In keeping with Spring, we address the theme of the cycle of life, as reflected in the art and beliefs of the Aztecs. The Aztecs are the ultimate expression of the Meso-American cultural development, and sadly the last, as with the arrival of the Spanish, it was all destroyed, by war and by the diseases they brought with them. We are now beginning to learn that the conquest of the Americas was more the result of disease, rather than the superiority of the Spanish. The paradox of the Aztecs is the contrast between the undeniably high achievement of their civilization and the brutality of their religious rites. They come from a totally different point of view from us, and their art reflects that, with its inescapable focus on human sacrifice. I find their art weirdly and disturbingly fascinating, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The challenge is to try to understand what it meant to them, rather than just our horror of it. What we do know is that this ritualized brutality was believed by […]
A look at a small slip painted stemmed cup, and its geometric patterns and how they relate to the architecture of the Mixtecos in Mitla, and similarities with the Mayan architecture at Uxmal. The stemmed cup is Mixtec, 1350 – 1521 A.D. Slip painted ceramic, 2 3/8 inches high.
In this video we take a close look at one of the more beautiful Poniatowski gems in my possession, a large oval amethyst set in its original gold frame depicting the story of the cypress tree as told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. I have told this tale when I first acquired the gem here: https://tomswope.com/another-rediscovered-paniatowski-gem/ The story told by Ovid is beautiful, relating the story of a handsome boy, a tame and beloved deer, and the god who loved the boy. The gem shows the pivotal moment when the boy realizes he has killed his beloved deer and wants to die, with Apollo trying to pull him back from the scene of the tragedy. Ultimately Apollo loses the boy to grief, and transforms him into the cypress tree, which are found at the abodes of dead to this day, mourning forever.
As we close out 2017 and look forward to 2018, I’d like to take a look at long, long ago, to a time relatively unknown to us today, and mostly forgotten, but which in fact represents the majority of the time of human existence on the planet earth; the Stone Age. Human beings have been on this earth for over 2 million years, and we know very little about this long and important period, it is truly prehistoric. Modern thinking about this period of man’s existence is changing from that of man being in a hobbesian state, in which, “the life of man, (was) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”, to one where the hunter gatherer life was actually quite good. The wonderful book, Sapiens, a brief history of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, sums up much of this new thinking in a highly readable manner. The fossil evidence shows that individuals then had more leisure time and better nutrition and overall health than seen in the early agricultural societies. This surprising turn of thought […]
A look at an Olmec perforator, ritual object, from about 1000 B.C. Carved of green jade and beautifully polished, with a awl like slender pointed end, with double spoon like basins at the other end, it was used in ritual blood letting. Blood sacrifice is particular to the mesoamerican world, and the Olmecs were the mother culture of this region. The Olmec sites are in the low-lying tropical Gulf regions of Veracruz and Tabasco, and are best known for the giant stone heads.
A look at a very well preserved Greek Bronze inkwell from the 4th Century B.C. It is remarkably complete with its suspension chains and lid, and the pyxis like body of the inkwell is decorated with finely granulated bands, as is the base and top. It is one of the finest examples of its type I have seen.
When I first purchased this delicate, thin walled stemmed cup, I was unclear as to where or when it was made. I had no doubt it was ancient, and it reminded me of Etruscan black bucchero ware. However, it is much finer than Etruscan bucchero ware, and I discovered that it is in fact Chinese, and Neolithic in date, about 5,000 years old. It is an amazing object.
Here we look at the subject of the serpent in Mesoamerican art, one a contemporary version of the Aztec motif by Robert Graham, the other two Aztec stone sculptures. The plumed serpent was the symbol of Quetzalcoatl, one of the main deities of the Mesoamerican pantheon.
A look at three Buddha heads from the 6th to 8th Centuries A.D. and how we can date them stylistically.
A look at a beautiful Chinese bronze Hu vessel, inlaid with copper, and dating to the Warring States Period, 475 – 221 B.C. What is amazing about this piece is the use of copper to inlay into the bronze, related materials that we do not consider precious today, but was treated as a precious material by the ancient Chinese. The amount of technical skill and labor to inlay the thin pieces of copper into precisely cut depressions is quite remarkable and we are able to see it clearly in this video.
A look at a beautiful Chinese jade sash buckle of a fierce monster mask. Dating to the Han to Six Kingdoms period, the image is very much like protective monster faces from Buddhist monuments of the Wei to Zhou periods, and brings up a wonderful Hindu myth of the god Shiva.