Philosophical and Cultural Analysis of Symbols in the Art of Ancient Times Cover Image

Символи в образотворчому мистецтві первісності: філософсько-культурологічний аналіз
Philosophical and Cultural Analysis of Symbols in the Art of Ancient Times

Author(s): Svitlana Stoyan
Subject(s): Customs / Folklore, Visual Arts, Semiology, Ancient World
Published by: Національна академія керівних кадрів культури і мистецтв
Keywords: symbol; symbolism; sign; ritual; magic; initiation; totemizm; rock paintings; primitive art;

Summary/Abstract: The author explores in her article the magical and sacred symbols in European painting of ancient times, their types and variations of interpretations. Scientific theories that consider art of ancient times through the prism of symbolism are analyzed. Studying magical and sacred symbols in the ancient painting remains relevant to this day as investigation of peculiarities of the phenomenon taken over the specified period will enable us to fully explore the origins of symbolism as a unique phenomenon of art and culture in general. The author states that making a study of the phenomenon of symbolism in painting, you constantly face the fact of the most widespread starting point for this phenomenon, namely – the second half of the 19th century – formation of symbolism in the separate direction. But if you scrutinize the history of birth and development of symbolism in the painting, we’ll have to go back to the most ancient development phases of not only art, but man himself, since the origins of this phenomenon are dated (for at least) the upper Paleolithic age. Unfortunately, by this time the systemic and comprehensive study of the dynamics of symbolism in the painting from the earliest cave images is missing. Therefore, in this article the author tries to gradually consider the transformation of symbolic images, starting from the most ancient art, which literally becomes the first starting point of symbolism birth in painting. Connection between Paleolithic art and ancient religious beliefs was mentioned back in 1903 in hypothesis of Solomon Reynak, according to him the rock images performed magic function and were incorporated into the system of ancient rites and rituals. André Leroi-Gourhanwrote about the origin of the so-called cave religion in his textbook paper entitled "Ancient Religions" in 1964. The author states that such connection and interdependence of ancient religious mythological beliefs and first delineations is absolutely justified and logically proved, as it is extremely difficult to imagine, within the primitive syncretism where the world appears being undivided and consistent unity, isolated, excluded from general system of life elements, such as rock drawings. "Art for art’s sake" is the product of a much later stage of human development, though still there are other opinions on this matter. In the context of mentioned research the author, referring to the scientific work made by N.Y. Soykina, provides structural semiotic approach to the study of ancient works which is characterized by understanding research array as a sign system, and calls for the release of Paleolithic art from direct ethnographic parallels. The main priority of the research is maximally set the date, reasons and motivation of creating cave paintings. Who made them and what for – that’s the main issue researchers face. One of the factors that favor not only mimetic nature of the original painting, but its involvement in ritual symbolic human actions is that almost all the pictures are in the most distant corners of the cave, and the path to them runs sometimes through extremely difficult obstacles. The author points that in addition to drawings in ritual and ceremonial "exercises" Paleolithic sculptures representing animals were used. As an example can be mentioned a unique discovery in the most distant part of the cave Montespan – a clay body of a bear, that probably was used for putting on it a head of real beast killed while hunting, because there was a real bear skull lying at the sculpture’s feet with a hole inside it, that probably served to fix it on top of the clay body. The sculpture, as well as the cave paintings, was covered with dints from the original weapons, which prove carrying magic hunting rituals. Aniela Jaffe in "Symbols in Visual Arts" focuses on the fact that a large number of rock paintings, probably was used in rituals dedicated to fertility of animals, that human survival depended on as well. At the end of the article the author concludes that even these examples are questioning only a mimetic nature of ancient art, highlighting its symbolic component, evidence of which we will find again and again in the art of ancient times.

  • Issue Year: 2013
  • Issue No: 1
  • Page Range: 16-21
  • Page Count: 6
  • Language: Ukrainian