The new millennium has brought new forms of violence into people’s life. Numerous mass media messages inform of various cases of discrimination, terrorism and human trafficking all over the world. The process of globalization wipes cultural and traditional values and borders of acceptable behavior. People are in constant chase for money, comfort and possessions. Material values have become the main purpose of human activity. In constant strain and competition, people forget of simple joys, which education, the process of creation and art can give. Dissatisfaction and negative experiences make people stressful, tired and frustrated. In the modern world, violence has become more sophisticated and reserved than it used to be. Its messages are usually sent subconsciously and indirectly. These factors make people look for balance, harmony and new senses in life; they refer to history and its samples while trying to explain and improve the turbulent world of the present day.
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The samples of art bring beauty into people’s life. Beauty is often associated with kindness and nonviolence, with energy and mystery. It is something, by no means, important and meaningful and expresses a unity of human preferences and aptitudes. For centuries, art has been a source of transferring feelings and emotions into some material objects. The process of creation is usually accompanied with inspiration. It is a developing impulse, which precedes an elevated state of mind and launches a unique cooperation of conscious and subconscious perception of life, beauty and nature. The value of the samples of art is in their ability to arise feelings. They may be not very informative, but they always have some communicative message, which is interpreted by different people individually. Works of art have always been examples of human revelation. They express the strivings of different generations and reflect the etalons of perfection and beauty.
The research presents a reflective description of ten samples of art and refers to the themes of religion, public service and women’s beauty in the context of non-violence representation.
Saint Francis of Assisi Bonaventura Berlinghieri
Religion has always played an important role in state management, social stability and non-violence propaganda. It controlled morals and ethics and became a source of inspiration for many artists. An example of religious adherence in art is the altarpiece Saint Francis of Assisi, painted by Bonaventura Berlinghieri in 1235. It represents a panel with episodes from the saint’s life and reveals spiritual etalons of the Gothic period in Italy. The saint is depicted full-length in the center of the panel barefoot, in a long black garment with a book in his left hand. The right hand is raised up to the level of the chest and transfers to the viewers the message of submission and sacrifice to the holy duty. The saint is depicted without any adornments. His face expresses sadness, concern and intelligence. The background is represented by smaller pictures of Francis’ religious and social activity. The panel evidences that religious people carried out many social functions. They served as doctors, teachers, judges and spiritual leaders. The image of the saint, the holes in his hands and feet represent non-violent resistance to suffering, taught and preached by Christ. The picture has a message to remain calm and reserved in any life situation.
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The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, by Andrea Mantegna
Throughout centuries, religious scenes of Christ’s life and sacrifice attracted attention of many artists. The picture The Lamentation of Christ or The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, created by Andrea Mantegna in about 1480, represents an example of a biblical tragedy. It is referred to the Italian Renaissance and reflects human images of God’s Son and lamenters. If compared to the earlier iconic style, figures look natural and true. The resemblance to natural human bodies, the exposure of Christ’s thorax and holed limbs, the agony of the crying faces make the picture realistic. These peculiarities imply analogy to the grief of relatives and friends, who lose their beloved family member in the acts of violence. The picture transfers the message of pain, horror and uselessness of abuse and violence.
Mantegna had to finish his life in poverty, and it was his last painting which he was supposed to hang in his funerary chapel, but the picture was sold to repay debts. In some way it resembles the story of Christ, who suffered for people. A lot of creative, talented men die and then resurrect and remain eternal in their samples of art. The story of Christ and lamentation over him resembles many life situations when people do not appreciate and value those who are beside and do so much for them. The painting has a strong non-violent massage and anti-terror propaganda as the story of Christ’s abuse, mockery and torment is an instructive and eternal example of self-sacrifice and peaceful resistance.
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The Ambassadors, by Hans Holbein the Younger
Many people believe that prosperity of a state’s depends on the ruling elite of the country. In the middle ages, when the trade between countries only started developing, ambassadors were people who had to establish new profitable commercial and political relations with people from other countries. Those people had to be educated, intelligent, rich and of noble origin. The painting The Ambassadors, created in 1533 by an outstanding artist Hans Holbein the Younger, reflects two men and a rich background of scholarly attributes of those times. One of the men is clothed in while the other representative wears a dark clerical garment. The choice of two portraits in one painting is not random. It implies the striving to cooperation between church and civil representatives. The background details of the painting reveal the adherence of people to scientific discoveries and novelties of those times. Such items as an anamorphic skull, terrestrial and celestial globes, a polyhedral sundial and oriental carpet evidence the striving to progressive thinking and knowledge. Calm and reserved glance, grace of the faces of the figures give an impression of people’s justified confidence and spiritual strength. The men look credible and trustful. The skull incorporated in the center of the painting is interpreted in different ways. Some artistic critics saw a symbol of mortality and others thought that, together with other items, it represented different levels of existence: heaven, real world and death. The historians of arts did not come to a single conclusion about the personalities of the men on the picture, but it should be underlined that the picture transfers a perception of special respect to people managing relations with other countries. Their honorable and respectful positioning is doubtless and awesome.
It should be noted that nowadays samples of art become attributes of fashion of millionaires, who may be not able to perceive their esthetic value and beauty. During the Middle Ages, education was valued and perceived as a privileged and exclusive opportunity. Today it is accepted as a duty and, sometimes, it is neglected by representatives of the ruling elite. The picture implies that knowledge and strength should be characteristics of people engaged in establishing relations with other nations and cultures.
The Calling of Saint Mathew by Michelangelo Caravaggio
Another painting refers to the biblical scene when Christ persuades Mathew to follow him. The painting The Calling of Saint Mathew was created by Michelangelo Caravaggio in 1600. The canvas represents a group of people at a table, when a new-comer enters the room. Christ mysteriously appears out of shadow and points out at the man, whom he wants to be followed by. The group members are taken aback and look intrigued and vivid. Many art researchers could not clear up who was the Saint Mathew in the picture. It is the intrigue of the painting. The elderly man with head bent seems to be the most unexpected choice. In real life, inconspicuous people often fulfill important and challenging missions. The former tax-collector bends his head in speculation on the way he anticipates ahead. Rich colors and contrast of shadow and light make the painting tense and energetic. The modest figure of Christ and his inconspicuous gesture reveal grace and submission to his calling and the same appearance of submission and responsible choice is seen in the Mathew’s figure. The painting represents an example of human submission to his or her holy fate. The images of Mathew and Christ have signs of conscious understanding of the difficulty of their ways and, at the same time, the necessity of fulfilling their mission.
The Letter by Jan Vermeer
Today many young people avoid creating families and building strong relations because the modern world teaches that everyone is on him or her own. The youth does not want to take responsibility and work hard for the better future. Family institution, which has always been a strong background of non-violent appeals, loses its positions and strength. The role of a wife or a husband implies many new responsibilities, different from those in the past. Women are often discriminated against in families as they are supposed to earn money and do all the house chores simultaneously. Sometimes people find inspiration for a family life in the examples of their parents or instructive images of the past. Old pictures often reveal warm and comforting atmosphere of home. The Letter by Jan Vermeer, created in 1666, presents an example of a peaceful and realistic home life. The author manages to transfer the warmth of home life by numerous details and advanced choice of colors. The maid brings the girl a letter from her beloved man. The elaborate curtain invites the viewer into a private emotional world and underlines the peculiarity of trustful relations between a young master girl and a maid. The girl holds a cittern in one hand and the letter in the other. She raises her eyes to the servant in an inquiring look. The expression of her face reveals pleasure and anxiety at the same time. The girl looks romantic and exited. The maiden obviously interrupts her musical class. Playing a musical instrument was a typical pastime for young girls in rich families. The upbringing was very strict and did not allow personal acquaintances with men without prior consent given by parents. Morals of those times differ significantly from the morals of today. It was a certain reputation risk to answer secret letters, though the practice was common and very popular. The intrigue of the painting may be too plain and insignificant for the modern generation, but the values and morals brought special scenes into people’s life of those times and made it emotionally rich and decent. There was no present day saturation in young people. Restrictions and difficulties in establishment of relations made people value family principals and preserve traditions and order, necessary for effective functioning of any state. The picture presents an example of divergence in maidens` beauty in the past and today. The girl is plump and does not look beautiful according to modern standards and preferences. Nevertheless, her sincere look and the anxiety of her figure reveal an emotional nature of the girl.
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Portrait of a Lady depicted by Rogier van der Weyden
Another example of modesty and grace is the painting Portrait of a Lady depicted by Rogier van der Weyden in 1460. The image on the canvas represents a decent woman and reflects the canons of beauty of those times. The lowered eyes of the lady speak for her being shy and reserved. Such a glance was typical and expected in women’s behavior in medieval ages. Tight lips and calm expression of the face speak for strict morals and restraint of emotions. High open forehead, covered with a white veil implies intelligence and decency. Tightly locked fingers draw the viewer attention to well-drawn hands and speak for inner tension of the model. Even the adornment on the woman’s neck is covered with a white veil. The lady does not look happy or sad, but she seems proud to bear her duty of a lady in a graceful and fair way. The author of the picture does not choose a bright and conspicuous model. The model of the portrait is far from modern ideals of beauty and attractive appearance, but she raises reverence and tenderness. The grace of the woman and the reserved expression of her face can be very instructive in the age of promotion and social development of women. The portrait gives a clear picture of what a lady should be.
The Portrait Giovanna Tornabuoni, by Domenico Ghirlandaio
Another example of women’s decency and modesty is The Portrait Giovanna Tornabuoni, created by Domenico Chirlandaio in 1488. The girl was a daughter of one of the wealthiest Florentine citizens. Giovanna is depicted in profile. She wears a rich precious garment and keeps her back tensely straight. The background of the picture speaks of the girl’s character. On the left side one can see an expensive pearl and ruby pin brooch, which resembles the coulomb on the girl’s neck. On the right side, the viewer can see a prayer book, which evidences Giovanna’s piety. The girl looks graceful, tender and fragile. In real life, she died very early, when she was twenty years old, while bearing a child. Originally, Domenico Chirlandaio was commissioned to paint a fresco painting in the family chapel, but the sudden death of Giovanna made the painter commemorate her portrait on a panel. The girl’s modest look and strained figure raise sympathy to her image. This portrait is one more example of ladylike reserved looks, which were preserved and cultivated in the middle ages. The virtue and piety were typical characteristics of a young girl from a decent family. Family relations were strongly influenced by religious and social dogmas and moral, which made a woman reserved and indifferent to the joys of life.
The Venus of Urbino, by Titian
The new period of the Renaissance was commemorated by numerous paintings of nude models, which was stipulated by a long period of religious and moral restrictions. A vivid example of that transformation from tenderness and modesty into open sexuality is presented in The Venus of Urbino, created in 1538 by Titian. The young and healthy body of the model, serenity and calmness of her open and direct look reveal the woman’s confidence in her attractiveness and sexuality. The left hand of the Venus slightly covers her genitalia and this gesture speaks of some subconscious restriction to the body. The dog, sleeping in the foot of the sofa speaks of the serenity of the picture. The servants in the background of the painting are dressed up and are busy with house chores. Their presence does not confuse the young women. She seems to be happy to expose and show off her young, healthy and beautiful body. Being nude the woman does not look vulgar or voluptuous. The softness of her forms, grace of her pose, tenderness of her glance and slightly marked smile present a picture of harmony and satisfaction.
Grand Odalisque by Jean Ingres
The painting Grand Odalisque by Jean Ingres, finished in 1814, is an example of exotic Romanticism. The naked woman turns her back at the viewer and gives a back glance over her shoulder. Rich and precious attributes and jewelry, direct and open look speak of the women’s privileged position and self-content. Her body lacks anatomic proportions but still looks attractive and luring. The attitude to odalisques was dubious in those times. Women, engaged in selling themselves, were considered disgraceful and morally lost. Still men needed their service, and there was always the demand in that sphere, especially in periods of restrictions and religious persecutes. Sexual services were generally considered immoral, and decent society criticized and humiliated women engaged in that business. Nowadays many countries legalize prostitution and bisexual marriages. The progressive thinking has come to the conclusion that the sexual sphere is a personal choice of an individual, which should not be abused or discriminated against. In search of his sexual preference, Ingres refers to the Greco-Roman subject of a reclining nude. The fact of applying such pose to a nineteenth century odalisque witnesses the shift of creative approach of artists of the new age. It was a prelude to wide and complex application of different styles and approaches in an individual manner of painting and personal artistic style.
Olympia, by Edouard Manet
Artists were in search of new ways of art presentations and this led to the creation of a great number of outstanding paintings which represented no school but a personal style only. Starting from the second part of the nineteenth century painters got more concerned with the idea of their work and not with the proportion and reality of presentation. Impressionists commemorated the new era of the perception of art and stated the importance of the message in the painting. Olympia, painted by impressionist Edouard Manet in 1863, represents a new vision of depicting nudes. The picture produced a great resonance due to the choice of the model and her blatant and confident look. Olympia was a common name for prostitutes in those times. The painting reveals many other evidence of the woman’s adherence to the profession. The girl on the sofa looks directly at the viewer, making him confused. Her open and aggressive sexuality magnetizes and excuses her fake position. Olympia is usually compared to the Venus of Urbino as the resemblance of pose and the subject is obvious. The evolution of the female confidence can be traced in these two paintings. The Venus of Urbino presents an example of tender and harmonic sexuality while Olympia affronts and confuses the viewer. She seems to speak for all those women exploited and humiliated throughout centuries. Olympia stresses that female’s lapse from virtue is only the result of a lustful nature of men, and she will have money for their lust and disrespect. The painting puts a question of responsibility of the society before the women who lost their decent living and chose a dangerous way of selling their bodies. Prostitution is the most spread form of human trafficking nowadays and women become criminals, engaging other young girls into the business. The reasons for entering it vary but in most cases girls become victims of merciless and sophisticated sexual exploitation.
In conclusion, it should be noted that art has always played an important role of reflection of new moods in the society. Ancient artists turned their attention to religious themes and disposed their vision of holy and true existence. With the course of time people shifted their attention from holy to natural, and the Renaissance period showed new standards of beauty and truth.
The twentieth century has brought a new era of artistic ideas represented in modernism and postmodernism. The absurdity of life, its artificiality and absence of moral principles make people look for sense and stability in the past. Samples of art teach people of non-violent perception of the world and help in understanding of the values and preferences of the prior generation. Paintings of different historical periods represent the evolution of social progressive thinking and teach that Beauty is not Perfection. Moreover, old paintings reveal that the standards of beauty and goodness changed considerably with the course of time. Beauty of any object, image or sample of art can be perceived through a tolerant perception and comparison. Many samples of art present signs of disproportion, but still they remain beautiful and attract attention of different viewers.
In modern age of globalization, people of different countries experience various forms of discrimination, based on religious, racial and cultural principals. Paintings of the past help in cultural perception of different ethnic groups and contribute to a better understanding of the mentality of other nations. Old paintings appeal to the eternal problems of peaceful and non-violent coexistence and help to develop tolerance and respectful attitude to the values of the past. They help in developing new individual preferences and attitudes.