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What is the political purpose of a work of art?

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The Bayeux TapestryRomanesque Period 1050-11501066 Battle of HastingsDuke Williams II of Normandy The Bayeux Tapestry (actually an embroidery measuring over 230 feet long and 20 inches wide) describes the Norman invasion of England and the events that led up to it. It is believed that the Tapestry was commissioned by Bishop Odo, bishop of Bayeux and the half-brother of William the Conqueror. The Tapestry contains hundreds of images divided into scenes each describing a particular event. The scenes are joined into a linear sequence allowing the viewer to "read" the entire story starting with the first scene and progressing to the last. The Tapestry would probably have been displayed in a church for public view.
The Bayeux TapestryRomanesque Period 1050-11501066 Battle of HastingsDuke Williams II of Normandy History is written by the victors and the Tapestry is above all a Norman document. In a time when the vast majority of the population was illiterate, the Tapestry's images were designed to tell the story of the conquest of England from the Norman perspective. It focuses on the story of William, making no mention of Hardrada of Norway nor of Harold's victory at Stamford Bridge.
The story that is told is fairly clear: Harold swore an oath of fealty (of loyalty) to Duke William of Normandy. When King Edward died, Harold never should have assumed the throne. Even though he was essentially a “foreigner,” Duke William was well within his rights to invade England and seize the throne. The fact that William was victorious is an outward proof of his righteousness. In other words, God supported William’s cause.
What is the political purpose of a work of art?

Good and Bad GovernmentAmbrogio Lorenzetti

These frescoes offer an argument about what constitutes good government. The frescoes also make a further argument about why good government matters….

Ambrogio Lorenzetti's most revolutionary achievement - one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the Renaissance - is the fresco series that lines three walls of the room in the Palazzo Pubblico where Siena's chief magistrates, the Nine, held their meetings (Sala dei Nove).
The two 14th-century Italian painters Pietro and AmbrogioLorenzetti were brothers. Pietro and Ambrogio were both born in Siena and belonged to the Sienese School which was dominated by the stylized Byzantine tradition developed by Duccio di Buoninsegna and Simone Martini. They were the first Sienese to adopt the dramatic quality of the Tuscan sculptor Giovanni Pisano and the naturalistic approach of the Florentine painter Giotto. In their experiments with three-dimensional, spatial arrangements, the brothers, particularly Ambrogio, foreshadowed the art of the Renaissance.
Detail: Allegory of the Good GovernmentCommune of Siena (with orb and specter); Faith, Hope and Charity float above his head; the Virtues flank him: Prudence on the left and Magnanimity, Temperance and Justice on the right.
Ambrogio LorenzettiDetail: Allegory of the Good Government1338-40

Peace—based on a Roman sarcophagus fragment—Fortitude and Prudence

Ambrogio LorenzettiDetail: Allegory of the Good Government1338-40
  • Justice is to the Commune’s left
  • Wisdom floats above Justice
  • On either side are Commutative Justice and Distributive Justice
  • Concordia presides over the 24 members of the Great Council of the Siena Republic; what does Concordia hold in her lap?
Allegory of Peace, a relief on the east side of the Ara Pacis—Altar of Augustan Peace Emperor Augustus—13-9 BCE, marble

The mother Earth (Tellus Mater) nurtures the Roman People

on either side: the land wind (left): swan, jug of fresh water, and the vegetation symbolizes fertility of Roman farms and the sea wind (right): Rome’s dominance over the Mediterranean

Ambrogio Lorenzettidetail: Effects of Good Government on the City Life 1338-40 Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

This fresco is meant to demonstrate what is possible if a city is governed well.Notice the 1. overall visual coherence and 2. feeling of natural scale between the figures and their environment.

Ambrogio Lorenzettidetail: Effects of Good Government on the City Life Can you find the dome of the Cathedral of Siena and the Cathedral’s campanile?Can you find the foreshortened city wall that encircles this city-state?Can you find the men working on the roof of a building?Can you see the drying racks outside the houses and the wooden awnings?
Ambrogio Lorenzettidetail: Effects of Good Government in the Countryside

No such comprehensive panorama of the natural world and its human inhabitants is know to us from the entire previous history of art--

There is no single point of view (he is a medieval painter)—the artist instead wants to show the viewer as much as possible of the landscape.

This figure is the Allegory of Security—the scroll in her hand bids those who enter through the Porta Roma to come in peace—the gallows reminds viewers of what will happen if a person does not come in peace.
detail: Effects of Good Government in the CountrysideWhat is the man leaving Siena intending to do outside the gates?There is a man with a pig about to enter Siena—what might his intention be?Notice that the space of the countryside appears very orderly and peaceful.