Traveling Project Time Traveling Byzantine Architecture -- Essay

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Traveling Project

Time Traveling

Byzantine Architecture -- the Hagia Sophia

In all my travels, no structure can bring about as much awe and respect as that of the Byzantine Hagia Sophia, an immense temple that merges East and West in a conglomeration of buttresses and minarets. Looking back at its 1,500-year history, I can only imagine the changes that the structure has undergone through those eras, from its Byzantine origins to its Ottoman refurbishments. The full form of the Hagia Sophia had been altered after the 15th century, when the Ottomans invaded and ended the thousand-year civilization that was once Constantinople. But let me start at the Hagia Sophia's beginning.

To further illustrate the Hagia Sophia's mixture of east and west, one must look at its historical bearings, for the Greeks sought to reconcile their beliefs with their Byzantine beliefs with that of the Roman Church. Translated to "Holy Wisdom," the Hagia Sophia was eventually built to become the largest and grandest Christian church as far east as the Roman empire reached. Back at the Hagia Sophia's creation, Constantinople was a thriving Byzantine city, perhaps even the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, prior to the Byzantine break from Rome. Lasting over 1,000 years, the emperors of Constantinople experienced a bounteous explosion of culture. It is in the manifestation of the Hagia Sophia -- located north of the Great Palaces -- that the pilgrims sought to travel to the east in order to look upon its beauty. After its creation, the Hagia Sophia had become the mother church, the basis for all further churches found within Constantinople, a lasting symbol of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire.

But what makes the architecture of this temple so special? Once more, I reiterate the fact that its mixture of eastern and western architecture has made it a wonder. The Hagia Sophia has a central dome at the center with a square-ish base, supported by pendentives, structures which were not used in western constructions. To the east and west of the main structure, are flying buttresses that support more half-domes. The interior of the temple itself is oblong in shape, created from more domical elements building up to its main central dome. The top of the central dome is crowned by 40 arched windows, which allow light to shine upon the inside of the temple. The surfaces of Hagia Sophia's inside are of polychrome marble, covered with gold mosaic and Christian symbolism (though later, I found that many of these Christian symbols were white-washed and replaced with Muslim art, as befitting the Ottoman Empire's religious conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque). The four new minarets were further additions of eastern influence, namely that of Muslim tradition.

The Hagia Sophia's structure stands over what was once a basilican church, which had been erected by Emperor Constantius II in 360 AD. This church later met its end in 404 AD, where it was burned down and rebuilt in 415, and once again caught fire in 532 AD. Through the meticulous design work of Emperor Justinian's architects, Anthemius of Tralles (Justinian's most famous military engineer) and Isidorus of Miletus (at the time, the director of the biggest academy of the known world at the time), the new structure that would later become the Hagia Sophia would be completely fireproof. Of course, the dome collapsed by 558, however it was rebuilt to a higher curve at the end of 563. The dome had been so broad that its grandeur would not be surpassed for at least a thousand years (Rome's St. Peter's Basilica would finally become equal in stature and fame). By the end of the structure's construction, it had cost Justinian 145,000 kg of gold, over 3 billion American dollars; a showcase of how economically advanced Constantinople had been at the time.

As I gazed upon the structure at its Muslim conversion in the late 1450s, I could see the addition of the minaret, which served as the tower structure where the Muslim call to prayer would be traditionally announced. The Christian mosaics were recoated in plaster, obliterated from what became a mosque. Evidently, by the 1450s, Sultan Mehmed II had taken over Constantinople, subjugating the entire city and adding it to his Ottoman conquests. In addition to the minaret, a mihrab was also added; it served as an opening that would point Muslims to the direction of Mecca.

Today, the Hagia Sophia is a splendid piece of architecture, a structure that stands for two different religions, and has been a subject of much conflict between the Muslims and the Roman Catholics. The structure has retained many of its Christian and Muslim legacies, and while it had since been converted to a mosque, many Christians of the modern world are seeking to return the Hagia Sophia (or the Turkish Aya Sofya) back to its Christian roots. Regardless, the structure is a splendid piece of Byzantine and Ottoman art and architecture.

Renaissance Sculpture -- Hercules and Antaeus

Antonio del Pollaiuolo was not the only artist during the Renaissance that showed particular interest in the detailed anatomy in sculpture work. Like many of his artist colleagues, Pollaiuolo depicted masculinity by using the most famous of masculine figures of Greek mythology: Hercules. His bronze casting of Hercules and Antaeus, an inspiration from Apollodorus' tales of Hercules, was perhaps a point of interest for me regarding masculinity in the 1470s.

The story of this sculptural depiction highlights Hercules' fight with the giant Antaeus. As far as Greek mythology goes, Antaeus was unbeatable, a giant of invincible strength, reared by Gaia. As long as any part of Antaeus touched the earth, he had the fullness of his strength. In the meeting between Hercules, the legendary hero of many a mythological tale, and Antaeus, the two grappled against each other. Forewarned of Antaeus' strength, Hercules raised the giant off the ground, locking his arms around Antaeus and crushing the giant to him. In this way, Hercules emerged as the winner.

Pollaiuolo's Hercules and Antaeus portrayed Hercules in his struggle to maintain control over the giant. To focus on strength, the sculptor casts the statuette in bronze, showcasing the naked muscles of both men as they embraced in this struggle. The muscles are tense on both men, the protuberance of their bodies catching the light in various angles, darkening and lightening the statuette to further add to the effect of the fight. Through the bronze and the light, we see Pollaiuolo's fight come to life. Antaeus' limbs thrash about, his muscles are crushed into that of Hercules', and his back is arched. Antaeus' anguish is perfectly expressed on his thrown-back neck and face as he struggles desperately to escape from his opponent. Opposite him is Hercules, whose arms are gripping Antaeus in a clutch. Hercules' muscles are squeezing and bulging, his face in concentration of the job at hand. His own back is arched, and his entire body exudes that anatomical strength portrayed in the statuette.

The sculptor -- who shares a surname with his brother, Piero -- is the product of the Renaissance time period. Like many of the Renaissance artists, Antonio was deeply fascinated with anatomy, and has always been fascinated with the movement of the body under stress and strain. Antonio has been known to focus his work on such anatomical strain. Many of his works follow in this statuette's depiction of movement. The vigor and expression in his artwork further enable us to see the animation within his works. Antonio has also collaborated with many other artists, Botticelli as just one of the prime examples of Renaissance's high art.

It is not surprising that such a piece of work has been influenced by Greek culture. While Antonio Pollaiuolo was part of the Florentine Renaissance -- which, undoubtedly, began to spread through all of the Italian states -- he was by no means uninspired by outside influences. In fact, Greek mythology was so rife and overflowing with cultural intellect and artistry that it spread even within Florence. The Renaissance was only at its beginning during the 1470s, and Antonio was perhaps one of the many vanguards of this movement. Later, anatomy and artistry would be further developed by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci (whose Vitruvian Man is the prime example) and Michelangelo (whose marble and bronze sculpture-work will always be remembered as being some of the best of Renaissance sculpting).

The actual statuette now resides in Florence's Museo Nazionale del Bargello, and has been the subject of many studies in Renaissance portraiture of beauty, masculinity, and anatomy. Even now, Hercules is still a well-known heroic figure of mythology, and in the majority of Renaissance artwork, his strength is typically depicted through the toiling of his anatomically muscled body.

Japanese Painting -- Landscape on Long Scroll

Further in the east, the Land of the Rising Sun was not exactly as fascinated by anatomy as they were by the landscape of the east. Toyo Sesshu, a renowned Japanese…[continue]

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