To me these works may represent the highest peaks in western art; that is art which portrays the ascent of human consciousness. I have experienced them all first hand, except the Pantocrator. Also, a few words on each are, I think, in order. Most of the images illustrate text.
1. Nefertiti. Gardner's Art Through the Ages suggests that "With this elegant bust, Thutmose may have been alluding to a heavy flower on its slender sleek stalk by exaggerating the weight of the crowned head and the length of the almost serpentine neck." According to other sources the bust may be a sculptor's modello, used as a basis for official works. I saw it in East Berlin before the wall came down and it was in a large glass box so you could walk all around the magical lady. The mystery of the missing eye has yet to be solved. Beauty and consciousness are combined in a piece 3000 years old, suggesting an advanced level of civilization.
|The Nefertiti Bust is a painted stucco-coated limestone bust of Nefertiti, the Royal Wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. The work is believed to have been crafted in 1345 B.C. by the sculptor Thutmose. It is now in Berlin.|
2. Hermes. The documentary evidence associating the work with Praxiteles is based on mention by Pausanias the 2nd-century AD travel writer. The group is sculpted from a block of Parian marble. Hermes measures 2.10/2.12 m, 3.70 m with the base. The face and torso of Hermes are striking for their highly polished surface. The back, by contrast, shows the marks of the rasp and chisel. At the time of its discovery, the hair retained slight traces of cinnabar, a form of mercury sulfate with a red color, perhaps a preparation for gilding. Cinnabar tints are retained on the sandal straps of the original foot, with traces of gilding. Probably the entire piece was painted. I debated between this work and the Charioteer of Delphi but the Delphi piece, although wonderful, is a bit stiff. The trace of a smile on the face of Hermes reveals an inner life not found in the Egyptian piece. The scene depicts the messenger before he delivered the infant god to nymphs to be raised.
The Hermes of Praxiteles, Olympia Museum, circa 340 BC.br />
|The Christ Pantocrator of St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai is one of the oldest Eastern Roman religious icons, dating from the sixth century AD.|
3. Christ Pantocrator. Although I have only seen reproductions of the work, its power is evident. The icon represents the dual nature of Christ, illustrating traits of both man and god. Christ’s features on the left side represent the qualities of his human nature, while the right side represents his divinity. His right hand is shown opening outward, signifying his gift of blessing, while the left hand and arm is clutching a thick Gospel book. Today we know that the left side of the brain is responsible for controlling the right side of the body and performs tasks that have to do with logic, such as in science and mathematics. While, the right hemisphere coordinates the left side of the body, and performs tasks that have do with creativity and the arts. Both hemispheres are connected by the corpus callosum. A composite is to the right, thanks to Photoshop. This mixing of the human and the divine could indicate a peak in western civilization that may never be surpassed.
4. This Venus represents the rediscovery of the classical form of beauty, but her body follows the curve of a Gothic ivory and is entirely sensuous. This image invites a comparison with female image painted about the same time in Venice, not far way from Botticelli's Florence. The scene depicts the birth of the goddess from the sea.
|The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli circa 1480, the Uffizi Gallery|
The Annunciation by Antonello da Messina in the
Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo, 1476.
5. This is the very moment Gabriel announces Mary will receive the Logos into her body (Luke, 1: 26-38). Her left hand closes her robe in apprehension, while the right hand both accepts and wards off the event. (Also holding the viewer away from the mystery). The slight smile seems to indicate she has the maturity to manage the burden. The synthesis of icon (imago) and history painting (historia) produces the visual impression of an eternal moment that allows contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation and the elevation of human consciousness.