Posted On: Nov. 20, 2017
History Discussion 1: Islam and Christianity Made Visual • Considering that calligraphy and mosaic are visual representations of religious belief, compare and contrast Islamic calligraphy at Alhambra and Dome of the Rock to Christian mosaics at Ravenna. What do you think each art form communicates about the religion it represents? • To begin this discussion you may want to think about why Islam focuses so much on the written word and the beauty of that written word in calligraphy? • To consider Christian mosaics, why do you think early Christianity relies so much on pictorial, didactic representations of Holy Scripture? The divine message (Koran) is reflected through the act of writing. This has a special place in Islamic society. The literal meaning of calligraphy is “beautiful writing”. Over a period of time, it developed into a complex form art form. It was appreciated for the religious and pious message it conveyed. It also became famous due to its decorative qualities. It can be seen on many objects, such as ceramic vessels, stone buildings, silk robes, manuscripts etc. A lot of inscriptions consist of messages from Koran and blessings as well. Words, both written and spoken, hold a special place in Islamic faith and hence the ability to write well is admired. Calligraphy is the most highly regarded and most basic element of Islamic art. The Qur’an was transmitted in Arabic script. There is a vast potential for developing a variety of floral forms within the Arabic script. Calligraphy was used as an ornament or decorative purpose. But it also had an aesthetic appeal. Most of works of art had legible inscriptions. Calligraphy is basically a means to transmit a text or message in a decorative manner. Mosaic is the art of creating images with a collection of small pieces of colored glass, stone or other such materials. It is a technique of decorative art, or rather an aspect of interior decoration which has a cultural as well as spiritual importance, such as in a cathedral. Here small pieces which are mostly square shaped, of stone or glasses of different colors are used to create a specific pattern of a picture. Art is primarily a mirror or reflection of our thoughts, feelings, and cultural beliefs. However for Islamic calligraphy, it is more of something divine and something which needs to be discovered and explored. It helps one to discover oneself and let it become a part of the whole. Christian mosaic on the other hand is more of a visual that conveys a design to remember. In the case of depictions of Muhammad, the founder of Islam has been a matter of debate in the history or Islamic religion. While oral and written descriptions are permitted and accepted by all traditional believers of Islam, there is a disagreement about visual depictions. There is no explicit disapproval by the Qur’an but there are supplementary teachings which have explicitly prohibited Muslims form creating visual depictions of figures. The Muslim artist who created images of Muhammad and the public who saw them clearly understood that the images were not meant to be treated as objects of worship. These objects were also not so well decorated or used as part of religious worship. It is another matter that scholars believe that such images have a spiritual element and many a times were used in informal religions devotional meetings. The key medium of public religious art in Islam was and is calligraphy. The Dome of the Rock is not a mosque, but a Muslim shrine. Like the Ka'ba inMecca, it is built over a sacred stone. This stone is believed to be the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven during his Night Journey to heaven. Discussion 2: The Medieval Experience • If you had lived in Europe during the Middle Ages, explain whether you would have rather gone on a pilgrimage or on a Crusade. Refer to specific aspects of the journey to justify your choice. • Compare aspects of the Bayeux Tapestry to aspects of a war film depicting a real-life military battle. How do both the Bayeux Tapestry and the film influence the viewer to be more sympathetic to one side over another? • When thinking about your choice between a pilgrimage and a crusade, consider the objective of each of these journeys? What happens to you on a successful pilgrimage? On a successful crusade? • Why do you think that the Bayeux Tapestry focuses on military conflict? How can you tell who is a "good guy" and who is a "bad guy?" What is the ultimate function of war-time and battlefield art? For many people in the Middle Ages, going on a pilgrimage was simply the medieval equivalent of tourism. It was a way to leave your village and see a bit of the world, with an acceptable religious excuse. If you read Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (about a group of pilgrims going to visit the tomb of Saint Thomas Beckett at Canterbury Cathedral), it is obvious that the pilgrims were not all pious religious types. They also included ordinary people, including some quite rowdy and mischievous types, looking for a bit of diversion. Some pilgrimages, such as the trip to Jerusalem, were long and arduous, and only undertaken by the seriously holy minded (sometimes against their will). But most pilgrimage sites were closer to home, usually a local saint's shrine. In England, the most popular destination was Canterbury, which is a pleasant and picturesque town in Kent with an impressive Cathedral. Not terribly arduous really. But far away enough to skive off work for a couple of weeks. Pilgrims who visited the Cathedral were even sold little vials of "the Saint's blood" as souvenirs. As far as going on Crusade was concerned, this was most certainly not a holiday trip. Whether you would fancy being a Crusader would depend on how much the idea of going off to war appeals to you. For bloodthirsty types, with a thirst for glory and booty, then going on Crusade might be a great adventure. This is if you actually reached your destination in the first place. Most of the fatalities in medieval armies were caused by disease and starvation. Around 80,000 Crusaders are reckoned to have set out on the First Crusade in 1096, but only around 40,000 reached the Holy Land in 1097, and only 15,000 or so reached Jerusalem in 1099. So the odds of survival were not good - and you might not even get the chance to kill many infidels. Even if you were the bravest and strongest knight, you were still no more a match for plague or dysentery than the lowliest peasant. Nor do people really much fancy the idea of marching and fighting in heavy and uncomfortable armors in sweltering desert heat, while the lightly-armed and mobile Saracen hordes are busy trying to kill. it would be really hard to know what I would have done if I had lived in Europe during the Middle Ages. Perhaps things would be according to the present circumstances. However, based on what the history tells us, I would rather go to a pilgrimage. In that way, I do not have to experience all the sufferings that the crusaders had suffered in the Middle Ages. Some of the crusaders died along the way because of hunger, fatigue, sickness, and other causes; and I would not want to experience that. One can also think that having a pilgrimage during that time was just like having those "tours" that we do today. The only difference is that, pilgrims do it for a sacred purpose. However, if you look at the aspects of Bayeux Tapestry where it was evident that a lot of people went on a crusade and risked their lives for a good cause, and also the scenes in a war film depicting a real-life military battle, as viewers, we might be influenced by their bravery and we would surely sympathize with them. Their stories were even written in the different languages in the different countries in Europe and also around the world, and they are considered great people. With that in mind, the viewers will be more likely to sympathize more on the crusaders.