Moving forward in time as our gaze continues to place art in its historical context, we now confront one of the truly great moments or eras of creative activity. Greek artists, over the passage of several centuries of time, codified a vision of beauty which still resonates with us today. How the Greeks evolved such a vision in their finished works of art, especially in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, remains a tantalizing mystery. Johann Wolfgang Goethe, in his Italian Journey (1786-88), wrote the following quip regarding the mysterious Greek understanding of beauty : “What was the process by which these incomparable artists, the Greeks, evolved from the human body the circle of their god-like shapes, a perfect circle from which not one essential, incidental or transitional feature was lacking? My instinct tells me that they followed the same laws as Nature…But there is something else involved as well which I would not know how to express.” What do you think is the missing piece of expression which Goethe could sense but was not able to put into words?
Nike of Samothrace or Winged Victory
Nike of Samothrace being removed from the Louve in September 3, 1939 to ensure its safety should war break out.
As we begin to assess Art in its cultural and historic context, we find ourselves turning our gaze back into our collective distant past and marvel at the work painted and scratched onto cave walls. Our earliest ancestors, responding to a community driven by hopes, fears, and ignorance, saw fit to leave their perceptions of the world which we, unfortunately, refer to as “primitive art”. The famed British sculptor, Henry Moore, once remarked: “Primitive art…is something made by people with a direct and immediate response to life.” Although no written documents have been found to record the “thoughts” of our earliest ancestors, nevertheless, their painted images on cave walls such as Chauvet Cave speak volumes about their perceptions of the visible world they inhabited so many years ago. It is believed that the cave painters constructed images on the cave walls in a representational way so that, in some magical way, the spirit of the animal depicted would inhabit the replicated form. In other words, their painted animals became those animals in the wilds. What are your thoughts of our ancient ancestors and their attempts to “record” or “document” their time by replicating animals on the walls of sacred caves?
Animals found in Chauvet Cave