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The Manifestations of the Classical Tradition in Muslim Art
I. Overview of Classical tradition Classical learning can be traced back to the period from around 1000 B.C.E. to around 500 C.E in Greece. This so-called Classical Period was the foundation of ancient wisdom which would hold influence up to this day in the classical tradition. This tradition is in accordance to the tenets: proportion and symmetry, balance, the concept of the “Ideal”, harmony, consistency, which are attributed to Ancient Greeks. Classicism is characterized with the dominance of logic, rationalization and repression; by repression, I mean the lack of exaggeration. The foundatioin styles of Ancient Greece denote the classical tenets: geometric, orientalizing, archaic. The geometric style is usually funerary and rigid in design. An example is the Dipylon Vase, c.750 BC.
Towards 800 BC, humans and animals appeared in geometric pottery, succeeding the abstract designs that came before. The vase depicts the dead man, the mourners and the funeral procession. Norris (2000) explains that:
An example is the amphora (vase for storing wine or oil) from Eleusis. It manifests the clarity and order that are. The figures merge into an overall decorative pattern.The width. geometric designs preceded human and animal designs. The Dipylon Vase shows that abstract. gods. monsters. this is a silhouette style that cannot accommodate overlapping. who the giant had imprisoned. the most salient characteristics of Greek art (Norris. The orientalizing style looked up to influences from Egypt and the East. thereby forging the foundations of Archaic and Classical Greek art (Norris. Norris describes it as: Compared to the Dipylon Vase: ornamentation is secondary. The geometric style is based upon rectilinear and curvilinear forms. . p. 2000. the major areas are given over to storytelling and figural representation of heroes. and spacing of the bands are subtly related to the vessel. density. perhaps. The figures are highly stylized and repeated at regular intervals. 31). but interest in representation is minimal. This shows the blinding of the giant one-eyed Cyclops Polythemos by Odysseus and his companions. Greek artists rapidly assimilated foreign styles and motifs into new portrayals of their own myths and customs. it developed a more naturalistic design. p. 32).
though the idea of symmetry and balance remained. but especially in sculpture and painting of the Greeks. The archaic style is characterized by development not just in pottery and geometric designs.Around this time. in which the entire design is silhouetted in black against the reddish clay and all internal details are incised. . two-dimensional effect that complements the curvature of the vase”. this was the great era of vase painting. representation is given importance and there was more interest in mythological scenes and iconography.525 BC. with heavy bodies locked in combat. c. This vase represents the black figure technique. According to Norris. distinctive artists’ styles and some of the first clearly defined personalities in the history of art. this technique favors a layered. An example is the vase by Psiax. The different styles shown in Greek pottery show the development from abstract designs to representational ones. “Archaic vase painting introduces signatures of artists. which depicts a man facing terrifying creatures. Herkales Strangling the emean Lion.
Furthermore. the . symmetry and proportion are paramount (Norris. is the greatest temple in Athens. It represents the architectural order characterized only to Greek temples. The interior of the building usually contained a statue of the god or gods celebrated there and a treasury for the storage of precious offerings (Norris. harmony. it shows internal consistency.The classical tradition. dedicated to the goddess Athena. The Parthenon and the sculpture of David will discussed as examples. and balance since the Greek orders a premium on design in architecture (as opposed to mere building). The temple is governed by a structural logic that makes it look stable and satisfying because of the precise arrangement of its parts. its form and situation set to serve the cult of a divinity. also left its legacy in architecture and sculpture. respectively. p.41). though. A temple’s primary function was religious. The Parthenon. This temple is of the Doric design and is made of white marble. The artworks aforementioned will be bases of comparison for Islamic art on the later part of this paper. 2000).
and proportion. represents the classical elements of the “Ideal”. The temple incorporated a stepped base of oblong plan. The vertical structure of the temple conformed to an order. a fixed arrangement of forms unified by principles of symmetry and harmony… In a Greek temple. every piece of a Classical temple is integral to its overall structure. however. a scrap of molding often can be used to reconstruct an entire building. Norris points out: The form of a Greek temple was not a space inviting entry. these make it seem more “alive”. the order governed not only the column but the relationships among all the components.43) The marble sculpture of a wounded Amazon. symmetry. balance through the contraposto. and one or more rows of columns surrounding all four sides. but rather a sort of abstract sculpture marking a place in the world. The contraposto is a stance which is balanced. weight-bearing and free. . (p. rectangular rooms for the main statue and offerings. In order to fully grasp the manifestation of classical tenets in the temples of Ancient Greece.Parthenon on the acropolis symbolizes the might of Athena. As a result. tensed and relaxed. bringing about subtle displacements.
a mythical race of warrior women from Asia Minor which were often depicted in combat with such heroes as Herakles. Persia. Achilles. emerged after the Persian Wars. p.The Classical style retained the geometric principles of earlier periods. This. but for the first time represented human beings naturalistically as self-conscious individuals. and discussed many books. and Theseus. Norris notes: It informed figures with a noble awareness and restrained emotion that evoked the virtues of moderation and self-control to which the Greeks attributed their victory over the Persians. “She leans lightly on a pillar at her left and rests her right arm gracefully on her head in a gesture often used to denote sleep or death. the classical civilization declined and suffered a great loss as books and libraries were destroyed. with the help of Persian kings. however. people who gathered and taught at Jundi-Shapur. which can be seen in sculpture large and small. Having a high value on learning. This statue is supposedly a fugitive from the war who lost her weapons and is bleeding from a wound near her right breast. The rise of Islam in the 6th century especially played a role in preserving classical learning. translated. However.The sculptural style.126). At the fall of the Roman Empire.This achievementwas coupled with a remarkable tendency toward balanced compositions and formal harmony.37) The sculpture is that of an Amazon. known today as Classical. Such emotional restraint was characteristic of Classical art of the second half of the fifth century” (Norris. the Muslims preserved what they could and translated ancient writing into Arabic. is not adversely reflected on the Amazon’s face since it shows little sign of pain or fatigue. copied. Greek learning was preserved by way of copying and translating. . (p.
art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome.The remnants of ancient knowledge have survived throughout history as the idea of classicism. rather than the time period of the Ancients. classicism is placed within the context of Islamic art and its manifestation in Muslim “taste”. Classicism. “Classicism is an all encompassing ideology with a few basic rules and regulations. “Aesthetic attitudes and principles based on culture. and characterized by emphasis on form. In this paper. is regarded as an idea rooted from the Ancients. but over time it has become somewhat flexible with the changing tastes”. then. Baignet further explains that. particularly. . proportion. simplicity. and restrained emotion”. Baignet (2003) characterizes classicism as.
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