking the Giants and Dying Gallic Trumpeter (Pergamon), Laocoon and His Sons, Nike of Samothrace and Hellenistic Ruler.

Statues such as the Venus de Milo are some of the finest statues, albeit classical statues, ever made. They are very realistic; one could even say that they are hyper-realistic. It is better to say that Greek art was idealized realism. That is, it is more real than real. If you look at Greek statues of humans, they are more perfect than humans actually are.

Anatomists have studied these statues and concluded that these statues are in fact more perfect than actual humans could be, down to the last detail. It’s an idealized and perfectionist vision of man and what he could be.

Greek art, and the Roman art that followed, is very secular. This sets it apart from the art that followed in 1000 years following the Fall of Rome, in which art become focused solely on religion. So in this way, the Greeks and Romans were extremely advanced for their time. In contrast to the wildly religious-obsessed art of the Middle Ages, Greek and Roman art nearly avoids religion, as if it was not important.

What was important, instead, was the secular, quotidian lives we live on Earth and all of the hopes, dreams, tragedies, comedies, joys, etc etc. of the human journey. In this crucial way, the Greeks and Romans were as modern as we were. If we could go back in time and air-drop cars and planes into their cities, I’m pretty sure they could go to town with them pretty fast. Quit thinking of these ancients as primitives. They were just like us!

Some Greek art such as Gallic Chieftain Killing His Wife and Himself and Dying Gallic Trumpeter, while secular, is also histrionic is a staged sense. These are the exaggerated emotions of our films and plays, the timeless saga of man, his travails, conflicts and emotions.

The point here is that the emotional content is wildly exaggerated in the way that it often is on stage in plays. Plays, like opera, since they lack the fancy sets of cinema, rely on exaggeration of emotion, to convey what they lack via fancy sets and multimillion dollar crews.

The Greeks made some great tile art too, like Alexander the Great Confronts Darius III at the Battle of Isos and Stag Hunt.

In a previous post I asked why the very early civilizations all built pyramids. The truth is not so surprising. A pyramid is the most basic and rational architectural structure to build. It’s a natural. If you empty salt onto a table, it ends up in a pyramid shape. A pile of about anything often ends up pyramidal. A pyramid is going to stay upright.

Building large things other than pyramids that are going to stay upright is a lot more difficult. This is why the Roman invention of the arch was so essential. In architecture, the arch is an essential ingredient to any advanced building.

If you see some of the reconstructed Roman structures in the context of the time, it’s as if they were built by aliens. That’s how far advanced they were beyond anything else of the time. I have seen interiors of large Roman structures that look like modern airport terminals (see the Central Hall of the Basilica Ulpia in Rome). Roman cities were laid out very rationally on perfect grids. They also made atriums, pillars, coliseums, on and on. Buildings had elaborate carvings made in them, often of men in combat.

Roman paintings do exist, but due to the fact that they used wood and paints that decayed, little has remained. Most remaining Roman “paintings” were done with tiles. I have seen Roman paintings that achieve a look that was not achieved again until the 20th Century (see The Unswept Floor by Herakleitos). Pompeii has many of these.

As with just about everything else, Roman art and architecture was out of this world.

Some of the great statues, tilework, carved artwork on buildings, buildings and cities are Head of a Man, Aulus Metellus, Imperial Procession, Commodus As Hercules, Augustus of Primaporta, Gemma Augustea, the House of the Silver Wedding and the House of the Vetii (Pompeii), Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, Battle Between the Romans and the Barbarians, Still Life (Herculaneum), the Colosseum, Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli and The Battle of Centaurs and Wild Beasts (at Hadrian’s Villa), Timgad in Algeria, the apartment blocks of Ostia, and the Arch of Titus, the Arch of Constantine and the Column of Trajan (all in Rome).

The Pantheon in Rome may be one of the greatest buildings ever made, though the competition is tight. The Dome of the Pantheon is out of this world.

It’s commonly said that Romans fell to barbarians, Germanic tribes. It’s true that they sacked the place, but it’s not true that the Dark Ages lacked art, as I noted above. What happened in the Dark Ages was a decline in the quality of art over that produced by the Romans and Greeks.

Furthermore, art became very restricted. Paintings, usually done with tiles, have a dark, depressing and Hellish theme, overridden with a harsh moralism. The world was a cruel and nasty place, and if you didn’t watch it and pray all the time, you were going to Hell.

Almost all paintings were of religious figures of one type or another. People often have a strange, otherworldly look. This is because as I noted in an earlier post on the Dark Ages, the Church had the only money at this time. If you wanted to get funded, you had to go to the Church and the Church would only fund Church-related stuff. Plus probably most art was being done in monasteries, as with most other productive activity beyond mere survival.

The people looked strange because the Church frowned on realistic looking people. That looked like real life, and the Church did not want to portray real life. They only wanted to portray the otherworldly realms of religion. In this attitude we can see the common religious attitude that the worldly life is permanently tainted with sin and must be avoided as much as possible.

Although this was a dark time for art and society, the focus on religion was reasonable. Truth was, life was so dark and dismal that the Church was where it was all going on. All art was about the Church because there was nothing else happening and life was really bad. All science, education, learning, reading, writing, wealth creation, art, architecture – it was all coming out of the Church. The money factor was crucial. Nowadays, if you want money, you go into business. Back then, you got into religion.

The reason that things fell apart so much in the Dark Ages was the collapse of urbanization. Country folks and back to the landers may not like city life too much, but when cities collapse, most everything tends to go to Hell. By contrast, the greatness of Greece and Rome was actually related to their high level of urbanization. City life seems necessary for advanced civilization to occur. With urbanization, some crucial factors probably jell together that start to mandate civilizational advances.

Characteristic of the time is large halos around everyone in the painting. It is accurate to say that art did not progress during the Dark Ages, that it actually went backwards.

Nevertheless, much fine material was produced.

Some of the excellent paintings, sculptures and buildings produced during the Dark Ages include the Church of Santa Sabina (Rome), the Church of Santa Costanza, the Mausoleum of the Galla Placidia, the Dome of the Baptistry of the Orthodox and the Church of San Vitale, the Transfiguration of Christ with Saint Apollinaris, First Bishop of Ravenna – a painting in the Church of Saint Apollinaire of Classe (all in Ravenna, Italy), the Hagia Sofia (Istanbul) – one of the finest buildings ever built, the first written Bibles such as the Rabbula Gospels from Syria, the Paris Psalter, the Ebbo Gospels and the great Crucifixion with Angels and Mourning Figures cover of the Lindau Gospels (all from France) and the Book of Kells from Scotland (Out of this world!), the Cathedral of Saint Mark (Venice), the Palace Chapel of Charlemagne (Aachen, Germany), ornaments from the Sutton Hoo burial ship (Suffolk, England), the Gummersmark brooch (Denmark), the Labro Saint Hammers (Gotland, Sweden) the burial ship from Oseberg (Oseberg, Norway), the Gero Crucifix from the Cologne Cathedral (Cologne, Germany) and the Church of Saint Cyriakus (Gernrode, Germany).

Note that fine art was even produced up in Scandinavia. These people were not primitive by any means. The problem up there is that most art was created out of wood. There was plenty of that, but it doesn’t make very good art, and most important, it doesn’t last. For really great art, it helps to have some big rocks, and I think there are a lot more trees than rocks in Scandinavia.

Greece looks like while God was creating the world, he took a break to throw rocks at Greece. The place is littered with stones. Hence all of the fine stone sculptures, buildings and cities of Greece.

Great art continues in the High Middle Ages, such as the Church of the Monastery of Christ in Chora (Constantinople) and the painting Anastasis on its apse, the Doors of Bishop Benward at the Abbey of the Church of Saint Michael (Hildesheim, Germany), Doubting Thomas in the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos (Castile, Spain), Christ in Majesty in the Church of San Clemente (Tahuil, Catalonia, Spain), the Borgund Stave Church (Sogn, Norway), the Durham Cathedral (Scotland), the Church of Saint Etienne (Caen, France), the Speyer Cathedral (Speyer, Germany), the Church of Saint Ambrogio (Milan, Italy), the Cathedral Complex (Pisa, Tuscany, Italy), the Church of San Clemente (Rome), printed works such as the Worcester Chronicle (Worcester, England) and the Winchester Psalter (Winchester, England), the woven Bayeux Tapestry (Bayeux, Normandy,  France) and the Portable altar of Saints Kilian and Liborius from the Helmarshausen abbey (Helmarshausen, Saxony, Germany).

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is also in the Pisa Complex. The tower is leaning not because it was top heavy, though it is, but because it was built on sand. It would have fallen over long ago without our efforts to shore it up. These efforts are vast and ongoing. We are tunneling under the building and shoring it up in various ways to keep it from falling. Right now things are so bad that it is so dangerous to be around the tower that visitors are forbidden from walking within toppling distance of the thing.

One reason that the art above is so great, even those famous Bibles, is that monks would spend 20 years, 40 years, or a lifetime making say one Bible, one treasure box, painting one church. Not only that, but a whole team might work for many years on an object or interior church design. These monasteries were like miniature factories. They weren’t producing a lot, but no one else was either. They were very inefficient, but there was no competition.

Gothic is in the High Middle Ages, and this is starting to head into the Renaissance, although everything is still about religion.

Gothic had some superb works, and now we are looking at some of the finest churches of all, including the Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Chartres, France), another of the greatest buildings ever built, the Amiens Cathedral (Amiens, France), an incredible building, another Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Paris), a competitor with the Notre-Dame in Chartres and possibly better, another Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Reims, France), possibly the best one of them all, the Saint-Chapelle (Paris), yet another awesome building, and the Salisbury Cathedral (Wiltshire, England) – too much!

Gothic architecture clearly produced some of the finest buildings that have ever been built. It’s characterized by tall, thin cathedrals with vast spires jabbing away at the sky.

The purpose of those spires was to point towards heaven. The idea of the tall buildings was to make them closer to Heaven, and also the various monasteries and bishops were in competition with each other to see who could build higher buildings. The tall, thin shape that gets more pointed towards the top is the best way to build a tall building for the same reason that a pyramid is a natural form.

A building that gets more pointed near the top is less likely to topple over than a top-heavy building that has as much weight at the top as at the bottom. One of those Gothic cathedrals actually had a building that did not get more pointed as it rose and that part of the building toppled over.

How did they build those cathedrals? They used scaffolds. Often families of men, fathers, sons, grandfathers, multiple generations, would work on the buildings.  They usually worked for free or room and board. The Church told them, “Hey, if you guys work on this church your whole life, you will go straight to Heaven.” Yeah right.

One purpose of the cathedrals was conversion. Life was pretty dismal in those days, and the life of a serf was bad. So you took a humble person and should him this wild cathedral, so beyond anything else he had ever seen that it may as well have been built by aliens, and you pretty much had a convert on your hands, so awe-struck was he.

These cathedrals show us just how much money the Church had at this time. For all intents and purposes, the Church had all the money and no one else had a dime. It’s a truism that while the Roman Empire did formally fall, really it just morphed into the Roman Catholic Church.

The fundamentalist crowd wonders why we care so much about separation of church and state. We care because back in those days, the Church was the state. English kings pondered for lifetimes ways to get the Church out of the business of running the damn country. No wonder Henry VIII threw the Church out and set up the Anglican Church. It was the only way to get free of this octopus and its tentacles.

In the Late Middle Ages, great works continue, including the Exeter Cathedral (Exeter, Devon, England), a mind-boggling structure, the Ely Cathedral (Ely, Cambridgeshire, England), the dome of which makes you wonder how they even built it, the Cathedral of Palma (Mallorca, Spain), up there with the greatest and the Church of the Holy Cross (Schwabisch Gmund, Germany), the Virgin and Saint George, the altarpiece of the Church of San Francisco, Villafranco del Panades (Barcelona), the Shrine of the Three Kings (Germany), the Florence Cathedral (Florence), an incredible building, the Siena Cathedral (Siena, Italy), another awesome structure, the Life of John the Baptist on the doors of the Baptistry of San Giovanni (Florence), Giotto di Bondone’s Last Judgment on the west wall and Life of Christ and the Virgin on the north and south walls of the Arena Chapel and Duccio di Buoninsegna’s Maesta Altarpiece for the Siena Cathedral.

Around 1340, one of the first works including landscapes and regular people with no religious significance was done, Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good Government in the City and Allegory of Good Government in the Country, two frescoes in the Sala della Pace in the Pallazo Pubbico in Siena. The moving away from religion and focus on our real world shows how the Late Middle Ages were leading into the Renaissance.

The periods of the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance seem to blend together. The Renaissance ran from around 1350-1600. The Late Middle Ages are thought to be from 1300-1450, so there is definitely overlap. The truth is that the Late Middle Ages shade into and lead into the Renaissance. In the Renaissance, we get the first non-religious art since the fall of Rome.

I don’t have much to say about the art of China and Japan except that it is good. It’s difficult to compare this art with the art produced in Europe. They all had their own styles  and it’s hard to say if any one of them is better than the other, but I don’t think that Japanese art is any better than what was being done in Europe at the time.

Islamic art is actually very good, especially the tilework on the interior of mosques up on the domes. This is excellent art, and as good as what was being done in Europe. The only thing you can say about Islamic art is that their ridiculous religion bans them from drawing humans.

I have seen some early Jewish art, but I wasn’t much impressed by it. Jews are very smart and many modern artists are Jews, so Jews can clearly make great art. The problem here is that like in Islam, Jews were forbidden to make graven images, and the forbidding of idol worship means you can’t draw people, and that tends to really limit your artwork. The fact that Islam has the same prohibition means to me that Islam has borrowed from Judaism.

The art of Central America is interesting, and some of it is not bad. I don’t think it’s superior to European art, but I’m not sure if it’s inferior either. Some of the gold ornamentation is really great.

I really hate to bag on Blacks here, but I should say something about African art. I was not very impressed with it. The best building was the Great Friday Mosque in Djenne, Mali, built in the 1200’s. It’s made of mud and wood. It’s ok, but compared to what was being built in Europe and the Arab World at the time, it’s not much at all. Afrocentrists like to go on about the Great Zimbabwe built around 1300. Yes, it’s a long wall made of stones with some conical structures here and there. If this is Africa’s greatest architecture, I don’t know what to say. It’s not much.

However, I was very impressed by statue heads and masks out of Benin from 1400-1650 and continuing on to 1900. Some of that is excellent. It is usually made of brass. However, I am told that they were already coming under the influence of Europeans, especially Portuguese, and this spurred this nice art. I don’t care what influenced them. There is some cool art coming out of Benin around the time of European Renaissance.

I’m not so impressed with the earlier stuff out of Yoruba or the very early stuff out of Nok in Nigeria. However, we must acknowledge that Nok was one the flashpoints for early African civilization and more was accomplished here sooner than anywhere else in Africa.

At any rate, today Africans produce some superb art, especially African masks. Travelers to Africa with some cash often pick them up and it’s a great investment. I’d love to have one on my wall.

In the 1800’s, all art and music was in the classical traditions. If you wanted to be an artist of a musician, you had to go to school and study the classics. That was really the only way to paint or make music. Hence, art and music had stagnated. The classical art and music had been taken to the limits and the best had already been done. Michelangelo and Beethoven were not going to be surpassed. There was nothing to innovate anymore.

One of the first impressionist was Édouard Manet. His first impressionist painting, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) (1863) was a strange painting of a two clothed men eating a meal with a naked woman in a park. It caused a scandal because the people pictured were real people, not religious, historical, mythological, political or monarchic figures (the five permitted types).

It was not really possible to paint a real person. All art had to be of one of the five types of persons above. The idea of painting a real person was ridiculous.

Manet’s painting caused a scandal not because the woman was nude. It was ok to paint nudes if they were of the five types of persons allowed. The idea that someone would paint a nude of a real life person was outrageous.

It was made even worse because people knew the names of those who were painted – the men were his brother, Eugene Manet, and his girlfriend’s brother and future brother in law, Ferdinand Leenhoff and the woman was Victorine Meurent, Manet’s favorite model and later an artist in her own right.

Further, the subject matter was seen as shocking, nearly pornographic. What were the clothed men doing eating with the naked woman? It was as if they were both going to have sex with her at the same time in a menage a trois .

What Manet did with that painting was like saying, “Screw you,” to the Art Establishment of the time. It was like punk rock, an act of artistic defiance. It was anti-art, anti-classical art, and anti-Art Establishment.

Manet many and his supporters got banned from a major art exhibition in 1863, the Salon de Paris. The jury of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, which dominated the French art scene at the time, voted to exclude his painting from the Salon, and those of many other Impressionists were also banned.

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