Where does knowledge come from?
Some major moments in world history and the objects that express a particular place and time - from ordinary tools of daily life to extraordinary monuments of skill and design.
Please click on image for full resolution and description.
At the center of the fresco appears a nymph, who is handing the telegraph wire to the allegorical figure for Europe on the left. With a grateful countenance, Europa looks up to a strong America surrounded by images that suggest the nation's natural abundance and its military might.
Eugene Delacroix Delacroix began his allegorical interpretation of the Parisian epic in September 1830. The allegory of Liberty is personified by a young woman of the people wearing the Phrygian cap, her curls escaping onto her neck. Vibrant, fiery, rebellious, and victorious, she evokes the Revolution of 1789, the sans-culotte, and popular sovereignty. In her raised right hand is the red, white, and blue flag, a symbol of struggle that unfurls toward the light like a flame.
Learning from Old Masters, looking at the past to construct the future.
The Invention of Writing and the First Cities Cylinder seals were invented around 3500 BC in southern Mesopotamia (now Iraq) or south-western Iran, and were used as an administrative tool, as jewellery and as magical amulets until around 300 BC. Cylinder seals were linked to the invention of cuneiform writing on clay, and when this spread to other areas of the Near East, the use of cylinder seals spread too.
The Invention of Writing and the First Cities Pectoral and Necklace of Sithathoryunet with the Name of Senwosret II. Jewelry worn by royal women during the Middle Kingdom was not simply for adornment or an indication of status but was also symbolic of concepts and myths surrounding Egyptian royalty. Jewelry imbued a royal woman with superhuman powers and thus enabled her to support the king in his role as guarantor of divine order on earth.
Hatshepsut, the most successful of several female rulers of ancient Egypt, declared herself king sometime between years 2 and 7 of the reign of her stepson and nephew, Thutmose III. This life-size statue shows Hatshepsut in the ceremonial attire of an Egyptian pharaoh, traditionally a man's role. In spite of the masculine dress, the statue has a distinctly feminine air, unlike most other representations of Hatshepsut as ruler.
Human-headed winged bull and winged lion From the ninth to the seventh century B.C., the kings of Assyria ruled over a vast empire centered in northern Iraq. The great Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 B.C.) undertook a vast building program at Nimrud, ancient Kalhu.
This kouros is one of the earliest marble statues of a human figure carved in Attica. The rigid stance, with the left leg forward and arms at the side, was derived from Egyptian art. The pose provided a clear, simple formula that was used by Greek sculptors throughout the sixth century B.C. In this early figure, geometric, almost abstract forms predominate, and anatomical details are rendered in beautiful analogous patterns. The statue marked the grave of a young Athenian aristocrat.
Scenes from the life of the Greek hero Achilles. The Monteleone chariot belongs to a group of parade chariots, so called because they were used by significant individuals on special occasions. They have two wheels and were drawn by two horses standing about forty-nine inches (122 centimeters) apart at the point where the yoke rests on their necks. The car would have accommodated the driver and the distinguished passenger.
Egyptian temples were not simply houses for a cult image but also represented, in their design and decoration, a variety of religious and mythological concepts. One important symbolic aspect was based on the understanding of the temple as an image of the natural world as the Egyptians knew it.
Copy of a Greek bronze statue of ca. 430 B.C. by Polykleitos The statue of the Diadoumenos by Polykleitos was extremely popular during the Roman period. Its beauty and fame are mentioned three times in ancient literature and over twenty-five full-size model copies are known. This copy was owned by the Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani of Rome who, during the first third of the seventeenth century, formed one of the earliest European collections of ancient art.
Cult images of bodhisattvas became an important dimension of Mahayana (the Great Wheel sect of North Indian Buddhism) Buddhist worship in the fourth to the fifth century. The monasteries of the Gandharan region commissioned large-scale bodhisattvas in recognition of the growing popularity of these interventionist deities, which embody Buddhist compassion. The cult of Avalokiteshvara represents the highest expression of this sentiment. Probably from the Sahri-BaI'm a description.
Devotion to the celestial Buddha Amitabha (Amituo fo) stresses the impossibility of achieving enlightenment during a life lived under less-than-ideal circumstances and promotes the desire for rebirth in Sukhavati, a pure land or way station in which conditions are conducive to the quest for advanced understanding. Identified by the position of the arms, which suggests that the missing hands were in a gesture of meditation, this image of Amitabha was made using the complicated dry-lacquer techni
This nearly complete chess set is one of the earliest extant examples in the world. The pieces are abstract forms: the shah (king) is represented as a throne; the vizier (the equivalent of the queen) is a smaller throne; the elephant (bishop) has two tusklike protrusions; the horse (knight) has a triangular knob representing its head; the chariot (rook) is rectangular with a wedge at the top; and the pawns are faceted hemispheres with knobs.
Science and the Art of the Islamic World Dated a.h. 1065 / a.d. 1654–55 Maker: Muhammad Zaman al-Munajjim al-Asturlabi (active 1643–89) Iran, Mashhad The astrolabe is a very ancient astronomical computer for solving problems relating to time and the position of the Sun and stars in the sky.
Date: ca. 950–1050 Culture: Northern European or Anglo-Scandinavian Medium: Iron, silver, copper Dimensions: H. 7 in. (17.8 cm); W. 4 1/6 in. (10.3 cm); Wt. 8 oz. (228 g) Classification: Equestrian Equipment-Stirrups
This image of the knight Jean d’Alluye comes from the abbey at La Clarté-Dieu, which he founded in 1239, before setting out on Crusade to the Holy Land in 1241. He returned safely to France by 1244, carrying with him a relic of the True Cross, presented to him by the bishop of Hiera Petra, on Crete. It seems he somehow also acquired his sword during his travels, as its trefoil pommel conforms to contemporary examples from China. The effigy is supported by a modern base.
This is a rare example of a medieval yoroi. The yoroi is characterized by a cuirass that wraps around the body and is closed by a separate panel (waidate) on the right side and by a deep four-sided skirt. In use from around the tenth to the fourteenth century, yoroi were generally worn by warriors on horseback.
Made for Emperor Charles V (reigned 1519–56) - Gunsmith: Peter Peck One of the earliest pistols, this firearm was designed and produced by Peter Peck, a maker of watches and guns. The two locks combined in one mechanism provided the barrels with separate ignition. Made for Emperor Charles V (reigned 1519–56), the pistol is decorated with his dynastic and personal emblems: the double-headed eagle and the pillars of Hercules with the Latin motto PLUS ULTRA (More beyond).
A masterpiece of Romanesque art, this altar cross with some ninety-two figures and ninety-eight inscriptions is the vehicle for a unique iconographical program. The front displays typological scenes alluding to the Cross as the Tree of Life. The central medallions with Moses and the Brazen Serpent prefigure the Crucifixion. The terminals depict, the Deposition and Lamentation on the right, the Women at the Sepulcher and the Resurrection on the left, and the Ascension at the top.
The cloister was the heart of a monastery. By definition, it consists of a covered walkway surrounding a large open courtyard, with access to all other monastic buildings. Usually attached to the southern flank of the church, a cloister was at the same time passageway and processional walkway, a place for meditation and for reading aloud. At once serene and bustling, the cloister was also the site where the monks washed their clothes and themselves.
This prayer niche, or mihrab, was originally set into the qibla wall of a theological school in Isfahan, now known as the Madrasa Imami, built just after the collapse of the Ilkhanid dynasty. The mihrab was created by joining a myriad of cut glazed tiles to produce its intricate arabesque and calligraphic designs. The result is one of the earliest and finest examples of mosaic tilework. A splendid work of religious architectural decoration, this mihrab is one of the most significant works.
This commemorative birth tray (desco da parto) celebrates the birth of Lorenzo de' Medici (1449–1492), the most celebrated ruler of his day as well as an important poet and a major patron of the arts. Knights extend their hands in allegiance to an allegorical figure of Fame, who holds a sword and winged cupid (symbolizing celebrity through arms and love). Winged trumpets sound Fame's triumph. Captives are bound to the elaborate support.
In this instance, the unicorn probably represents the beloved tamed. He is tethered to a tree and constrained by a fence, but the chain is not secure and the fence is low enough to leap over: The unicorn could escape if he wished. Clearly, however, his confinement is a happy one, to which the ripe, seed-laden pomegranates in the tree—a medieval symbol of fertility and marriage—testify.
This detail is from a study, (or studiolo), intended for meditation and study. Its walls are carried out in a wood-inlay technique known as intarsia. The latticework doors of the cabinets, shown open or partly closed, indicate the contemporary interest in linear perspective. The cabinets display objects reflecting Duke Federico's wide-ranging artistic and scientific interests, and the depictions of books recall his extensive library. Emblems of the Montefeltro are also represented.
Raphael painted this altarpiece around 1504/5 for the small Franciscan convent of Sant' Antonio in Perugia. It hung in a part of the church reserved for the nuns, who are thought to have insisted on some of its conservative features, such as the elaborately clothed Christ Child. By contrast, the grave male saints are among the earliest evidence of Raphael’s study of the work of Leonardo da Vinci and Fra Bartolomeo in Florence. The Museum also owns a scene from the base (predella).
This globe houses a movement made by Gerhard Emmoser, imperial clockmaker from 1566 until his death in 1584, who signed and dated the meridian ring. The movement, which has been extensively rebuilt, rotated in the celestial sphere and drove a small image of the sun along the path of the ecliptic. The hour was indicated on a dial mounted at the top of the globe's axis and the day of the year appeared on a calendar rotating in the instrument's horizon ring.
Aristotle rests his hand reflectively on a bust of Homer, the blind epic poet of the Iliad and the Odyssey. A medallion representing Alexander the Great, whom Aristotle tutored, hangs from the heavy gold chain. The philosopher contemplates material rewards as opposed to spiritual values, with the play of light and shadow on his features suggesting the motions of his mind. The picture also refers to Aristotle's comparison of touch and sight as a means of acquiring knowledge.
Maker: François Thomas Germain (French, Paris 1726–1791 Paris, master 1748)
Box-like cabinets on open stands became fashionable towards the end of the seventeenth century. Rather than on the overall shape, the attention of the cabinetmaker was lavished on exquisite marquetry decoration, especially blomwerk (floral work). The most striking floral marquetry has been attributed to Jan van Meekeren. More than two hundred flowers embellish this cabinet, several of which occur more than once, sometimes in reverse.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a remarkable series of cast brass plaques were created to adorn the exterior of the royal palace in Benin City. A seventeenth-century Dutch visitor to the court of Benin, Olfert Dapper, described the sprawling palace complex—with its many large courtyards and galleries—as containing wooden pillars covered from top to bottom with rectangular cast brass plaques. These plaques are understood to have autonomous meaning and to tell complex narratives.
This ivory pendant mask is one of a pair of nearly identical works; its counterpart is in the British Museum in London. Although images of women are rare in Benin's courtly tradition, these two works have come to symbolize the legacy of a dynasty that continues to the present day. The pendant mask is believed to have been produced in the early sixteenth century for the King or "Oba" Esigie, the king of Benin, to honor his mother, Idia.
Central African power figures are among the ubiquitous genres identified with African art. Conceived to house specific mystical forces, they were collaborative creations of Kongo sculptors and ritual specialists. This example belongs to the most ambitious class of that tradition, attributed to the atelier of a master active along the coast of Congo and Angola at the end of the nineteenth century and identified with Mangaaka, the preeminent force of jurisprudence.
Stools with caryatid figures are among the most significant possessions of a Luba chief and are an integral part of the investiture ceremony that establishes his right to rule. Luba royal insignia often depict women whose high status is indicated by their elaborate coiffures and ornamental scarification marks. In the past, women, particularly the female relatives of kings, were instrumental in expanding and unifying the Luba kingdom.
The essential subject of this serene picture is an ideal woman in an ideal home. Her head and elegant costume are covered by linen scarves, which with the silver-gilt basin and pitcher and the open window suggest ablutions at the beginning of the day. A string of pearls emerges from the jewelry box. Balanced shapes and colors (mainly the primaries) enhance the harmonious mood. Works by Vermeer were newly known and coveted by American collectors of the Gilded Age.
The Damascus Room is a residential winter reception chamber (qa'a) typical of the late Ottoman period in Damascus, Syria. Among the earliest extant, nearly complete interiors of its kind, the room’s large scale and refined decoration suggest that it was part of the house of an important, affluent family. Poetry inscribed on its walls indicates that the patron was Muslim and possibly a member of the religious elite who were believed to have descended from the Prophet Muhammad.
In design and workmanship, this bedroom, consisting of an antechamber with a bed alcove, is one of the finest of its period. The decoration is in stucco and carved wood. In the antechamber, fluted Corinthian pilasters support an entablature out of which fly amorini bearing garlands of flowers. Other amorini bear the gilded frame of a painting by Gasparo Diziani, depicting dawn triumphant over night. Above the entry to the alcove seven amorini frolic, holding a shield with the monogram of Sagredo