A formal analysis, contextualizing, and compare and contrast of the Egyptian sculpture of Isis nurturing Horus and the Byzantine icon, The Virgin of Vladimir
This essay aims to investigate two different time periods in the history of art. It will scrutinize the influence that the respective societal contexts had on the different artists, which in turn, caused them to arrange the formal elements in a specific way. I will be examining an Egyptian sculpture of the god Isis nursing Horus, her son, as well as the Vladimir Virgin icon, which dates from the Byzantine era. Experts vary on the precise ‘lifetime’ of the Ancient Egyptian civilization, but according to Mason (2007:10) it existed from 3100 BCE up to 30 BCE. The Byzantine era, which revolved around the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium, stretched from the 5th century up to the year 1453 (Tansey & Kleiner, 1996:285). I will start this investigation by doing a formal analysis of both artworks. Then I will go on to place each work in its respective context. Lastly, I will compare and contrast them.
The British Museum currently houses the small bronze statue of Isis nursing Horus (see Addenda A figure 1), which is a mere 22,8cm in height and 14,8cm in length (British Museum, n.d.). It dates back to the Late Egyptian Period, which falls in the timeframe after 600 BCE (British Museum, n.d.). Examining this artwork reveals a lot about the arrangement of the formal elements in the composition, as well as the reasons for it. The headdress forms the focal point of this three-dimensional composition, because of its large size, especially in relationship to the figures, as well as its placement at the highest plane of the composition, in example, on the deity’s head. According to Seawright (2011: par1) the headdress represent the power attributed to the specific god and could be swopped around as deities took over one another’s powers, as seen in this sculpture, where Isis is wearing the headdress of Hathor. It consists of a sundisk within the horns of a bull, which is a symbol of fertility (Symbols, 2010: par1). This imagery fits this depiction of Isis, as a nursing mother, perfectly (James, 1988: 45). Alchin (2009: par2) refers to the value of gold in ancient Egypt; that it was considered to be “the flesh of the gods”. This principle is manifested in the golden face mask worn by Isis, which shows her royalty and power (Alchin, 2009: par2). On Isis’ lap a child-Horus is portrayed in a rather rigid and uncomfortable position. The wooden throne, on which she is seated, is synonym with her name, which translates to “Queen of the throne” (Hill, 2010: par2). Isis actually becomes a visual depiction of her name, as her lap becomes the throne of Horus.
The next artwork I will look at is an icon, which has come to be known as The Virgin of Vladimir (see Addenda A figure 2). Dating back to the 12th century, this 30½ by 21-inch painted wooden icon was exported from Byzantium to Russia, where it remains today, in the State Historical Museum in Moscow (Tansey & Kleiner, 1996:312). When looking at the painting, the “direct gaze” of Mary in the top third of the composition demands your attention (Baclaran Redemptorist Church, 2012:par1). The eloquence of human emotion is epitomized in “the tenderness of the pose, cheek against cheek” (Piper, 1991:62). The faces are very detailed, conveying in-depth information about the loving relationship between them, whereas the clothing is stylized, but not devoid of meaning, as it is drenched in symbolism. The dark blue of Mary’s robe is symbolic of “eternity and immortality” (Happy Catholic, 2005:par8). In sharp contrast to this is the golden colour seen in the clothing of the Christ-child, which represents radiance and divinity (An Icon as an Image, 2008:par2). The diagonal lines in the child’s attire, give the impression of sunrays and expounds on the idea of light and radiance (Tansey & Kleiner, 1996: 312). The cross- or...
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