(from Gr. eikon, "image" and graphia, "writing")
is the study of the subject matter, or content, of works of art,
as opposed to their style. The content of a painting or a
sculpture can convey the artist's meaning in several ways. In
general, works depicting only real persons, places and objects
that is, portraits, landscapes and the like may be said to have
only one level of meaning, the surface or primary level. A
secondary level of meaning is added when a work contains an
imagined person or a fictional or mythological scene or when the
artist attempts to render some abstract concept in concrete terms.
Because these secondary levels of meaning cannot be explained in
words in a painting or a sculpture, the artist must use a type of
sign language a visual shorthand, drawing on conventions and
formulas that the observer will recognize.
The function of iconography is to
recognize and explain images of this kind and to search for the
origins of personages and scenes.
A symbol, however, is an object or
figure that by itself represents something else, often an abstract
The earliest recorded images were
those associated with the rites of ancient religions, especially
those in which the deity had a human form. To propitiate or
petition the gods, worshippers offered sacrifices to statues in
temples; the statue was thought to contain the actual presence of
the deity and the temple was considered to be his "house."
This was developed significantly by the great poet Homer who
organized the ancient gods into a kind of family or pantheon and
gave each one an individual personality and specific physical
characteristics. Following Homer's lead, the classical artists
endowed each god with recognizable attributes: Zeus was sometimes
accompanied by an eagle, the bird sacred to him; Poseidon, who
ruled the sea, carried a trident; Artemis, the huntress, had a bow
and a quiver; and so on.
The Romans used art to magnify the
glory of their own accomplishments. Arches, columns, altars and
public buildings were decorated with sculpture commemorating the
triumphs of Roman generals and patrician families basked in the
reflected glory of the images of the ancient gods and heroes from
whom they claimed descent. Statues of the later emperors, who
regarded themselves as gods, often depicted the rulers with the
appropriate divine attributes. Along with symbols and attributes,
allegory was well understood by the Romans.
The symbols and attributes used by
the Romans contrasted sharply to the few, simple images used by
the early Christians, who had to be circumspect in the face of
religious persecution. On sacramental cups, seals and lamps the
Holy Spirit was symbolized by a dove and Christ by a fish (perhaps
because at the time fish was one of the elements of the sacred
meal) or by a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders. The
Savior was also represented by a monogram formed by combining the
ancient Greek letters chi and rho (XP), the first two letters of
the Greek word for Christ.
When Christianity became the
official religion of the Roman-man Empire, its imagery began to
reflect borrowings from the emperor's court at Constantinople.
Christ was no longer depicted as a youthful shepherd, but as an
enthroned emperor and judge with a dignified beard. The Virgin
Mary appeared crowned and robed like the empress and saints
dressed like courtiers approached the throne of God with veiled
hands, as was the custom in the courts of Eastern monarchs.
The repertoire of symbolic subjects
included scenes from the New Testament reflecting the annual cycle
of the principal festivals of the Church. Subjects from the Old
Testament, which earlier had served as examples of God's power to
save the Hebrews in the fiery furnace, Noah and the flood now
reflected the belief that, as part of God's plan, certain episodes
in the Old Testament prefigured events in the New Testament. Jonah,
who formerly symbolized the idea of salvation, now became the type
the original model of Christ, whose death and resurrection was
seemingly foreshadowed by Jonah's miraculous encounter with the
The Romans decorated their villas
with mosaic floors and exquisite wall frescoes portraying rituals,
myths, landscapes, still-life and scenes of daily activities.
Using the technique known as aerial perspective, in which colors
and outlines of more distant objects are softened and blurred to
achieve spatial effects, Roman artists created the illusion of
Christian and Byzantine Painting
Surviving Early Christian painting
dates from the 3-4C and consists of fresco paintings and mosaics
on the walls of churches. Certain stylization and artistic
conventions are characteristic of these representations of the New
Testament events. For example, Christ was shown as the Good
Shepherd, a figural type adopted from representations of god
Hermes; the resurrection was symbolized by depiction of the Old
Testament story of Jonah, who was delivered from the fish.
The otherworldly presentation
became characteristic of Byzantine art and the style came to be
associated with the imperial Christian court of Constantinople,
which survived from 330 AD until 1453. The Byzantine style is also
seen on icons, conventionalized paintings on wooden panels of
Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, made for veneration.
Italian word meaning "fresh") is a technique of durable
wall painting used extensively for murals. Fresco, a fresh wet
layer of plaster is applied to a prepared wall surface and painted
with pigments mixed with water. The pigments soak into the
plaster, which, when dry, forms a permanent chemical bond fusing
paint and wall surface. Another type of fresco, painting on a dry
surface with adhesive binder flakes, is not permanent. Because all
fresco is susceptible to humidity and weathering, its use is
sculpture techniques are carving and modeling. Carving is a direct
subtractive process and carved sculptures were fashioned from such
durable materials as stone, ivory and wood. Modeling is a direct
additive process in which a pliable material is built up around an
armature or skeletal framework.
Sculpture may be created in two or
three dimensions; relief sculpture and the round. Depending on how
far the figures emerge from the background plane, relief may be of
varying degrees; low (bas-relief), middle, or high.
Small fertility figures or mother
goddesses modeled in terra-cotta found in Catalhoyuk (5500 BC) and
Hacilar are among the earliest examples of sculpture in Anatolia.
Period (7-6C BC)
Monumental sculpture in limestone
and marble appeared during the archaic period. The first statues
were influenced by Egyptian sculpture, which in the 7C BC already
had a long tradition. Egyptian sculpture, however, showed little
stylistic change over the centuries. Sculptors used the prototype
of a standing figure with one foot advanced and the hands clenched
to the sides and developed it so that within a hundred years the
same general type was no longer stylized but had become a
naturalistic rendering with subtle modeling. This type of figure
is usually called a kouros (Gr. "boy") and is pictured
in the nude. The female equivalent, or kore, is always dressed in
rich drapery enhanced by incision and color. Color was also used
for the hair and facial features of both male and female statues.
The figures do not seem to represent a divinity, nor are they
usually portraits, but they are images of the ideal masculine or
feminine form instead.
Period (5-4C BC)
Especially in the earliest phase,
sculpture was carved in a severe (or formal) classical style. The
male body became a broad-shouldered, trim-hipped athlete, often
shown in arrested motion. The female figures were still severely
draped; the earlier archaic smiles were sometimes softened in
Period (4-2C BC)
After the death of Alexander the
Great, his extensive empire was dissolved into many different
kingdoms. This fragmentation was symbolic of the diversity and
multiplicity of artistic tendencies in the Hellenistic period. The
great centers of art were in the islands and in the cities of the
eastern Mediterranean Alexandria, Antioch and Pergamum.
The Hellenistic period was a period
of eclecticism. Art still served a religious function or to
glorify athletes, but sculpture and painting were also used to
decorate the homes of the rich. There was an interest in heroic
portraits and in colossal groups, but also in humbler subjects.
The human being was portrayed in every stage and walk of life;
there was even an interest in caricature.
The awareness of space that
characterized architecture also began to emerge in sculpture and
painting. As a result landscapes and interiors appeared for the
first time in both reliefs and painted panels. The great Altar of
Zeus from Pergamum (c.180 BC), created by artists for King Eumenes
II, was enclosed by a high podium decorated with a monumental
frieze of the battle between the gods and giants. Many Hellenistic
tendencies were realized in this work. The basis for its
iconography was firmly rooted in classical tradition. The baroque
style of the sculpture was characteristic of the time in its
exaggeration of movement, physical pain and emotion, all set
against a background of swirling draperies.
Christian and Byzantine Sculpture
After the shift of the empire's
administrative center (AD 330) from Rome to Constantinople,
official interest in monumental sculpture declined. Large
sculptures in the round were viewed as idolatrous by the early
High relief work continued to be
carved on the sides of sarcophagi, modified so that figures from
pagan mythology either disappeared or were adapted as Christian
images and symbols.
the art of embedding small pieces of cut stone or pigmented glass
in a plaster bed to serve as floor or wall decoration. Mosaic
reached its greatest heights in Early Christian and Byzantine art
and architecture. The earliest mosaics found in Anatolia date back
to Phrygian period; palace ruins in Gordion.
Solidity, resistance to moisture,
durability and color-fastness made mosaic a practical form of
architectural decoration. The process of constructing a mosaic
begins with cubes of cut stone, pigmented glass, or gold or silver
leaf sandwiched by glass. These cubes are known as tesserae.
The sophisticated mosaics evolved
from the practice of gathering pebbles from the beach and setting
them in a cement bed to provide durable flooring in homes and
temples. At first randomly scattered and set, the pebbles later
were arranged in simple ornamental patterns.
Although pebble mosaics continued
to be used as simple and inexpensive floor covering, they were
largely displaced in the Hellenistic era by tessellated mosaics of
cut stone, colored glass paste and occasionally of mother-of-pearl,
shells and terra-cotta. Once freed from dependency on the random
shapes, sizes and colors of beach pebbles, Hellenistic mosaicists
executed works of great splendor, intricacy and scale.
Mosaic pavements became (3C BC) the
fashion in the homes and villas of the wealthy throughout the
Mediterranean area. Hellenistic examples served as models for
Roman mosaics until the 1C AD, when changing aesthetic tastes and
economic factors brought about the temporary displacement of
polychrome pictorial mosaics by a black-and-white mosaic style.
Beginning on a small scale in private homes, where black figures
and decorative motifs were silhouetted against a field of white
marble or limestone, this style soon carpeted the floors of public
baths, marketplaces and other areas of public assembly. Because it
withstood the effects of humidity and moisture and because the
tesserae were color-fast, mosaic was often used to decorate garden
walls, fountains and baths in the ancient world.
Mosaic as a form of wall decoration
achieved its greatest expression in Early Christian and Byzantine
In Constantinople, the center of
Byzantine civilization, relatively few schemes of mosaic
decoration are preserved because of natural loss and the
destruction wrought by iconoclasts and the Crusaders.
style is distinguished by the novelty and extraordinary quality of
techniques used in the making of utilitarian objects. These
techniques include the application of lustrous glazes and rich
colors in ceramics and glassware; intricate silver inlays that
transform the surfaces of bronze metalwork; lavish molded stucco
and carved wood wall panels; and endlessly varied motifs woven
into textiles and rugs. In nearly all instances the objects
decorated—whether ewers, cooking cauldrons, candlesticks, or pen
cases—served fundamentally practical purposes; their aesthetic
effect was aimed above all at making the daily activities or
architectural setting more pleasurable.
In the Moslem world a concrete
message is transmitted through its abstract forms. The Moslems
tended to reject the representation of the visible in their art to
emphasize that visible reality is but an illusion and that Allah
alone is true. Abstraction thus became a way to make a very
specific theological point.
Another characteristic of Islamic
art is its rejection of the representation of religious images and
other living beings. Islamic art modified the art of previous
centuries by tending to avoid the representation of humans and
A strong, centralized state, the
Ottoman Empire concentrated its creative energies on the
development of a uniquely logical mosque architecture. As early as
the 14C and 15C, in Bursa and Iznik, the Ottomans chose to use the
single dome as the focal compositional element of their monuments.
This fascination with the cupola was in large part inspired by the
Byzantine church of the Hagia Sophia and culminated in the 16C
masterpiece of the Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul. Ottoman
decorative art, especially ceramic objects and tiles and miniature
painting are largely derivative of other traditions, although many
examples are noteworthy for the exceptional precision of their
(from Gr. meaning "beautiful writing") is the art of
fine handwriting. The term may refer to letters, words, pages, or
even whole documents to which aesthetic principles and skilled
penmanship have been applied.
In Islamic culture, calligraphic
writing is accomplished by using a broad-edged reed, quill, or nib
pen held at a slant.
In a country where Islam is
practiced, calligraphy is of great importance since depictions of
humans and animals are not allowed. The copying of the Koran is
considered a religious act and Islamic calligraphy is much
esteemed because of its religious associations. Major styles of
script are Kufi, a formal style with an angular character, Sulus,
a cursive flowing script written with rounded letters, Divani,
generally used for writing the decrees, and Talik. These
scripts are also classified in themselves according to the places
that they are used or their sizes.
pictures on a small scale. The word miniature is derived from
minium, the name of a red oxide of lead used for the decoration of
sacred texts. The techniques developed in this art of illuminating
manuscripts were later applied to the creation of many small
portraits, known as miniatures. Miniature painters generally work
in a microscopically minute technique, using thin, pointed brushes
on such varied surfaces as the backs of playing cards, stretched
chicken skin, vellum, metal and ivory.
Miniature painting was highly
developed among Ottoman Turks who produced delicate, stylized
TILES OF IZNIK
was the largest tile production center during the Ottoman period.
The Iznik tiles were different to Seljuk tiles in color and
According to the records of 17C
traveler Evliya Celebi, there were 340 ateliers of tiles in Iznik
when he visited there. When an Ottoman sultan wanted to build a
new building, he sent a message to the governor of Iznik. All the
work was distributed to the ateliers. Tiles used for interior
decorations were 24x24 cm / 9.45x9.45 in and 2-3 cm / 0.7x1.2 in
thick. In the beginning of the 16C, motifs on tiles had blue, dark
blue and yellow colors on white background. In the second half of
the century more motifs were used and color combination becomes
more complex. The certain shade of coral which was first seen in
the middle of 16C suddenly disappeared in 17C which can only be
explained with the death of its master.
is a traditional Turkish art. Although the origins are unknown, it
is likely that it came to Anatolia from Central Asia. Natural dyes
mixed with ox gall are sprinkled with brushes made of horse tails
on the surface of water in a deep ebru tray. The oily dyes are
designed on the surface of water. After the design is ready, tray-size
papers are left on the tray to absorb all the dyes as they are,
with their formed shape.
Ebru is an abstract art in which a
considerable amount of randomness is involved. The artist’s
control is decidedly limited as he cannot determine the precise
shape, size or position of each droplet of color. What he does is
to try to apply his colors according to the "mood" of
the ebru tray as he perceives it. The colors then float and expand
depending on the condition of the liquid and the tray, the ambient
temperature, the humidity and the amount of dust in the air. The
ebru tray has just as much to say as the artist, or more, in the
kind of ebru that is going to emerge.