From the animal hunt depicted in a prehistoric cave drawing, to the uniforms of the Amsterdam militia in a 17th century Dutch masterpiece, a vast majority of the history of humankind has been told by reflecting on the art of the period.
When I was a Fine Arts Major in college, we were required to take a notoriously difficult costume history class. The course was thorough and phenomenal because it taught us how to identify the time period in any portrait or movie by the clothing worn: All done by studying the Visual Arts.
More often than not, a written record cannot be found amongst the ruins of ancient civilizations. So how do archeologists and historians put the pieces together to tell the story? It’s all in the Art. The remains of frescos, tiled murals, wall paintings in a tomb, and more, all tell the observer who the people were that lived and worked in the cities, how they thrived, whom they worshipped and what their day to day lives were like. From the lower classes to the governing powers, from the sandals on the slaves to the boots on the warriors, evidence of a society and its customary habits can be found in the study of the artwork of the era. It is true that a picture speaks a thousand words, thus we discovery the architecture of the Rennaissance and the chaise lounges of the caesars of Rome. Even from the long Dark Ages, we learn of a soldier’s chain mail and the popular poulaine shoes. For a history of Christianity, the Basilica of Sant’apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy, contains three bands of mosaics dating back to 493 AD. The upper band depicts 26 scenes – comprising the most complete ancient record of the New Testament. These mosaics illustrate the evolution of Christianity in Easten Europe from Arianism to Catholicism, as one can see that some scenes have clearly been altered as time and beliefs moved forward in Western Europe. Our history has been recorded and retold time and time again by artists throughout the ages. The tale cannot be told without Art. – Kathy