Posted: October 27th, 2022

disussion4 art

 

Choose  an example of sculpture, architecture or public monument that you have  first hand experience with. Feel free to talk about the circumstances  under which you experienced this, what you think about it, what it says  about the culture, time period, or individual that produced it, or any  other relevant information.  Note that this exercise may be similar to  the writing assignment, so it’s fine if the topic overlaps. Worth two  points.

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Example: I live near a historic bridge used for cattle crossing,  and it has recently been decorated with a series of statues to  commemorate that history.  I could offer a brief description and  discussion of one or all of the statues for this assignment. For more  information on these topics, chapters 2,7, and 10 may be useful.

Page | 77

3Significance of Materials Used in ArtRita Tekippe and Pamela J. Sachant
3.1 LEARNING OUTCOMES

After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Describe the differences among valuation of art materials, especially with regard to

intrinsic qualities of raw material versus produced objects
• Discuss the differences between monetary and cultural values for works of art
• Discuss the idea of “borrowed” significance that comes with the re-use of components

from previous artworks
• Describe the significance of value added to objects by complex artistic processes or by

changing tastes in different eras

3.2 INTRODUCTION
Among the aspects of an artwork that evoke

response, aid understanding, and contribute
meaning will be the material(s) used in its cre-
ation. These materials might make it more or
less important, more or less valuable, or might
bring a variety of associations that are not in-
herent in the essential form. For example, you
might recognize a vase not merely as a vase, but
as a Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933, USA)
Favrile glass vase. (Figure 3.1) Knowing the cre-
ator, material, and special processes involved in
the artwork’s creation would add to and might
change your perception and appreciation in sev-
eral important respects. For example, you could

Figure 3.1 | Bowl
Artist: Louis Comfort Tiffany
Source: Met Museum
License: Public Domain

CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

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INTRODUCTION TO ART

link it to an important artist, an innovative artistic technique, a significant period in American dé-
cor and manufacturing and marketing, a valuation based on its collectability, and numerous other
interesting details about its creation and use.

The most apparent choices in this regard are
for three-dimensional forms such as sculpture
and architecture, where it is more likely that
costly and precious materials such as gold, silver,
gems, marble, or bronze are used in its creation.
The distinction among material choices for draw-
ing and paintings will also have certain effects for
their meanings. For example, if a painter applied
gold leaf, 22K gold pounded into extremely thin
sheets, to a painting’s surface, the monetary and
cultural value of the work increases. (Figure 3.2)
The monetary value refers to the amount a
buyer is willing to pay, which in this case includes
the cost of the materials the artist factors into the
price of the artwork. The cultural value is the
perceived quality or merit of the work: what it is
worth according to that culture’s standards of ar-
tistic importance or excellence. If a work of art
has high monetary or cultural value, the owner’s
reputation and status are, in turn, elevated.

Without considering each and every possibil-
ity in this regard, we should look at a few pointed
examples that will help us know what to consid-
er when we examine artworks with a view to the
choices of materials that the artist (or patron) must have made. The techniques for many of these
is discussed in greater detail in other parts of the text, so our primary focus here will be on the
intrinsic materials, although the ways they are worked, used, and combined are inextricably sig-
nificant in some of these cases.

3.3 UTILITY AND VALUE OF MATERIALS
The earliest drawings, paintings, vessels, and sculptures were made with whatever the artists

could find and turn to their use for creating images and objects; such readily-available material
includes mud, clay, twigs, straw, minerals, and plants that they could use directly or with slight
alteration, such as grinding and mixing minerals with water to apply to cave walls. (Figure 3.3)
Experimentation was surely part of the process and, just as surely, much of it is lost to us now,
although we have some examples of works, materials, and tools to give us insight into the artistic
processes and material choices.

Figure 3.2 | Annunciation to the Shepherds,
illumination from the Book of Pericopes
(Lectionary) of Henry II, fol. 8v, 1002-1012 CE.
Source: Artstor.org
License: Public Domain

http://Artstor.org

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INTRODUCTION TO ART CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

For example, in works such as this earthenware, or baked clay, vessel, the artist had ex-
plored sufficiently to discover that mixing a certain type of earth in certain proportions with water
would yield a flexible substance. The resulting clay could be handbuilt, generally by wrapping
and smoothing coils, into a vessel shaped with a conical bottom that would sit nicely in a coal fire
for heating its contents. (Figure 3.4) A twig or string might be used to incise marks in the surface,
not only to decorate it, but also to make it easier to hold onto than if it were completely smooth.
Dating to c. 3,500 BCE, pots such as this from the late Neolithic era in Korea are known as Jeul-
mun pottery, meaning “comb-patterned.” The clay could be found in different colors, textures,
density, potential for adherence, etc. It could be manipulated by hand to make containers to
store, transport, cook, or serve all sorts of goods.

The invention of the potter’s wheel allowed artists to “throw” the clay on a rotating platform
the artist operated by hand or powered with a kicking motion. When and where the potter’s wheel
first appeared is much debated, but it was widely used in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Southeast Asia
before 3,000 BCE. Using a potter’s wheel allowed the artist to turn vessels with thinner walls, a
greater variety of and more uniform shapes and sizes, and a larger array of painted and incised
decorative elements for additional aesthetic appeal. They could, as well, make molds for serial
production of commonly used types of pots.

By the time of the Ming Dynasty in China (1368-1644), vases such as this from the Xuande
period (1426-1435) painted in imperial (cobalt) blue and white display both the technical inno-
vations and the remarkable degree of refinement achieved. (Figure 3.5) The development of such

Figure 3.3 | Reproduction of a bison of the cave of Altamira
Author: User “Rameessos”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain

Figure 3.4 | Korean neolithic pot, found
in Busan
Author: User “Good friend100”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain

CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

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INTRODUCTION TO ART

mineral resources as kaolin and petuntse allowed ceramicists
to create porcelain, one of the most refined and hardest types of
pottery, which became known as “china” because of the origins
of the materials and processes; chinaware was soon emulated
the world over for its beauty and utility as tableware and décor.

Traders from Portugal returned from China with chinaware
(porcelain vessels) in the sixteenth century. The semi-translu-
cent material, elegant shapes, and glass-like, intricately dec-
orated surfaces of the pots were unlike anything produced in
Europe at that time. The demand for such wares quickly spread
throughout Europe, and ceramicists on that continent spent the
next two centuries trying to unlock the secret of how to create
such smooth, white, and hard pottery. Ehrenfried Walther von
Tschirnhaus and Johann Friedrich Böttger, both employed for
that purpose by Augustus II the Strong, Elector of Saxony (to-
day Germany) and King of Poland (r. 1694-1733), are credited
with producing the first European porcelain in 1708. It would
become known as Meissen ware because it was produced at the
factory set up in the town by Augustus II for that purpose to
safeguard the formula and maintain his exclusive control over
the creation and sale of European porcelain. (Figure 3.6)

The monopoly held by Augustus II was short-lived, howev-
er, as the secret was sold and a competing factory opened in

Figure 3.5 | A Ming dynasty
Xuande mark and period
(1426-1435) imperial blue and
white vase
Author: User “Meliere”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 4.0

Figure 3.6 | Teapot
Artist: Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur
Author: Walters Art Museum
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Figure 3.7 | Pitcher
Artist: American Porcelain Manufacturing Company
Source: Met Museum
License: OASC

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INTRODUCTION TO ART CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

Vienna, Austria, by 1717. From there, variations of the formula and the production of porcelain
spread throughout Europe as demand increased from the privilege of royalty, to the rich and titled,
and eventually to all who could afford the status-giving ware. For example, this nineteenth-cen-
tury commemorative pitcher made by the American Porcelain Manufacturing Company would
have been presented to specially mark an occasion. (Figure 3.7) Although it is a distant relative
of Chinese imperial porcelain ware and the royal courts of Europe, the techniques and materi-
als used in its creation were still associated with tradition,
wealth, and high social standing, elevating the cultural val-
ue of this mass-produced vessel to the level of a keepsake
or even a family heirloom. Objects such as this are valued
beyond their monetary worth or utilitarian purposes, both
due to the tactile and aesthetic qualities that come from
the physical substance and techniques used and to histori-
cal and social associations they hold.

Similarly, drawing and painting, apparently first confined
to the rock walls of nature, were areas of exploration for artists
who later applied color to the built walls of architecture, and
then to portable objects of various types. Ceramic ware was
decorated with images from nature, pictorial and narrative
motifs, and messages of myth, power, and even everyday
life. The same is true of tomb walls of Egypt (Figure
3.8), palace walls in ancient Iraq, (Ashurnasirpal II with
Attendants and Soldier: http://www.museumsyndicate.
com/item.php?item=36470) and Greek vessels used for
practical or ritual purposes (Figure 3.9).

Figure 3.8 | Egyptian tomb wall painting
Author: British Library
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC0 1.0

Figure 3.9 | Terracotta krater
Source: Met Museum
License: OASC

http://www.museumsyndicate.com/item.php?item=36470

http://www.museumsyndicate.com/item.php?item=36470

CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

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INTRODUCTION TO ART

Eventually such vessels, as well as books and other ob-
jects, bore written information and pictorial explications
of textual content: illustrations. Early textual works were
often inscribed on stone tablets to ensure their durability
or on relatively fragile materials like papyrus that required
laborious preparation to make it suitable for conveying in-
formation. In either case, the materials used added to the
work’s significance. By the time of the development of the
codex (probably in the Roman era), or manuscript with
bound pages, the most common form of modern physical
books, the choice material was animal skin, as seen in man-
uscripts throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages,
roughly the beginning of the fourth to the fifteenth centu-
ries, in the Western and the Middle Eastern regions of the
world. (Figures 3.10 and 3.11) Sheepskin, or parchment,
the most commonly used support for written works, was
obtained by laborious preparation of the pelts, through
scraping and buffing the surface to make it suitable for use

by scribes and il-
lustrators who add-
ed the words and
pictures. The most
refined book arts
were often presented on vellum, or calfskin, prized for its
smoother and finer surface. When used for especially im-
portant works or those made for royal purposes, it was often
dyed purple or dark blue, with script applied in gold or sil-
ver ink and illustrations that included areas of gold or silver.
(see Figure 3.2) These lustrous images were known as illu-
minations, that is, given light. The viewer would at once
recognize the special and distinctive treatment implied by
the use of such precious materials and know that the patron
had paid well for an elegant and important book.

3.4 PRECIOUS MATERIALS, SPOLIA,
AND BORROWED GLORY

Objects made for sacred or royal use were often wrought
of such lavish and treasured components as vellum, silk, lin-
en, wool, ivory, gold, silver, gems, and rare stones and min-
erals. Frequently crafted for further refinement, such works

Figure 3.10 | Historiated Letter L,
with illustration of the Tree of Jesse,
Capuchin’s Bible, f. 7v, c. 1180. BNF
Author: User “Soefrm”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain

Figure 3.11 | Kitab al-Bulhan:
Middle Eastern House and Lifting
Machine, Arab scientific manuscript
leaf. 1. 14th century
Author: User “Peacay”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain

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INTRODUCTION TO ART CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

show their precious properties to advantage. In ancient Rome/Byzantium, there were quarries
for porphyry, a rich purple marble stone (the basis for the association of the color purple with
royalty). Because it was restricted to royal purposes, its very appearance carried connotations
of the imperial significance of any work made from it. It was often used for columns and other
architectural components that thereby accentuated important structures or parts of them. Once
the imperially controlled mines were abandoned in the fifth century CE, new items could not be
made of porphyry, so older monuments were sometimes pillaged and re-used, with the royal sig-
nificance transferred to the plunderers, implying not only the replacement of the old order by the
new, but also the superiority of the conquerors.

Porphyry burial containers were especially prized in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Constan-
tina was the eldest daughter of Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 CE), the Roman ruler
who in 313 CE decreed early Christians could practice their faith without persecution and confis-
cated land should be returned to the Church. Although Constantine considered himself a Chris-
tian, he did not abandon the Roman gods and religious rituals. For example, in 321 CE he stated
that Christians and pagans alike should observe the day of the sun (later named Sunday); the cult
of the sun god had been popularly observed in Roman culture for centuries, and associations of
the sun as the source of light, warmth, and life had been adopted by those of the Christian faith.
Constantine, according to legend, was baptized a Christian on his deathbed in 337 CE.

When his daughter Constantina died in 354 CE, she was entombed in a porphyry sarcoph-
agus, or stone coffin, that was richly carved with motifs from both the pagan Roman and Chris-
tian faiths. (Figure 3.12) There are small, winged cupids gathering grapes among garlands of
grape vines with peacocks and a ram below on the front and back of the coffin, and cupids
treading on grapes on both ends. In Roman mythology, such scenes were associated with Bac-

chus (known to the Greeks as Di-
onysus), the god of the wine har-
vest and wine making who as
a baby was reborn after having
been slaughtered by the Titans.
Interpreted as Christian motifs,
the cupids, who became known
as putti or small, winged angels,
are seen as preparing the grapes
for the Eucharist, the sacrament
commemorating the Last Supper
by consecration of the bread and
wine as the Body and Blood of Je-
sus Christ. Such re-imaging and
re-purposing of motifs and their
meanings were frequently seen
at this time of transition from pa-
ganism to Christianity; further,

Figure 3.12 | Sarcophagus of Constantina
Author: User “Jean-Pol GRANDMONT”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

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INTRODUCTION TO ART

having been adopted by Constantine and his
family, they were associated with imperial pow-
er and carried connotations of the Christian con-
quest of paganism.

Later, in the eighth and ninth centuries CE,
Charlemagne (r. 768-814 CE) used pillaged por-
phyry columns inside arches on the upper level
of his imperial chapel, a building intended for
his own entombment. (Figure 3.13) The Palatine
Chapel (c. 796-798 CE, consecrated 805 CE)
was part of the palace complex Charlemagne
had built at Aachen, in what is now Germany.
The interior of the chapel is an octagon topped
by a dome supported by heavy piers with arches
on the second level, where the imperial throne
is located, with a view to the high altar (the ta-

ble or other surface where religious rituals
are carried out) located across the church on
the first floor below. (Figure 3.14) The design
of the building is modeled on mausolea,
or buildings containing tombs, and church-
es from the late Roman, early Christian, and
early Byzantine periods (fourth-seventh cen-
turies), such as San Vitale (526-647 CE) in
Ravenna, Italy. (Figure 3.15) Charlemagne,
who was not only King of the Franks and
King of the Lombards but was also crowned
as the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800 CE,
used that design and the plundered columns
to signify the revival and replacement of the
old Roman Empire with his own reign as a
Christian world ruler.

Figure 3.13 | Aachen, Palace Chapel of
Charlemagne. c. 800
Author: User “Velvet”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Figure 3.14 | Cross-sections of the Palace Chapel
of Aachen
Author: User “Sir Gawain”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain

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INTRODUCTION TO ART CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

Among others, Holy Roman Emperor Henry (or
Heinrich) II (r. 973-1024) similarly borrowed and
supplanted Charlemagne’s glory by adopting his pal-
ace complex at Aachen and adding to its structure
and furnishings with his own statements of imperi-
al power. Henry II commissioned a lavish pulpit for
the chapel that was completed in 1014. (Figure 3.16)
The semi-circular pulpit has a smaller semi-circle to
either side, a shape known as a trefoil. The center
is made up of nine rectangular panels covered with
chased gilt copper that has been formed by ham-
mering into low relief images of the Four Evange-
lists. The panels are adorned with gemstones and
embellished with enamel, powdered glass fused to
the surface by heat, and filigree, beads or threads
of gold or silver arranged in designs on a metal sur-
face. The three ivory panels on each of the smaller
semi-circles depict pagan mythological figures; the
panels were made in Egypt in the sixth century CE.
Re-used parts such as the porphyry columns, gem-

stones, and ivory panels are known as spolia, remnants that had
been taken from older art and architecture and incorporated into
new art objects and places with the implications of conquest, supe-
riority, and heritage for the new patrons.

Figure 3.15 | San Vitale, Ravenna
Author: User “Väsk”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain

Figure 3.16 | Ambon (11th-
century) of Henry II, Holy
Roman Emperor. Aachen
Cathedral, Germany.
Author: User “HOWI”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Figure 3.17 | The Barbarossa chandelier
Author: User “Lokilech”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

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INTRODUCTION TO ART

Another, later Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I (r. 1155-
1190), and his wife, Beatrice, commissioned a chandelier to
hang below the octagonal dome in the chapel. (Figure 3.17) This
was called the Barbarossa chandelier, reflecting the emperor’s
nickname after his red beard; it was installed between 1165 and
1170 in honor of the Virgin Mary and as a tribute to Charlemagne.
The chandelier’s forty-eight candles cast a tremendous spread of
light in an age when artificial illumination was costly, emphasizing
its association with earthly wealth and heavenly light.

As a continuation of the work undertaken by his grandfa-
ther Frederick I, which also included exhuming Charlemagne’s
bones, Frederick II (r. 1220-1250), following the plans Bar-
barossa had made, completed the creation of a lavish, new jew-
eled and gilded shrine for the remains of Charlemagne, seeking
to elevate him to the rank of sainthood. These statements in
rich material forms, imply the surpassing glory of their impe-
rial predecessor, shared by those who followed in his lineage.
Moreover, the associations of royalty and honor for earthly rul-
ers was often intertwined in very pointed ways to artwork asso-
ciated with the Christian God and saints. Notable in this regard

Figure 3.18 | Shrine of Charlemagne, Interior of palatine
chapel in Aachen Cathedral, Germany.
Author: User “ACBahn”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Figure 3.19 | Shrine of Charlemagne
Author: User “HOWI”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Figure 3.20 | Cross of Lothair
Author: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

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INTRODUCTION TO ART CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

is the shrine for Charlemagne—clearly a statement of imperial
power—made of rich materials that reflect popular Christian no-
tions of the Heavenly Jerusalem, where these saintly rulers were
thought to act as intercessors for the believer. (Figures 3.18 and
3.19) Often such imperial works actually featured objects or sig-
nificant decorative details from imperial Roman works, such as
the antique cameo of the Roman Emperor Augustus that was
applied to the Cross of the Emperor Lothair II. (Figures 3.20
and 3.21) The gilded cross, dated to c. 1000, is covered with 102
gemstones and thirty-two pearls
and has a rock crystal seal near
its base bearing a portrait of Lo-
thair II (r. 835-869). Including
the portraits of earlier emperors
further emphasized the wealth

and power of the ruler who had it made, believed to be Otto III
(r. 983-1002). In addition, gemstones on such devotional works
were selected for their qualities associated with healing, good
fortune, the ability to ward off evil, and their mystical translu-
cence, that fostered spiritual illumination.

3.5 LIQUIDATION OF TREASURES
Works such as these

often implied the stor-
ing of riches as heav-
enly treasure and also
represented a means of
storing material wealth
that could be used for
mundane purposes in
time of need. We have records of a number of extrav-
agant shrines and liturgical (relating to worship) fur-
nishings that have not survived because they were tak-
en apart and sold to feed a famine-stricken community
or to provide for a new building project or an updated
expression of devotion. Such works as the sumptuous
Screen of Charlemagne (Figure 3.22) and the enormous
Stavelot Altarpiece (Figure 3.23) are known to us only
from drawings and small fragments that remain from
the original objects. The disappearances of such works

Figure 3.21 | Augustus cameo
Author: User “Absalypson2”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Figure 3.22 | Screen of
Charlemagne
Artist: Piersac
Source: www.medart.pitt.edu
License: Public Domain

Figure 3.23 | The mid-12th-century
silver altar piece surrounding the
shrine of Saint Remaclus
Author: User “Kleon3”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain

CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

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INTRODUCTION TO ART

indicate that their rich material components, while once intrinsic to their great spiritual impli-
cations, at some point came to be seen as an important source of wealth that could be put to
other use.

3.6 WOOD, INLAY, AND LACQUER
Sculptures, objects, and architectural components of wood were also fashioned with a view

to their monetary and cultural value. Some varieties of wood are more rare, others have qualities
that make them easier to work in certain types of process, and there have been waves of “fashion”
in wood choices at many eras. For example, lindenwood and limewood are associated with the
Middle Ages, mahogany with eighteenth-century England and Scotland, oak with the Arts and
Crafts work of the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, and delicately lacquered wooden
goods with Yuan Dynasty China.

Wooden sculpture was a far more predominant art form than painting in northern Europe
during the Romanesque (c. 1000-1200) and Gothic periods (c. 1200-1500) in that region.
The material favored was lindenwood or limewood due to the fineness of the wood’s grain,
which allowed the sculptor to carve intricate detail. Generally, the sculpture was then poly-
chromed, or painted, to increase the lifelike quality of the figure. Suggesting that spark of
life was important in works such as The Throne of Wisdom because Mary, the compassionate
and merciful Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, was believed to have the power to inter-

cede with her Son, the infant Christ, on behalf of the
faithful. (Figure 3.24)

Mahogany was discovered as a marketable wood by
European explorers and traders in the Caribbean islands,
Central America, and South America by the seventeenth
century. The naturally reddish-brown wood was prized for
its beauty and strength and, throughout the 1700s, was fre-
quently used in England and Scotland to create fine furni-
ture for the market there and in the American colonies. A
table such as this was a status symbol indicating the own-
er’s wealth and taste, which was further enhanced by its
use: this was not a utilitarian piece but a display table for
chinaware. (Figure 3.25)

The Arts and Crafts movement began in England in
the middle of the nineteenth century, but quickly spread
throughout Europe and to the United States. In a time
of growing industrialization, with an ever greater num-
ber of people moving to urban areas, working in facto-
ries, and consuming machine-made goods, some felt the
need to reclaim the handmade. With romantic associa-
tions of simpler times, greater authenticity, and individ-

Figure 3.24 | Throne of Wisdom
Author: User “Okapi07”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Page | 89

INTRODUCTION TO ART CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

ual labor, furniture and decorative
objects made as part of the Arts and
Crafts movement were prized for
their workmanship, design based
on forms from nature, and respect
for the natural materials used. For
example, this cabinet is thought to
have been made by Daniel Pabst
(1826-1910, Germany, lived United
States), one of the leading furniture
makers of his day. It features elab-
orately carved surfaces and inlay,
where one material is cut and fit into
another in complex patterns. (Fig-
ures 3.26 and 3.27) Although the
types of wood used—walnut, maple,
and white pine—are not exotic or ra-
re, the mastery with which they have
been painstakingly cut and applied conveys a sense of preciousness. Inlay techniques were of-
ten used to provide visual contrast and to emphasize both the distinctive and diverse qualities
among the materials brought together and the refined craftsmanship involved. A piece of furni-
ture made with such skill was prized for its singularity and for the intricacy of the craft involved
in its creation.

Lacquer has been
used in art through-
out Asia since Neolithic
times, but carved lacquer
is created in China only.
Lacquer is resin from
trees found in continen-
tal Asia that hardens to
a natural plastic when
exposed to the air; it is
resistant to water and du-
rable. The base of a lac-
quered object is wood, to
which the liquid resin is
applied in up to 200 lay-
ers. This tray was made
in the fourteenth century,
during the Yuan Dynasty,

Figure 3.25 | China table
Source: Met Museum
License: OASC

Figure 3.26 | Cabinet
Artist: Daniel Pabst
Source: Met Museum
License: OASC

Figure 3.27 | Detail of Cabinet
Artist: Daniel Pabst
Source: Met Museum
License: OASC

CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

Page | 90

INTRODUCTION TO ART

when lacquer was most often tinted red by add-
ing cinnabar, powdered mercury sulfide. (Figure
3.28) Once hardened, the lacquer was carved
away to create detailed scenes of court life, such
as we see here, floral motifs, nature scenes, drag-
ons or abstracted patterns. While the resin itself
is of little monetary value, the laborious process
and high level of skill required for such delicate
carving meant the completed objects had, and
still have, significant cultural value.

3.7 INTRINSIC VALUES AND
ENHANCED WORTH OF METALS

Some of the materials prized by artists and
patrons become more valuable because of these
artistic uses; others are valuable for their intrin-
sic worth as raw substance. From the earliest times, metals such as gold, silver, iron, and copper
were used and traded in their natural states, as they came from the earth. They were mixed

with other materials to create alloys, used for minting
coins and forming sculptural objects. Among the most
prominent metal materials first used for art were iron
and bronze; forging and casting them were among
the earliest complex artistic processes devised. Brass
(copper alloyed with tin, lead, and/or other metals)
and the harder, more durable bronze have been wide-
ly used for grand public monuments that have fine
detail, weather well, and can be hollow cast to reduce
the amount of metal used. (Figures 3.29 and 3.30).
Because forging and casting are complex and highly
skilled processes, a viewer should know that an object
made of this material was a significant statement for
the artist or patron to make, one involving consider-
able planning and staging to accomplish the work.

3.8 RARE MATERIALS AND
PROHIBITED USES

The economic and ecological factors involved in
some materials have sometimes moved consideration
of their use far beyond the discussion of artistic

Figure 3.28 | Tray with women and boys on a
garden terrace
Source: Met Museum
License: OASC

Figure 3.29 | Bronze statue of Buddha
Author: User “Dirk Beyer”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

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INTRODUCTION TO ART CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

production. An example is work in ivory, especially
that obtained from elephants, although it was
also taken to use for sculpture from their kin, the
extinct mammoth, as well as from walruses and
other mammals. Its rarity and workability led to
its valuation for finely carved works, often for
aristocratic patrons and very special purposes,
such as the devotional objects (The Virgin and
Child, Unknown: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/
item/O166591/the-virgin-and-child-polyptych-
unknown/) and personal toilet articles (Attack on
the Castle of Love, Unknown: http://collections.
vam.ac.uk/item/O88416/attack-on-the-castle-
of-mirror-back-unknown/) that were popular
among the court ladies of the late Middle Ages.
Its exploitation has led to scarcity and, ultimately,
now threatens the very existence of elephants, since
they have been savagely hunted and their herds
decimated in the interest of profit. Consequently,
both the sale and purchase of ivory objects, even
those considered antiques and historical treasures, are now widely boycotted in the interest of
preservation of the species.

3.9 MATERIAL CONNOTATIONS OF CLASS OR STATION
Other more mundane materials and appropriated components might also have strong

political connotations that intensify the meaning of the artwork. Korean artist Do Ho Su chose
and assembled military dog tags to create a larger-than-life figural impression of an imperialistic
robe with a hollow core. It carries connotations of the political strength of his native land being
built upon such things as the dehumanizing mandatory military service he had performed, and
the relationships between individuals and the collectives they form. (Some/One, Do Ho Suh:
https://2yhr3j6imaw4e4zzg38k38ar-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/
suh-inst-002 ; Some/One detail, Do Ho Suh: https://2yhr3j6imaw4e4zzg38k38ar-wpengine.
netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/suh-inst-001.540 )

3.10 BEFORE YOU MOVE ON
Key Concepts

One of the basic artistic choices for any creation is the material from which it will be made and
so should be an area for careful attention in our analysis of any artwork. Deliberate choices can
also involve the pointed spurning of rich resources in favor of humbler stuff, as in the robe created

Figure 3.30 | The Minute Man
Artist: Daniel Chester French
Author: User “Flying Jazz”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O166591/the-virgin-and-child-polyptych-unknown/

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O166591/the-virgin-and-child-polyptych-unknown/

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O166591/the-virgin-and-child-polyptych-unknown/

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O88416/attack-on-the-castle-of-mirror-back-unknown/

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O88416/attack-on-the-castle-of-mirror-back-unknown/

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O88416/attack-on-the-castle-of-mirror-back-unknown/

https://2yhr3j6imaw4e4zzg38k38ar-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/suh-inst-002

https://2yhr3j6imaw4e4zzg38k38ar-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/suh-inst-002

https://2yhr3j6imaw4e4zzg38k38ar-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/suh-inst-001.540

https://2yhr3j6imaw4e4zzg38k38ar-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/suh-inst-001.540

CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

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INTRODUCTION TO ART

by Do Ho Su, and less refined surfaces, such as cardboard or burlap for paintings; things that are
only more recently available than those traditionally used, like plastics for sculpture, titanium for
architecture; and the technologically evolved media that move into the realms of the physically
immaterial. Choices and implications have expanded exponentially, and our examination of them
should be broad, deep, and careful.

Test Yourself

1. Discuss the differences between materials that are intrinsically precious, and those that are
made more valuable by the processes or creative ideas in works of art, by considering specific
examples.

2. Consider the use of spolia in at least three specific examples and discuss how they changed the
significance of the art work to which they were applied.

3. Review and describe a specific process for creating artwork that involved procedures for
combining diverse materials into the product.

4. Considering such common materials as clay or wood, discuss the ways in which an artist might
use it for making an object of much greater value than the inherent worth, and what factors,
other than the creation process, might lead people to value it highly.

3.11 KEY TERMS
Codex: the book form in which pages (or leaves) of material such as parchment, vellum, or paper,

are gathered into bundles and bound together—initially by sewing, now usually by glueing—
and then provided with a cover to protect the sheets. Its ancestor was the scroll, in which the
sheets were joined into a long continuous roll that was opened out from one side, rolled up at
the other, for viewing the contents.

Cultural value: the perceived quality or merit of the work: what it is worth according to that
culture’s standards of artistic importance or excellence.

Earthenware, or objects made from clay: such as vessels that are formed for specific uses and
hardened either by drying in the air or by baking in high heat. Often, earthenware goods
are distinguished from more refined clay-based objects that are creating with additional
processing of the material or different/more complex firing methods. See porcelain

Gold leaf: 22K gold pounded into extremely thin sheets, to be applied selectively to areas of 2-d
or 3-d objects.

Handbuilt: clay objects that are shaped by hand, often by wrapping and smoothing coils of clay
into the desired form. These are distinguished from wheel-thrown or mold-made goods.

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INTRODUCTION TO ART CHAPTER THREE: SIGNIFICANCE OF MATERIALS USED IN ART

Illumination: literally, given light, specifically through the use of gold or silver for letting of
illustrative touches in a manuscript. The term is also sometime used to describe manuscripts
that have images added to them, as opposed to simply including lettered text

Manuscript: literally, hand-written presentation of script and/or images. The form was
supplanted by books produced with a printing press, although the term is still used for a
singular copy of a written work.

Mausolea, plural of mausoleum: a building designed to house one or more tombs, usually
for an important person. These were most often centrally-planned, with a design that
pivoted around the burial site. In Christian usage, these were sometimes attached to a larger,
congregational structure, but sometimes stood alone. They might house more than one tomb.

Monetary value: the worth of materials or objects, in terms of “market value.” This might be
determined by the value of the materials use or of the finished art object, considered differently
from the cost of the materials.

Parchment: sheepskin, prepared for use in manuscripts—less refined than vellum, used for
finer and more expensive works.

Polychrome: painted in several colors.

Porcelain: highly refined ceramic ware, initially produced in China, with select materials like
petuntse and kaolin, to create semi-translucent material, with elegant shapes, and glass-like,
intricately decorated surfaces, and high-temp fired for hardened finishes.

Potter’s wheel, wheel-thrown: pottery made with the use of a potter’s wheel, a device for
turning the clay body on a rotating platform for a more uniform shape. These were first turned
by hand, knee, or pedal motion, later electrified.

Putti plural of putto: a small winged baby angel, a cherub.

Spolia: bounty taken from and original context, as in the “spoils of war.” Often, items of spolia
were re-used in later works to imply the conquest (and superiority) of the new owner over the
original.

Vellum: calfskin, prepared for use in luxury manuscripts, more highly prized than the rougher,
less expensive parchment.

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