style

Interpreting the main “schools” of Buddhist Art. Gandhara, Mathura, and Amaravati

  The rising belief in Buddhism That spread greatly through India during the first and second centuries had spurred a renewed artistic fervor to illustrate the enlightened one and relay his message. During this prolific time emerged three main “schools” in India that had developed their own particular styles and distinctions. These were the Gandhara, Mathura, and Amaravati schools. Each region had fashioned their own technique in how they would portray the Buddha in their craft. Although, even with these differences there remained a set of distinctive parameters or lakshana that could easily define the piece as a Buddha notwitstanding what country you were in. In all there were thirty-two distinguishing features that needed to be expressed to give the piece validity. These ranged from specifying the color of the individual, to arm length, hand gestures and even identifying marks on the body such as wheels or chakras which are depicted on the palms of the hands.        

  Since those early explorations into Buddhist artwork the religion had gained much attention in neighboring countries and lands far away from its original inception. These places; such as Sri Lanka, China and Korea all needed to adopt their own “iteration” of their god as did the early Buddhists of India so long ago. In response to these countries need for icons, there is an amazingly similar approach to the tenets that the original schools practiced that has seemed to transcend time and culture while preserving much of the sentiment that was ingrained by the founding artisans from India’s past.        

Sri Lanka        

Parinirvana of the Buddha, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

 

 In the “Parinirvana of the Buddha” (9-35) a giant rock-cut statue of the Buddha is hewn from the side of a rock face. The Buddha is lying on his side and displays many Indian “markers” or traditional motives. The Piece has a soft and dreamy appearance that has no real hard or sharp lines of definition in the body or clothing lending a hallmark of the Mathura school of technique. The Buddha’s body is soft and gentle in appearance and only offers basic defining characteristics of the Buddha identity set. These features are consistent with an earlier piece done by Mathura trained artisans (9-14). This piece is further characterized by the light and almost non- existent presence of the clothing worn on the statue. It is only gently displayed through subtle lines that give a sense of the body shape beneath the robe itself. Also important to note is the facial features which take on an almost abstract appearance and delve away from perceptual realism. The hair’s abstract circle pattern and angled large oval eyes are less based in realism but more seated in conveying the intention of the piece to the viewer, again another indicator of the Mathura style. The overall intent and meaning to this piece is to impart the intensity and centrality of the theme in Buddhism while using the scale and abstract elements to convey the artist sentiment.       

China     

seated buddha cave 20, Yungang Grotto, china

 

 In “Seated Buddha, cave 20” (10-13) which is situated along a portion of the old “Silk Road” trade route in China. There is a large rock cut relief statue of the Buddha that initially resided inside a natural cave, but weathering has eroded the exterior fully exposing the work inside. This location along an inter-cultural “highway” most likely birthed this interpretation of Buddha by way of a subtle mixing of styles; Primarily the Gandhara and Mathura approaches. The clothing is a hybrid of either style because it does not have a harsh, set patterning like some Hellenistic pieces but it does still retain some rich, repetitive detail in the folding and mannerisms of worn clothing with an added amount of abstract embellishment. The facial structure more closely resembles the Gandhara style (9-13) in its sharper definition and more “Greek” move toward facial features. The nose and eye treatment closely resembles early Mediterranean art in its execution of more sharply defining facial contours in a conceptual manner. This is further compounded by the archaic smile of the Buddha that has been seen on many Greek artworks in the past.  The overall softer body tones and shaping can obviously be attributed to the Mathura style as well as the overall presentation is not as precise or discerning in proportion as some other Gandhara works.        

Korea      

Bodhisattvva Seated in Meditation. National Museum of Korea, Seoul. photo by Han Seok-Hong

 

  In the “Bodhisattva Seated in Meditation” (10-27) we have a good example of a Korean art work patterning itself in the style of the Amaravati School. Here a slight and slender portrayal of a Bodhisattva is seated in deep (as well as joyful?) meditation. This is very similar to the third school of Buddhist Indian artwork in the depiction of these more thinly bodied and delicately appointed figures.  The treatment of the garments associated settings has a conceptual feel while simultaneously exuding a light and vibrant energy through the forms. This art feels free and expressive but not bound to scrutinous detail which it does not need to relay its concept. Overall, the piece’s lacking of “trained detail” as in past examples finds itself as a fresh approach which has an uplifting and gentle feel.   

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European religious edifice after the waning of the Roman empire

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe found itself trapped in a downward spiral in terms of the Humanities and civil order. This was a long period of ruling warlords, transient warriors and various cultures attempting to exact their dominance in their respective areas. Some of these efforts were unique and original to the world stage and others harked back to times of familiar but forgotten order. Through this time of uncertainty and weariness many of these cultures established their influence and weaved their tale into the collective story of European history as displayed through their constructions. I will preview some noteworthy examples from Germany, Italy, and France to attempt to clarify their cultural contexts and meanings in this new age for Europe. 

Germany 

Inside Charlegmanes' chapel at Aachen, Germany

“The Palace Chapel at Aachen”  

was the primary residence of Charlemagne. Emperor Charlemagne had attempted to steer Europe back onto the path of civil and human normality which was expressed under the earlier Roman Empire for over a millennia. He had adopted the Catholic Church and ordained it as the religion of his land which was to follow and convert as he did. Charlemagne constructed his palatial retreat in the Carolingian style of Roman, Christian, and Byzantine architectural treatises. The palace reflects his deep-rooted belief in the Christian faith and simultaneously adopts the Roman Basilica style as seen in the Church at san Vitale which was reported to have a great effect on the Emperor. The interior has columns and arches that recall the Byzantine ethos which also heavily influenced the San Vitale Church. The Palace also contained a great audience hall that emulated a classic Roman forum as well. In all, the palace chapel at Aachen was trying to revitalize the late Roman Empire by highlighting the virtuous aspects of creative and varied ability while combining new emerging religious fervor and merging them into a unique blend that defines a large part of historical timeline In Europe. 

Italy 

In Tuscany, the “Cathedral Complex at Pisa, Pisan artists began work on a complex that would attempt to channel past Roman greatness to an extent as seen in the previous example of Aachen. Here the decorum was decidedly more Roman with the facades being clothed in various marbles and richly decorated in tiered columns and decoration. The Cathedral proper is designed in the classic Roman Cruciform-Basilica style and is accented on its exterior in a way that suggests the styles seen on the Parthenon or Coliseum. Multi leveled expanses of the outside facades offer their own unique differentiations in exterior layouts that include the external portions of all the buildings within the complex. The grand presentation of these worship places are highly vested in their Imperial past and offer a true recalling of Romanesque history that their culture is responsible for. 

France 

Amiens Cathedral, France

“The Amiens Cathedral” represents another distinct movement in European religious/artistic history. Here concept of  Christianity has been taken on as a high art. The churches and cathedrals of this time have become a more centralized and an integral part to community life in a way that makes them major economic and civic epicenters to the villages and towns they serve. A movement to bring praise and glory to the religion was to adopt a style of construction called Gothic which was simply a new and decidedly French style that countered the more traditional Romanesque ethos. Here this new style was used to promote the greatness of God through ornate and architectural excellence. These large cathedrals were extremely costly and highly avant-garde in their construction methods.  Every available exterior surface seems to be covered in a symbolic pictorial homage to a teaching or parable from Christ and the Bible. At a time when illiteracy was rampant, these illustrations no doubt helped reinforce the sermons delivered in the pulpit and warned of the revenges and rewards the pious and sinister would befall in their final judgment. The exteriors generally revealed more of a skeletal framework from which windows and ornamentation where displayed rather than merely impressing the overwhelming scale and heavy presence that was custom until this point. Light was now a more valued commodity and with the usage of stained glass the desired mood of salvation was better achieved and appreciated. Also new techniques had to be used to cope with the drastic architectural changes. The walls where now higher, thinner and topped by sharply (and large) inclined spires and roof systems. Accordingly, new buttressing techniques were developed (flying buttresses) to ease the pressing forces of natural physics that were in opposition to these lofty and ornately delicate structures. Also important to note is the perfection of various vault types and styles that carry the weight of the megalithic creations.  In summation, the art of religion and human ingenuity peaked at the same time in France in the middle ages. This style was a clean break from tradition and placed new value towards functionality and art in the sphere of everyday use. 

In the courtyard of the Masjid-I Jami: a study in beauty and precision

   Mosques are a sacred pillar in Islamic life and are living centers for civic and religious ceremony. They serve as schools for children and adults alike; they also host community, social and political functions. They can be thought of as a place of worship, wisdom, and fellowship. The Masjid-I Jami or congregation mosque in Isfahan Iran is one such mosque worthy of note. It was created in the 10th century and has steadily evolved from its start to fit and suit the needs of its population. This is not to say that the work completed on this edifice has merely been structural. There have been many great additions to the visual appeal of the mosque during its time to further deify and celebrate Allah and his role in the Muslim way of life. This mosque is a visual celebration of Islamic culture and this author will attempt to define some key areas that make this important fixture a work of living art.  

Seljuk brickwork patterns on the Masjid-i Jami in Isfahan, Iran. Photo courtesy of http://www.islamicity.org

 

  The FORM of the example is expansive. This mosque is a largely executed attempt to accommodate the male population of its community. It is a simple building which is then elaborately decorated by its caretakers or expanded to fulfill the needs of the community. The LINES are straight and precise for the general framework of the building. They are perpendicular and parallel in such deliberate quantities that a feeling of structure, safety, and ultimately righteousness can be found in its visage. This strict and functional canvas of structure compliments the COMPOSITION that the artisans have created in the way they have used a multitude of muslim muqarnas (a type of stacked niche) set along great vaulted arches. These features have within them even more niches that all of which tell a story or relay a quoted scripture from the Qur’an.  

Facade covered with Kufic inscriptions and intricate tilework. Photo by Sojta Serjber, panoramio

 

  On this particular “canvas”, the MATERIALS and TECHNIQUE used to decorate and define this mosque are simply staggering. The façade is completed in a cobalt blue mosaic background with high levels of detail executed in contrast to the base color. There are borders of the mosaic tile around the arches and niches that serve to define the structure as well as design “themes” that differ based on where they are located (i.e. flat walls have a “basic” carryover design which then changes when the pattern reaches a minaret or dome, it then becomes more geometric in its appearance). The amount of visual data presented is truly overwhelming to the human eye. The painstaking amount of tedium that was needed to set these individually carved and cut pieces of tile and then place them in such a precise order so that they could resemble a required shape or even the Kufic Language is a masterstroke to the artists that created this monument.  

   The use of COLOR choice on this work is both striking and befitting of its purpose. The locale around this building (geographically speaking) is muted and generally restricted to earth tones. In defiance, this building stands in high relief to its environment being mainly composed of a deep blue mosaic covering. The Contrast in colors is a beacon to all who are within sight of it and serves as a constant reminder to its faithful following.  

   The area this community place occupies for its intended purpose is forever changing throughout its lifespan. The entire structure is devoted to ease the fundamentals of its religion and to allow for all way of procession to occur within it. Theses borders can then be expanded according to the needs of its following. This is an example of how SPACE was used when conceiving this artwork.  

  This has been a small summary of the basic components needed to objectively rate an artwork for what it and what it was meant to be. My rantings on this lovely mosque are by no means the only interpretations that can be concluded and are far from the results that an in-depth and scholarly study of the structure would derive. This writing was presented from a more generalist and amateur enthusiasts viewpoint.