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Looking at art and historical artifacts can tell us immense amounts of information regarding the society and culture from which these objects came from. Art can be revealing and informative in the same manner that books can tell readers about history and cultural conventions, many times providing specific details about its origin. These details can then provide viewers with an informed and comprehensive view of cultures and societies. Art is a reflection of not only the artist which creates the piece, but also a reflection of the atmosphere in which the artist lived. These reflections through art can point to specific themes and subjects that were important during the times that these artists lived. Power and Status are themes that can be considered universal in virtually all cultures regardless of their respective geographical location or historical era.
The intention of this essay is to provide the historical background of three different and important works of art, while comparing and contrasting them and most importantly identifying within them the common themes of status and power. The three works that will be examined all derived from exhibits held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art In New York. These works include; the glass work made by Ferdinand Eusebio Miseroni Ewer, in 1680's Bohemian Prague, a Helmet made in 18th century's Iran and the Spirit Poles Carved by Ajowmien in Omadesep Village in 1960. Even though the history of the three previously mentioned works of art are very different and the materials used to create these works of art are also very different they do share some important qualities. All three of the artworks can inform spectators about the history, culture, social structure and daily life of the members of its society. They also have differences, these being mainly differences in the intentions and messages behind the artwork. All three of these Art pieces were created for different reasons and with different audiences in mind.
In Prague, around 1618, the Protestant uprising began and Protestants were brutally defeated in the Battle of the White Mountain (bitva na Bile ho-e) in 1620. The Dark Age of the Czech history (doba temna) began and the city that was built around a castle, it lost its importance and the Prague Castle deteriorates. With the Defeat of the Czech nobles' uprising; Czech language and Czech national consciousness began to decline, however this may led to the Baroque art and architecture evoke during 17th century in Prague. Since the city was built around a castle the Baroque futuristic had a lot of influence on the art works. The craftsmanship of glass is also an important aspect to keep in mind while investigating the glasswork made by Ewer. Even though it was near the end of colonialism era there were still colonies, The French colonial empire, British Empire, and the Dutch Empire. Even though Prague didn't have much of a geological importance compared to other cities in Europe, it was surrounded by the West, which had great revolutions on art and science. Another aspect to keep in mind while looking in depth for a glasswork maybe the trade and the importance of glass as well as glass types around Europe in 17th centuries. In European societies where constant turmoil and influxes of changes were commonplace people sought to remain established as powerful and elite. A way of achieving this was the acquisition of wealth and valuable artifacts. Status and power is displayed through a variety of mediums in European cultures. Some of these mediums include religious institutions, wealth, political power, military power and also art collections. In reference to the Art piece known as Fonthill Ewer, it is a safe to say that its creation and acquisition was intended to be a show of upper class social standing and of wealth and power. According to historical records Fonthill Ewer was purchased and owned by one of Englands most wealthiest and powerful men. William Beckford acquired the piece in 1819 believing it to be a renaissance piece created by the renowned artist Benvenuto Cellini who lived from 1500 to 1571. As described by Richard E. Stone; "Beckford purchased a magnificent jewel, an ewer of smoky quarts with massive gold mounts decorated with rich enameling and numerous diamonds" (Stone 75). Beckford purchased this astonishing and luxurious piece as a decoration accent for Fonthill Abbey a monastery like retreat for himself. It was not until it came into the possession of The Metropolitan Museaum of Art that it was discovered to be a fake imitation of renaissance art. Beckford was a very well-known public figure; he was known a socialite and an author. He is credited as the author of the novel Vathek, he is also famous for being openly homosexual. Beckford possessed a large collection of art pieces which resided in Fonthill Abbey. According to author Richard E. Stone Beckford was often ostracized to due to his homosexuality, taking this into consideration it appears that his acquisition of art pieces like the Fonthill Ewer were an attempt to salvage some of his social status by flaunting his wealth. The fonthill Ewer shares some qualities with the other two pieces of art being discussed in this essay, most of these qualities are intangible and symbolic. Whereas the 18th Century Iranian War helmet is a symbol of war and military might the Fonthill Ewer is purely a symbol of social standing and wealth, both do however share the common theme of Imperialisms and social structures. The Fonthill Ewer is very different physically from the Omadesep Village wodden carving structures of the Asmat people. The Fonthill Ewer is very elaborate made with precious metals and stones while the Omadesep Village carvings are made from relatively cheap wood. They both do share some qualities which are their social and cultural value. They both have meaning beyond their physical form, both of these objects are representative of the values and traditions of their respective owners.
" In the 18th century, the West achieved and then maintained military, political and economic superiority over the Middle East"[footnoteRef:1], which was not the usual power relationship that existed before. The Ottoman Empire ruled most of the Arab Lands included in the Middle East for about four centuries, from roughly 1516, when it conquered Syria, to 1918, when the Ottomans withdrew from Syria, later the rest of the Arab world after the defeat in the First World War. The helmet made in 18th centuries proves Iran may have something to do with the war as well. [1: Choueiri, Youssef M. A companion to the history of the Middle East, 1948. Blackwell Publishings. Page 147]
In the Islamic religion, women have an important role, however, they are seen weak as opposed to men who are described to be strong and have more status in Islamic cultures. In Iranian culture as part of the Ottoman Empire, a man could have 4-5 women and this was seen normal, and this still is on going in some parts of the world. The helmet made in 18th century's Iran may also be used to represent status as well as for use of protection in war. It must have been worn by powerful man or soldiers as a representation of a higher status, since the helmet is made out of iron and has Islamic calligraphic art painted in gold on it. The helmet is mostly worn for protective purposes and it can be said that it is mostly worn by man, which indirectly indicates that man has more power than women. The war helmet clearly symbolizes the turmoil and warfare that was present in Iranian and Middle Eastern culture throughout the centuries leading up to the 17th hundreds. The materials used to create this piece are important to consider as iron is the most desired metal in the creation of warfare weaponry, due to its strength and durability. The use of iron for the helmet speaks to the sophistication of the culture; working with iron was a craft that took many centuries to perfect. The mastery of iron craftsmanship speaks to their commitment toward preparedness in times of war. The use of gold in the composition of the helmet points to wealth, honor and prestige for the owner of the helmet. The helmet is elaborately blazoned with gold carving and extensive lettering. This clearly indicates that it was created for a person of high social standing and also a powerful person within that culture; perhaps for a great war general or military leader of very high ranking. This shares some qualities with the Foothill Ewer, as they were both created in elaborate fashion and were most likely intended for persons of high social rankings. By possessing these objects the owners not only displayed their power and influence but also the rank of their status within their respective cultures. It differs with the Omadesep village wooden carvings of the Asmat people as these sculptures are made from a relatively simple materials. They do however share a commonality…[continue]
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