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Free «The Byzantine Mosaic vs. the Medieval Art» Essay Sample

Art is a beautiful thing on the earth. As one art critic says: 'Art when really understood, is the province of every human being' (Henri 11). An artist has the power to be creative and expressive through his/her artwork. Every creative work which he/she does manifest his/her personality or the life itself. Concerning the artist, the critic adds: 'The world would cease to live without him, and the world would be beautiful with him; for he is interesting to himself and to others' (Henry 11). Thus, art brings two things: beauty and life. In order to really appreciate a certain artwork, there are various aspects an individual should put into consideration. For instance, an art created merely through a mechanical medium would not be pretty and much appreciated unlike an art created through paint brushes or other mediums that really require creativity in the part of the artist. In every artwork, there must be the 'art spirit, 'wherein the absolute creativity and wonderful expression of the artist is clearly manifested in it. Still, just as the critic says: 'Merely museum of simple art will not make a country an art country. Rather, where the art spirit is, there will be precious works to fill museum' (Henry 11). To put it this way, scrutinizing an art piece – whether it is worthy of praise or not – is not an easy way; there must be a keen examination of it in every aspect. Probably, one way of doing this is first to look at the history of a certain artwork, and along with it, to look at its creator, the means it was created, where it was created, and what seemingly good characteristics it has that makes this masterpiece stand beautiful among other works. The following discussion includes two remarkable art works in the history.



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One of the most remarkable and attention-getting artworks is the Byzantine mosaic – particularly the Comnenus mosaic. What seems to be eye-catching in this piece of work is that it is a mosaic. A mosaic is an art that consists of small pieces of glass or colored stones. To look at it, making a mosaic is a hard thing. Nevertheless, the mosaic art is really one that truly shows the absolute creativity of the artist. In the book entitled The Art of Mosaic Design, the writer commented that the mosaic design is a 'fascinating art' founded on paradoxes that must be embraced (Locktov & Clagett 6). The mosaic design is really fascinating for the fact that smalls things are put together to fit in, making a beautiful image. Another thing about mosaic is that the design is mostly done for religious purposes. Looking at the image in the Comnenus mosaic, it most likely portrays the Virgin Mary – with a child in her hands – and at their both sides there are seemingly high ranking officials – a king and a queen – handing over to the child something important. This mosaic is placed in the Hagia Sophia church in Istanbul, Turkey. Due to their number, the mosaics located in the galleries of the church are more easily seen but more difficult to find (Nelson 20). However, in the south gallery of the church, no visitor will most likely miss the more important mosaics of them all. The eastern wall has the two representations of emperors giving sacks of gold for donations; the left panel represents Constantine IX Monomachus and the empress Zoe. It is separated from this mosaic by a window there are emperor John II Comnenus, the empress Irene, their son, and the emperor Alexius Comnenus (Nelson 20). The two panels portrays two things: the offerings of the emperors either given to Christ, whom the Hagia Sophia is said to be dedicated to, or given to the Madonna (Italian for 'my lady', which in Byzantine, refers to the Virgin Mary) and child, the subject of the apse mosaic near the panels and located above the altar, which shows the emperors giving their gifts during the public worship. Thus, this is the main theme of the art. Viewers are intended to remember and realize the importance of giving unto God what really belongs to Him. Most probably, the art was created in order to make its viewers more dedicated to a religious life.

As mentioned above, the artist of the Comnenus mosaic is still unknown; while some details concerning the mosaic are worth mentioning. The period the artwork was created is between 1122 and 1134. The design was completed in the town of Istanbul, in Turkey, and the conservation place is the Hagia Sophia Church which clearly means the mosaic is for the sacred purposes. The glass-paste tesserae are used for the mosaic design. The mosaic is not an abstract; though, it clearly represents realistic persons. The representation of the mosaic is John II Comnenus –which the mosaic was named after – and his wife Irene, who was a Hungarian princess. Somehow, this is also a reflection of the culture during the Byzantine Empire, wherein emperors mostly married Western princesses and Byzantine noblewomen mostly married Western monarchs. This is one of the most remarkable artworks in the art history. Nevertheless, there is another art piece that is marked out in the history as remarkable as well.

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This artwork that this paper will discuss is the Ognissanti Madonna. The painting was made by Giotto Di Bondone and is located in the Galleria Delgi Uffizi in Florence, Italy. Giotto was an ancient Italian painter as well as an architect. The road to art in his life began inthe farm, where he, along with his father, shepherds a flock. It was when Giotto drew a sheep on a flat stone, after nature, that it caught the attention of Giovanni Cimabue (1240-1302) – a painter of the Florentine school, who anticipated the change of art from Byzantine to naturalistic – who persuaded his father, Bondone, to allow him to go to Florence, with much hope that he would be 'an ornament to the field of art' (Spooner 360). Immediately, Giotto took the first step in imitating his master, but just in a few matter of time, he already passed Giovanni. Giotto became very prominent in his age, and the artworks he made were of a great quality. In his art, symmetry became more pure and simple, design - more appealing, and coloring - softer than his previous works (Spooner 360). In 1316, according to Vasari, Giotto returned from Avignon and was employed at Pagua; there he painted the chapel of the Nunziata all’ Arena. Giotto soon increased in popularity, and his artistry became more in demand of the public. About 1325, upon the invitation of King Robert, he painted the church of S. Chiara, which he decorated with themes of the New Testament and the Mysteries of the Apocalypse (Spooner 360). Unfortunately, these artworks were destroyed; nevertheless, the Madonna and other art pieces were preserved in this church.

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The painting Ognissanti Madonna was done around 1310. The other images included aside from the Virgin Mary and the Child seem to be eye-catching in the piece of work. The whole picture includes twelve more men and two at both sides of the throne. The twelve men – six for each side – are most probably the twelve apostles of Christ during His life on the earth. The two angels, on the other hand, also have an implication. They portray greater reverence before the throne; the bowing position of them depicts the absolute worship” of the ones in the throne. It is important to note, however, that the painting reveals the radical transformation made by Giotto. The style of the devotional image in the Ognissanti Madonna and Child marks the remarkable time in the acceptance of his new style in Tuscan panel painting at the onset of the fourteenth century (Paoletti & Radke 86).

Looking at the historical account of these two pieces of artistic work, there are some specific comparisons between them. Needless to say, it is understood that the two masterpieces differ with regards to the artist and the place where they were created and have been preserved until now. To begin with, it is worth paying attention to their similarities. Firstly, the two are considered to be the most remarkable artworks in the history of art. Both of them portray the great creativity and fantastic artistry of their creators; both are fascinating figures for every viewer. Another similarity is that they were made for the same purpose –religious one, to be more concrete. The mosaic portrays the importance of giving/offering unto God, making the viewers realize and understand that, in worship, man should give unto God, for He is worthy of all; the painting, on the other hand, portrays the Madonna or the Virgin Mary, which catches the attention of the viewers, making them remember the Virgin Mary and give importance to it. As one writer says, the Ognissanti Madonna is a 'hymn to Virginity, Motherhood, and Mary’s Regality, (Fossi 5). Both works had the intent of complementing the religious states of the public.       

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Nevertheless, there are some differences between the two artworks. First, it is the culture differences. The Comnenus mosaic was created during the Byzantine time, when the style of art was still Byzantine; on the other hand, the Ognissanti Madonna was done around 1310, at the time when the style of art became naturalistic. Another difference in them is the medium used to do the works. The first is a mosaic; while the latter is just a painting. Although it seems that the mosaic is harder to do, both works are results of intense passion and skills. Lastly, the difference in the two is the images included in them. Though they have the same theme – religious views – the mosaic only includes the two officials with the Virgin Mary and Christ; while the Madonna includes the 12 apostles and 2 angels. The latter artwork may somehow be considered as having more emphasis on reverence to God since it even includes the 12 apostles – known as the saints – and two heavenly angels.

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The appreciation of art is not simply by taking a quick view of what is being depicted in it. Having the spirit of art – as discussed in the introduction of this paper – greater beauty and magnificence of an artwork are manifested in various aspects as well such as the techniques and means of doing the work, the themes portrayed in the image, and the importance of the art for the public. Knowing the history and the nature of an art is a worthwhile thing. As Howard Gardner comments: 'art education has continued to be considered a vehicle for promoting self-expression, imagination, creativity, and knowledge of one’s affective life (Gardner 35). Looking at the beauty of the two artworks aforementioned, indeed, art brings beauty and life. 


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