Introduction to Artistic Spirituality
My theme for my art exhibition is the concept and importance of spirituality within separate cultures. This theme incorporates death and the afterlife, as well as aspects of religion. This is because separate cultures can incorporate religious meaning into spirituality. The first piece I have chosen for my exhibition is the “Haniwa Warrior”. These statues are depictions of warriors either with armor or without, and they are placed outside of tombs or burials. Their specific function isn’t known, only guessed, mainly because there wasn’t a system of writing in Japan at the time of their existence (c. 250 to c. 600 CE). However, they are thought to be the guardians of tombs and burial mounds of this era. Moving on, the second piece that I am going to be exhibiting is “Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja)”. This statuette is a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva. Shiva is the God of Destruction in Hinduism. This statuette depicts her as the Lord of Dance. The purpose of this statue is largely thought to be for processional parades. Priests would carry statues like these and bless whoever came to the parade. The third piece of work I am presenting is the mural of multiple elements from the Teotihuacan people. This piece of art originates from South America. This mural incorporates many different elements into it, with people and different deities. Next, I will be looking at the “Puerta del Sol” or “Gateway to the Sun”. This gateway is thought to have astrological significance and is a part of the Tiwanaku culture in South America. My final selection is the Palatine Chapel in Aachen. This giant chapel depicts multiple aspects of the Christian religion and goes in depth with the significance of the afterlife. In total, all of these different pieces of art that come from multiple cultures all tie into each respective culture’s spiritual identity. Whether it be religious in nature, or completely independent from any form of religion, they all pertain to the soul, and the meaning in death or the afterlife.
The reconstruction of the mural depicting the Goddess of Teotihuacan is a part of a larger collection of murals in the compound of Tepantitla in Teotihuacan that are thought to be from 100 BCE – 700 CE. The reconstruction of this piece currently resides in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The goddess depicted in this mural is very specific to Teotihuacan, and for a long time she was believed to be a god of rain and warfare. However, in 1974, a man named Peter Furst proposed the idea that the god in the mural was actually a goddess, a feminine deity. Researcher Esther Pasztory also believed that she was a vegetation and fertility goddess, due to the accompanying figures and themes within the mural. The Great Goddess is often shown in a generous nature, as below her in the mural, mortals seem to dance, play ball, and swim in the water that drips from her hands up above. On top of the Great Goddess, what appears to be growing out of her head is thought to be hallucinogenic vines, or perhaps even the world tree, which has roughly the same meaning as most other cultures; it is the tree that spreads across the universe and gives meaning in every action. The Great Goddess of Teotihuacan has not been seen in areas outside of Teotihuacan, other than where members of this culture have settled, which has lead researchers to believe that this goddess was merely a predecessor for Chalchiuhtlicue, an Aztec goddess associated with water and fertility.
This is an example of a “Haniwa Warrior” which was often found near funerary sites or tombs in Japan. These warriors originated in Japan at a time where there was no writing system (c. 250 to c. 600 CE). This particular piece originates from the late Tumulus period (c. 500-600 CE) and it’s dimensions are 31 x 14 3/8 x 15 inches / 78.7 x 36.5 x 38.1 cm. The purpose of these statues are debated but ultimately unknown. It is believed that these warriors were used as landmarks for sacred tombs and burial sites, but their location wouldn’t have been easily accessible to visitors, so it remains debated if their purpose was one that was spiritual in nature, or simply territorial. These haniwa, as they are known, spread further and further, peaking at the height of the Kofun period (c. 400-500 CE), and the tombs that they accompanied are also thought to be testimonies to the power of the state with the authority to compel other smaller states. In addition, many haniwa were not human in nature, and began to gradually transform into other simpler states (such as vases or containers), or animal-like forms (one such example being a haniwa in the shape of a horse head).
Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja)
Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja) is a mobile statue that is Hindu in nature, and it depicts the Goddess of Destruction, Shiva, as a Lord of the Dance, or Nataraja. This copper-alloy statue is thought to be from the 11th century and is 68.3 cm x 56.5 cm, and its creator is unknown. What is known about this statue is that it was intended to be moveable and hoisted on a shoulder. Beginning in the 11th century, Hindu devotees would carry this statue and statues like it through processional parades, followed by other priests chanting prayers and blessings to any that would gather for this occasion. During procession, statues may be adorned in gold and other fine cloth and jewelry so as to denote the human form as lesser than that of the Hindu gods. It is believed that when a devotee comes to pray to Shiva, faith activates the divine energy within and allows Shiva to be present at that very moment. Shiva plays a large role in the artistic influence of art in India and other Hindu occupied regions. Art for the most part was largely focal towards religion and connecting one’s faith to a physical manifestation of a god or gods. Looking closely at the statue, one noticeable feature is that Shiva holds the damaru, an artifact of importance in Hindu religion that signifies the passage of time and is syncopated with the act of creation.
The Great Goddess of Teotihuacan
Puerta del Sol in Tiwanaku
La Puerta del Sol, meaning "The Gateway to the Sun" in Spanish, is a large arch-like object that is currently in Bolivia. This statue was made sometime between c. 300 - 1000 CE, and was made by the Tiwanaku culture. The object is about 9.8 feet tall and 13 feet wide, and made of stone. There are multiple carvings on the stone which were originally thought to be mystical or spiritual in nature, but are now also believed that they have an astronomical importance, and may have served a calendrical purpose. The object is carved with 48 squares that surround a central figure. Each square contains a character that is depicted as a winged effigy. In total, there are 32 effigies with human like faces and there are 16 effigies that are thought to be condors. These effigies all look towards a man with his head surrounded by 24 rays of light, which may represent the multiple rays of the sun. Some historians and archeologist believe that the staves that the figure is holding represent thunder and lightning, and that he might also be the Sun God. Likewise, other archeologists have linked this figure with the Inca God, Viracocha, who happens to be a creator deity in Inca mythology. In any case, there is deeper meaning within these figures and carvings that have yet to be untapped.
The Palatine Chapel in Aachen
The Palatine Chapel in Aachen is a large religious chapel that was dedicated to Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary by Pope Leo III. It is unknown exactly when it was constructed, but the palace was dedicated in a ceremony in 805 CE, five years after Charlemagne was promoted to Holy Roman Emperor. The chapel covers a large area in Aachen and is the town’s major landmark. The chapel is full of depictions of angels and Christ himself throughout the interior of the dome and the walls up above. It is also thought by some historians that Charlemagne placed his marble throne beneath the central depiction of Christ to create a visual link between him and Jesus Christ. Apart from being dedicated to Christ and the Virgin Mary, Charlemagne himself was interred here, and the building was used for coronation ceremonies after his death – well into the 16th century.
What does this all mean?
Although not everything can be concretely tied to religion or spirituality, perceiving something with a fresh pair of eyes allows us to break down what each and every artistic depiction can mean. The creators aren't here to ask, so we are left to our own thoughts and interpretations. The deeper meaning in these examples provides questions and thoughts about spirituality that may lead towards a deeper understanding of how we have evolved artistically in our depictions and references to religion and life.