Category Archives: Sculpture

Bes

Bes_Nordisk_familjebok

Illustration of Bes from Nordisk_familjebok, 1907

 

One of the more unusual of Egyptian gods, Bes is an unlikely benevolent spirit. Sometimes linked to or confused with similar dwarf gods such as Aha, Bes is a waring deity and was very popular during the New Kingdom, but existed in ancient Egypt since the Old Kingdom.

He is a squat figure sometimes shown with a weapon, tale, or phallus, and a violent grin on his face. He often wears a top hat that looks much like the capital of a doric column. One of the more unusual characteristics of most depictions of Bes is that he is shown in full frontal portrait, while Egyptian deities were typically represented in profile. His demonic appearance, though more mischievous and curmudgeonly really, is sometimes thought to have influenced future depictions of the Christian devil.

Detail of Inferno from The Last Judgement by Fra Angelico, tempera on wood, 105 × 210 cm (41.3 × 82.7 in), circa 1431, Museo Nazionale di San Marco, Florence

Detail of Inferno from The Last Judgement by Fra Angelico, tempera on wood, 105 × 210 cm (41.3 × 82.7 in), circa 1431, Museo Nazionale di San Marco, Florence

Though Bes was a violent, destructive being who slayed all manner of evil beasts, he was known to the masses as a protector, particularly of households and childbirth. He was ferocious enough to have decorated the weapons of warriors, but could also be found adorning the bodies of servant girls in the form of tattoos. Couples might place his image in their private chambers for luck in bearing children.

Stela of the God Bes, limestone and paint, H. 38.7 cm (15 /14 in); w. 17.7 cm (6 15/16 in), Ptolemaic or Roman Period, 4th century B.C.–A.D. 1st century, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stela of the God Bes, limestone and paint, H. 38.7 cm (15 /14 in); w. 17.7 cm (6 15/16 in), Ptolemaic or Roman Period, 4th century B.C.–A.D. 1st century, Metropolitan Museum of Art

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, terracotta figures like the one above, usually with an erect phallus (this one is missing), may have been placed in chambers where pilgrims came to sleep, so that they might receive “divinely inspired dreams.”

 

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Sylvanus Griswold Morley: Spy Among the Ruins

Sylvanus Griswold Morley

Sylvanus Griswold Morley

Sylvanus Griswold Morley (b. 1883) was an American archaeologist and pre-Columbian Mayan scholar. Some of his most important work included excavations of Chichen Itza on behalf of the Carnegie Institution and the study and publication of Mayan inscriptions. What is less known about Morley, is that he worked as a spy for the United States during World War I. Some time after his death, it became known that he had been employed by the Office of Naval Intelligence to track German and anti-U.S. Activities in Mexico. His cover as an archaeologist being a legitimate one, however, and despite new discoveries and re-evaluations of his work, his scholarly legacy remains intact. The following is an excerpt from his 1915 book, An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs:

…there is encountered at the very outset in the study of these elements a condition which renders progress slow and results uncertain. In Egyptian texts of any given period the simple phonetic elements or signs are unchanging under all conditions of composition. Like the letters of our own alphabet, they never vary and may be recognized as unfailingly. On the other hand, in Maya texts each glyph is in itself a finished picture, dependent on no other for its meaning, and consequently the various elements entering into it undergo very considerable modifications in order that the resulting composite character may not only be a balanced and harmonious design, but also may exactly fill its allotted space. All such modifications probably in no way affect the meaning of the element thus mutilated.

Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing retention of essential element in each.

Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing retention of essential element in each.

Though Morley was an important figure in the study of Mayan culture and language, it seems that he devoted more time to his covert activities than to his archaeological research during the period of the Great War. During that time, it came to light that others in the field were also involved in espionage, and the practice of spying under the guise of science and exploration was, of course, controversial. In 1919, the well known anthropologist, Franz Boas, published a letter of protest in The Nation, stating:

…A person, however, who uses science as a cover for political spying, who demeans himself to pose before a foreign government as an investigator and asks for assistance in his alleged researches in order to carry on, under this cloak, his political machinations, prostitutes science in an unpardonable way and forfeits the right to be classed as a scientist.

Much of Morley’s work and his publications on the Maya are now outdated, however he is still highly regarded for his important restoration work on Mayan sites like Chichen Itza, as well as for initiating research programs for the Carnegie Institution for Science. He is remembered favorably as a voice for the Mayan people and culture. Sylvanus Griswold Morley died in 1948 at the age of 65 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

From the title page of An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley

From the title page of An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley

 

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Tilia

Tilia, otherwise known as lime trees, limewood trees, linden trees, or basswood are prevalent throughout the history of art and literature, in both its uses and depiction. Albrecht Dürer was probably in his twenties when he painted his famous Linden Tree on a Bastion.

Albrecht Dürer, Linden Tree on a Bastion, watercolor, gouache on parchment, 34.3 × 26.7 cm (13.5 × 10.5 in), circa 1489-1490, Musée Boymans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Albrecht Dürer, Linden Tree on a Bastion, watercolor, gouache on parchment, 34.3 × 26.7 cm (13.5 × 10.5 in), circa 1489-1490, Musée Boymans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

The wood of Tilia trees was also a popular painting surface during the Renaissance.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), A Stag Hunt with the Elector Friedrich the Wise, oil on linden wood, 80.2 × 114.1 cm (31.6 × 44.9 in), 1529, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), A Stag Hunt with the Elector Friedrich the Wise, oil on linden wood, 80.2 × 114.1 cm (31.6 × 44.9 in), 1529, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna


 
Limewood was a favorite carving material of sculptors in Renaissance Germany. Tilman Reimenschneider is perhaps the most famous of these artists, and his masterpiece, The Holy Blood Altar in St. Jacob’s Church is a great example.

Holy Blood Altar, sculpture limewood; shrine work fir, overall height 900 cm, (1499-1505) by Tilman Riemenschneider in the St. Jacob church, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria, Germany, photo by Berthold Werner

Holy Blood Altar, sculpture limewood; shrine work fir, overall height 900 cm, (1499-1505) by Tilman Riemenschneider in the St. Jacob church, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria, Germany, photo by Berthold Werner

There are also many literary references to the tree. In Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, the love-stricken Werther eventually commits suicide and is buried under a linden tree.

I have implored your father to protect my remains. At the corner of the churchyard, looking toward the fields, there are two lime-trees—there I wish to lie. Your father can, and doubtless will, do this much for his friend. Implore it of him. But perhaps pious Christians will not choose that their bodies should be buried near the corpse of a poor, unhappy wretch like me. Then let me be laid in some remote valley, or near the highway, where the priest and Levite may bless themselves as they pass by my tomb, whilst the Samaritan will shed a tear for my fate.

In Mythology, Ovid tells the story of Baucis and Philemon who accept Jupiter and Mercury into their home, and in return for their kindness they are transformed, she into a linden tree and he into an oak, at the end of their lives.

From Henry T. Riley’s translation of The Metamorphoses of Ovid (other editions), 1893:

Then, the son of Saturn uttered such words as these with benign lips: ‘Tell us, good old man, and thou, wife, worthy of a husband so good, what it is you desire?’ Having spoken a few words to Baucis, Philemon discovered their joint request to the Gods: ‘We desire to be your priests, and to have the care of your temple; and, since we have passed our years in harmony, let the same hour take us off both together; and let me not ever see the tomb of my wife, nor let me be destined to be buried by her.’ Fulfilment attended their wishes. So long as life was granted, they were the keepers of the temple; and when, enervated by years and old age, they were standing, by chance, before the sacred steps, and were relating the fortunes of the spot, Baucis beheld Philemon, and the aged Philemon saw Baucis, too, shooting into leaf. And now the tops of the trees growing above their two faces, so long as they could they exchanged words with each other, and said together, ‘Farewell! my spouse;’ and at the same moment the branches covered their concealed faces.

Books about linden trees…

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