The [Pictish stones of St. Vigeans], which date back to the decades before the nation of
Scotland was born in the 9th century, depict ornate Christian crosses
and fantastic beasts and bear both Latin and Pictish writing (the
latter now indecipherable). . . .
The stones are a great early Christian treasure of Angus. They include
the Drosten Stone, a cross slab with ornate cross and fantastic beasts,
plus a rare Latin and Pictish inscription which might have commemorated
King Uoret who died around 842AD. In 843AD, the Pictish kingdom was
united with Gaelic Dalriada under a single monarch – leading to the
birth of Scotland.
The finds, dated to around the 7th century A.D., predate the origins of
similar sophisticated painting techniques in medieval Europe and the
Mediterranean by more than a hundred years.
The discovery may also provide insights into cultural exchange along
the Silk Road connecting east and west Asia during that time period. . . .
Using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, scientists found that
samples from 12 caves and the two destroyed giant Buddhas contained
oil- and resin-based paints—likely the earliest known use of either
substance for painting.
Yoko Taniguchi of the Japan Center for International Cooperation
in Conservation in Tokyo presented the findings at a recent
international symposium held there.
The analysis showed the murals were painted using a structured, multilayered technique reminiscent of early European methods.
These remarkable ivory beads are from a collection of 14th century Parisian carvings soon to be on exhibit at Courtauld Institute of Art. The legend around the skulls reads, Ainsi serons nous, wi ou demain -- Thus will we be today (wi = hui) or tomorrow. The beads show faces on one side and skulls on the other. More information on the collection at 24 Hour Museum.
We usually picture classical statuary as pure white, but the Vatican Museum is featuring an exhibit of famous classical statues restored to their (probable) original colors. The statue above is a red-headed Emperor Augustus, resplendent in red, white, and blue. From The Roman Hideout, circuitously via Neatorama. More photos here, including Caligula looking particularly puerile.
This Coney Island carousel horse is the work of carvers Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein, Yiddish speakers who immigrated from Russia at the turn of the twentieth century. These two carvers were responsible for "the largest carousels ever made: sixty feet across, with up to six rows of horses, and able to accommodate more than a hundred people." But they were not alone. Many other Jewish artisans of the time contributed to the style of the American carousel as well. According to a fascinating online exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum, called Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel, their work is based on traditional imagery of sacred Jewish art:
Some of the same Jewish artisans who arrived in America at the turn of the twentieth century and carved for their local synagogues also found work carving horses and other animals for the flourishing carousel industry. Inspired by the majestic Torah arks, gravestone carvings, and papercuts from their homelands in Eastern and Central Europe, they helped transform carousel art into a powerful sculptural expression of dynamic and animated forms. Although fanciful carousel animals have long been exhibited in museums, the religious carvings by these artisans have primarily been appreciated within the setting of the synagogue. Until now, the important historical and aesthetic link between the synagogue and the carousel has never been documented.
The exhibit traces the connections between the public work of Jewish carvers and the tradition of carving in the synagogue, such as these lions of Judah, attributed to Isaac Sternberg (Itzok the Schnitzer), Philadelphia, c. 1918:
Here is a Coney Island lion, by Marcus Charles Illions, for comparison:
No, wait, that's France . . . Hell is where they make you eat frogs NAKED. The illustration comes from a sixteenth century "Shepherd's Calender," which was like the Farmer's Almanac but with prancing demons. Via BibliOdyssey
[They] identified a 16th-century Flemish Nativity painting
in which one angelic figure appears distinctly different from other
individuals in the painting with an appearance of Down syndrome. . . . This may be one of
the earliest European representations of Down syndrome.
The 1515 Flemish painting, by an unknown artist, . . . shows an angel (next to Mary) and possibly one other figure,
the shepherd in the centre of the background with the syndrome.
"If our diagnosis is correct, this implies that Down's syndrome is not a modern disease," say [Levitas and Reid] (American Journal of Medical Genetics 2003;116:399-405).
The diagnosis of Down's syndrome in the angel was based on a
number of features: a flattened mid-face, epicanthal folds, upslanted
palpebral fissures*, a small and upturned tip of the nose, and downward
curving of the corners of the mouth. The hands, crossed over the
breast, have short fingers, especially on the left.
*The palpebral fissure is the separation between the upper and lower eyelids.
This stunning illustration comes from a manuscript on display at the British Museum. It was "commissioned in the last years of the 17th century
by Emperor Iyasu I Yohannes of Ethiopia for use in his royal city
of Gondar." Note the symbols of the apostles surrounding the enthroned Christ: Matthew the Man, John the Eagle, Luke the Ox, and Mark the Lion. I find it interesting how the compressed bodies, large-eyed faces, and stylized positioning reflect the Coptic (Egyptian) style, but do it in such a distinctive manner.
Here's another Ethiopian illustration, this one found in an early twentieth-century psalter, which highlights the compressed figures, the enormous eyes, and the stylized positioning.
This comes from an article by Jimmy Dunn, reprinted in Tour Egypt. Dunn's exposition of Coptic symbolism (iconization) could easily be extended to the Ethiopian examples as well:
The Characteristics of Coptic iconization follow certain
symbolism that carries a meaningful message, though many of
these attributes may be found in icons outside of the Coptic
Church. Some of these characteristics are:
Large and wide eyes symbolize the spiritual eye that
look beyond the material world. The Bible says "the
light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be
simple, thy whole body shall be full of light"
Large ears listen to the word of God. The Bible says
"if any man have ears to hear, let them hear"
Gentle lips to glorify and praise the Lord, for the
Bible says "My mouth shall praise thee with joyful
lips" [Psalm 63:5].
Small mouths, so that they cannot be the source of empty
or harmful words.
Small noses, because the nose is sometimes seen as
Large heads, which imply that the figure is devoted to
contemplation and prayer.
The Unicorn in Captivity is a very famous image. Just about everybody has seen a print of it. It's one of seven "unicorn tapestries" held at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York.
Every image in medieval art is likely to have a meaning -- sometimes multiple meanings. The museum notes do a good job of pointing out the complex symbolism in the unicorn itself and its surroundings. Before you read them, though, see if you can figure out what the little red dots along the unicorn's neck are. Look just below the collar.
The seven individual hangings known as "The Unicorn Tapestries," are
among the most beautiful and complex works of art from the late Middle
Ages that survive. Luxuriously woven in fine wool and silk with silver
and gilded threads, the tapestries vividly depict scenes associated
with a hunt for the elusive, magical unicorn. "The Unicorn in
Captivity" may have been created as a single image rather than part of
a series. In this instance, the unicorn probably represents the beloved
tamed. He is tethered to a tree and constrained by a fence, but the
chain is not secure and the fence is low enough to leap over: The
unicorn could escape if he wished. Clearly, however, his confinement is
a happy one, to which the ripe, seed-laden pomegranates in the tree—a
medieval symbol of fertility and marriage—testify. The red stains on
his flank do not appear to be blood, as there are no visible wounds
like those in the hunting series; rather, they represent juice dripping
from bursting pomegranates above. Many of the other plants represented
here, such as wild orchid, bistort, and thistle, echo this theme of
marriage and procreation: they were acclaimed in the Middle Ages as
fertility aids for both men and women. Even the little frog, nestled
among the violets at the lower right, was cited by medieval writers for
its noisy mating.
What the Met notes don't point out is the importance of the pomegranate in Christian symbolism (generally called iconography). Both Leonardo da Vinci and Alessandro Botticelli portrayed the Madonna and child with a pomegranate. In the Da Vinci below, the Madonna is holding the pomegranate.
In the Botticelli, the Christ child holds the pomegranate along with Mary.
In Christian symbolism, the pomegranate is a sign of the Passion followed by the Resurrection. This derives in part from the ancient Greek and Roman fertility myths (Ceres and Persephone), and in part from the red juice of the pomegranate, which resembles the blood spilled on the Cross and then provides sustenance to believers.
According to a very informative and well researched article in Wikipedia:
In modern times the pomegranate still holds strong symbolic meanings for the Greeks. On important days in the Greek Orthodox calendar, such as the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and on Christmas Day,, it is traditional to have at the dinner table "polysporia", also known by their ancient name "panspermia" in some regions of Greece. In ancient times they were offered to Demeter and to the other gods for fertile land, for the spirits of the dead and in honor of compassionate Dionysius. In modern times the symbolic meaning is assumed by Jesus and his mother Mary. Pomegranates are also prominent at Greek weddings
and funerals. When Greeks commemorate their dead, they make "kollyva"
as offerings that consist of boiled wheat, mixed with sugar and
decorated with pomegranate. It is also traditional in Greece to break a
pomegranate on the ground at weddings, on New Years and when one buys a
new home for a house guest to bring as a first gift a pomegranate which
is placed under/near the ikonostasi,
(home altar), of the house, as it is a symbol of abundance, fertility
and good luck. Pomegranate decorations for the home are very common in
Greece and sold in most homegoods stores.