Parsons the new school for design
PLah 1000-zz Professor Marianne Eggler
Art of the Norms: Everday People as the Subject of Artistic Expression
December 11, 2009
Women in Classical Greece held little to no power or authority on their own and were widely regarded as subservient to men. Only native male Greeks could be citizens. Women obtained power only when they became the wife of an influential citizen or in their relation to a man; a brother, father or husband. Their activities were restricted in that they were only expected to perform household duties or serve as courtesans or escorts to powerful men of society. Women of classical Greek culture mainly held the roles we would now consider homemakers or house wives, and just as our society looks down on the role of homemaker, with the title often falling subject to being deemed as lazy or non contributive to society, it was also looked down upon in the same way in ancient.
The increase of the overall perception of the value of women in Archaic Greece wa due to the rise of empowering Goddesses such as Athena. During this time the most powerful deities were thought to be women; such as Artemis goddess of the hunt, Demeter goddess of the harvest, and Gaia the mother of earth. All three of which were thought to control the health and welfare of families. It was also in Archaic Greece that the rise of hetaera began. Educated women who excelled in the arts and were excellent conversationalists, hetaera were well respected throughout Greek society by men and women alike, despite being known as prostitutes in addition to their scholarly activities. Nevertheless, hetaeras were still easily identifiable in their premier way of dressings and dignified demeanors.
The Marble Statue of an Old Woman displayed in the Greek Gallery of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is from 1st Century AD depicts a decrepit woman struggling along a path. Her face is quite smooth, with only three or four wrinkles stretching horizontally across her neck as well sagging cheeks to show that she is elderly. Her collarbone, chest, shoulders, what is left of her arms, and her feet are all incredibly smooth. Judging from her garment and the subject's small stature it is safe to assume she is not of the upper class. Her thin dress falls off of her shoulder and her hem is uneven, too long in the back which forces her to tuck the extra fabric into the supportive string wrapped around her torso. The crown of leaves she wears on her head suggests the opposite, which she is of substantial social class seeing as crowns of leaves were reserved for champions and the sacred members of society. She holds an overflowing basket of food in one arm, and her stance of putting all her weight on the leg opposite the arm that holds the basket as she motions forward suggests that it is in fact heavy and difficult for her to carry. The depiction of the rocky terrain beneath her feet suggests that her journey is difficult. She wears the common sandals of the period.
At first glance I believed her face bore an expression of worry or sorrow, as if her destination is far from her present location. But her seemingly heavy and low eyelids, as well as her slightly furrowed brow better convey a relaxed exhaustion than despair. I'm not completely sure what the emotions of this woman are, which is what drew me to the statue. The various juxtapositions of the statue; from the lines on her neck yet suppleness of the rest of her skin, the poor construction of her dress yet crown of leaves are all incredibly endearing Also the fact that this statute is the sole depiction of an elderly woman in the entire department means that this piece holds much significance in comparison to the artworks showing youthful and older males in contemplative and empowering stances. Taking all my observations into consideration, its safe to infer that this woman was once powerful and beautiful. Clearly she was still held in somewhat high regard to have this statue created in her likeness, and the crown she wears suggests the same. But as the slight deterioration of her neck and mouth show aging, it may also represent the diminishing of her influence in society with age, I do not believe she was royal.
Egypt's Old Kingdom non-royal statues weren't meant to be publically displayed. Destined for tombs, these "living images", as they were called by the ancient Egyptians, were placed in offering chapels. Texts in the chapels of the deceased explained that the statues were an integral part of the burial ceremony. Identified by the names and titles of the deceased, the statues received incense and food. Before a funeral a priest would perform a special ritual called Opening of the Mouth to bring the image magically to life. Their sole purpose was to receive offerings, most importantly the sustenance that would sustain the deceased in the afterlife. Therefore the sculptures and paintings are not portraits in the modern sense of the word. The limited ranges of poses and movements reveal an attempt to convey the physical attributes and characteristics of the deceased individual, trying to best embody the personality of the person because Egyptians believed that the deceased maintained their identities even in the afterlife. Although Egyptian artists paid close attention to detailing facial features, creating a perfect replication of the image of the deceased wasn't completely necessary. Other details contributed to identifying the statues. Certain fine points of dress, such as kilts, elaborate jewelry and scepters indicated the subject's prestige. Texts might be placed on the base of the statue or on the subject's seat, generally in the front but sometimes on the sides depicting scholarly achievements or an intellectual or inquisitive personality.
Discovered in the tomb of Meketre, the Statue of an Offering Bearer c. 1985 B.C. was carved out of a single block of wood. Depicted wearing a large bib necklace, immensely ornamented ankle bracelets and a multicolored jewel tone dress, the female subject of the statue is clearly of great importance and that the being she delivers her offerings to, was of great power and authority. As per the norm, the figure isn't given an identifiable name, but rather is recognized as an offering bearer. Her wide yet realistic eyes help display an overall demeanor of joy and graciousness. She's not smiling with her mouth, but between the careful arch of her eyebrows and the curves of her eyes, it's clear that she feels happiness. The figure seems realistic as opposed to idealized. She holds a generous offering of a bird in one hand, and balances an overflowing basket of fruit on her head. The position of her feet and her stance suggests that she walks lightly and carefully to not disrupt her surroundings. The statue is 44" tall, so it is of small stature, but is still large when compared to the smaller statuettes and carvings it is surrounded by in the museum that were also discovered in the tomb of Meketre. The statue is large enough so that its significance and importance is clear, yet not so monumental that you are led to believe that the woman depicted holds more power than she does. The platform she is placed on is on is purposefully short to not meander from the intended height of the statue.
What drew me to the terracotta Seated Figure statue stemming from the 13th century Djenne culture of Niger Delta, was that the gender of the subject was not at all easily identifiable. Where as many other art pieces from the region displayed in the met are clear in their gender with idealized and exaggerated reproductive and nursing organs, because this figure's back is hunched over as it holds it's right leg to its chest and chin, the reproductive organs that would have made the sex of the subject very apparent, were in fact hidden. This suggests that the focus of this piece is not its physical form, but rather the emotion that it evokes. The subject of the statue is clearly in a state of contemplation or spiritual enlightenment. The open mouth may show that they are still connected to this physical world in this state, in that they may have been communicating as they reflected or meditated. But at the same time, the open mouth may propose that the subject simply chose to breathe through their mouths, and perhaps didn't need to communicate at all. It is clear that the subject's eyes are closed, and that their' nostrils are slightly flared. The flared nostrils may mean that in the state that the subject is in, his or her senses are heightened and sensitive. The figure isn't very detailed. The texture is course and the color lackluster due to age. It is clear that the right arm was added onto the figure after the other pieces because of the mound of clay connecting it to the shoulder wasn't complete smoothed. After research I found that the geometric mounds along the subject's back suggest that he is a male. And because of the sheer amount of mounds, he was an important figure in his local society. Other than the back decorations the figure doesn't wear any clothing to depict a level of importance or specific location within the socio-economic hierarchy.
The Standing Female Figure Wearing a Strap and a Necklace stems from the Bronze Age of the Arabian Peninsula. Made of sandstone and measuring 27 cm in height and 14cm in width, it is a medium sized, yet I am sure, often overlooked statue. Hailing from 2nd Millenium B.C., the piece is very simple n composition. The texture is smooth all around the figure with the standard sandstone color. What attracted me to this piece is that the subject has on accessories as opposed to the surrounding pieces in the Ancient Near Eastern Art Exhibit. Though the statue doesn't contain much facial expression, for the subject isn't really depicted with a face at all, the position of her arms resting on her stomach depicts a mood of relaxation and possibly even confidence. The subject has small, flat, angular breasts, which tells me that she wasn't looked toward to be a particularly excellent bearer of children. Her overall shape is very boxy, and her neck is thick. Her body shape is actually very reminiscent of a football linebacker, with her strong shoulders and wide back and relatively narrow legs. The strap that spans across her body only adds to the feeling of athleticism that the figure emanates. Though the strap doesn't hold anything like an arrow pouch or a jug to suggest that its material is leather, the way that it splays across her body suggests that the strap holds the same weight as a leather strap would.
Women of this era and this region weren't perceived to be good huntresses, athletes or leaders of any kind. Women were valued based on their ability to produce strong children, and to cultivate the food needed to sustain the family. The fact that the subject of this statue, a woman lacking in the often desired curves of the era, was chosen to be the subject of a piece of art is significant in that it represents the shift values within the Arabian Peninsula of the time. The roles of women within the period were beginning to change, though not rapidly or drastically. Women became more self sufficient for example they began trading and bartering on their own without the help of their husbands or other male counter parts. This statue embodies that modification in the duties of women.
The art piece that best conjures the personal identity of the human being depicted is The Marble Statue of the Old Woman. This is because this statue is the most detailed in its composition, and its representative symbols showing her social class, age and emotions are easiest to read despite the conflicting facets I previously discussed. The second art piece that best conjures the personal identity of its subject would be the seated figure. The feeling of meditation and serenity is visibly portrayed in the subject's body contortion as well as his closed eye lids. The third runner up would be The Statue of an Offering Bearer, because the piece clearly shows where the subject fits into society and what role the woman plays in relation to Egyptian Noble Meketre. This piece doesn't overflow with emotion, but her happiness and circumspection are clear through body language and other details that I discussed earlier. The least effective piece is the Standing Female Figure Wearing a Strap and a Necklace. This statue is the least effective because of its lack of detail and ornamentation. The figure's role in society isn't clear, though it can be inferred through her stance, and body shape in relation to the ideal female form and women's role in society in context of the time it was created.