Art of the Ancients: Sacrifice and Power

Primary Function

The art of Ancient Egypt, China and Central America was utilized by the people to legitimize and preserve power in the earthly and heavenly authority.

The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt were held as divine and their bodies were mummified to preserve them. Their religious beliefs had complex ideas about how a person’s soul would travel after the earthly body had died.

This sarcophagus held the Pharaoh’s corporeal remains.

Considerable time, expense and skill was used to create the tombs of Pharaohs and their households. This was all to ensure that the Pharaoh was kept secure for his travel to the Afterlife. Hieroglyphs along the sarcophagus were not decorative, but served to communicate the status and name of the dead as well as hex anyone disturbing the remains.

Common people were simply enshrouded and buried in the desert. Ancient Egyptian Art thus served to communicate to others the power of the noble class.

Art that has been preserved in China also supports the powerful rulers of each dynasty.

This painting of a powerful ruler shows Chinese Artistic focus on the powerful.

The people of Ancient China believed that their ancestors remained with them and influenced their lives. The life of each individual was largely dictated by his social class. Ironically, the founder of the Ming Dynasty had once been a farmer.

So the art reflected the society’s preoccupation with powerful people. The picture above is of Honawu who ruled as Emperor during the Ming Dynasty. The artists were forced to make works that portrayed the emperors favorably.

To be fair, the time brought great stability and peace to the country and there was also development in landscape painting, pottery and calligraphy.

In a sense it mirrored the development of art in Europe where the arts were sponsored by wealthy patrons, people in power or rich merchants.

Gary Alan Ruse

In Central America and South America, power was held by religious leaders and the art showed that.

Aztec priests performed human sacrifice to honor the Gods.

It is difficult to grasp how advanced societies like those of the Aztecs could be so brutal. Their art is not all about sacrifice which shows the powerful reliance of the people on religion. They have many stone sculptures of humanoid beings with birdlike appendages and features.

Like the art of the people of Ancient China and that of Ancient Egypt, the art of the West remains to share with us what was important then.

Next week, we will continue learning about the Art of the Ancients. This time it will thread on art used to keep track of time and space.

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