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Traditional architecture is based on the fashions that were once prevalent in a particular area or country. Accordingly, the traits of conventional design that were employed by architects and builders included, among other things, a dedicated commitment to ensuring the building styles are kept, reusing of materials and designs to conform to existing designs in the area. Therefore, traditional architecture preserved the community's classic appearance and feel for the residents while also fostering a feeling of continuity and connection to the past. Worth noting is the fact that traditional architecture is a way of building which takes into account the use of symbolic forms of a particular culture of people in a given place. Byzantine and Islamic arts might have different origins, but with the same theme of representing particular elements of culture characteristic of the people in their regions respectively. Similarly, while the Hagia Sophia structure and the Dome of the Rock might be representative of Byzantine and Islamic arts, respectively, they connote the different cultural orientation of the people from the two separate and distinct zones geographically. This research essay is motivated towards comparing and contrasting two structures mentioned above in their cultural contexts while illustrating how each artwork represents its culture. Further, I will give a detailed analysis of the outstanding characteristics of specific artworks and finally link the architectural attributes to the cultural orientation of the people found in their regions.
Historically, it is essential to recognize the fact that the period between Emperor Constantine I’s reign and Visigoth’s, characterized with recognition of Christianity as well as the fall of Rome, many changes were proposed towards ensuring a division in the empire. Resultantly, the western half was to be under Roman rule, while the eastern half was to be ruled by Byzantium (Wescoat, Bonna & Ousterhout 67). Consequently, while the west Christendom fell to cultural abyss characteristic of the dark barbarian ages, it's religious, artistic values as well as secular values were maintained by the new capital. Moreover, the transfer of authority to Byzantium tagged along Roman and Greek artisans tasked with the responsibility of creating Byzantine art. Similarly, the fact that the artisans were mainly concerned with Christian activities at that time, other techniques, including but not limited to Greek and other art emerged thus spreading to every part of the Byzantine, zones that were earmarked for the flourishing of orthodox Christianity. Consequently, it is at this time that the Hagia Sophia artwork was erected following the Byzantine model in line with the cultural orientation of the people.
The Hagia Sophia architecture, following the characteristics of Byzantine art was entirely enmeshed within the religious context. Today, it remains a renowned pillar of Byzantine architecture and painting that is uninformed and anonymous with the development of a rigid Christian tradition. Hagia Sophia was erected by the Byzantine Empire between the years of 532-537 taking roughly six years to build the dome which by then was a short period to establish such a spectacular structure. The building was initially used as a church by the Roman Empire and measures 82 meters long by 240 meters wide with two floors. Initially, the first Hagia Sophia was designed by Athemios and Sistine under strict orders and supervision of the emperor Justinian (Weitzmann 56). Another remarkable milestone of the construction is the incorporation of mathematical as well as engineering building designs and techniques in creating the dome since the architects were crafty enough to apply new construction concepts with the sole purpose of reducing chances of collapsing in many cases an earthquake happened in the region.
The second characteristic typical of the Byzantine construction is the decorations with mosaic on the walls and domes of the church. For instance, the Hagia Sophia appears beautiful as a result of the application of collections with the form borrowed from Italy. Further, there is the inculcation of Constantinople art with holy images and panel paintings developed in the Eastern Church that made use of encaustic wax painting on portable wooden panels. Further within the church, there is an excellent collection of biblical art founded by Emperor Justinian (Wescoat, Bonna & Ousterhout 67).
Additionally, the styles in which the mosaics and frescoes are executed within the Hagia Sophia reflect a more considerable extent their function as being static as well as symbolic and with a divine impression. In Byzantine construction, the Hagia art evolved by meeting the standards of classical forms. Moreover, other features of the building favor of standard facial type with figures that are flattened to patterns of swirling lines. The overall effect of the collage is that it gives a clear impression of a humanly figure characteristically replaced in a spiritual form with a classical mix of color.
Finally, application of sculpture in erecting the building is a primary characteristic of the Byzantine emperor with the most sculpture made of ivory carvings (Eastmond 45). Similarly, there are other miniature arts, enamel, gold work and embroidery feature of the flourishing and sophisticated wealth in the Constantinople society. On the other hand, an observation of the building reveals manuscript illumination though to a greater extent not approaching the painting and mosaic effects that could lead to the building style spreading all over many parts of Europe.
First and most importantly, a distinction should exist in the definition of Islamic art in that it not only describes art of Muslim faith, for instance, the mosque and its furnishings. However, Islamic art revolves around the specific characteristics of architecture that in one way or the other might had been created by Muslim artists. As such, Islamic art fosters a culture and language throughout the Muslim world (Rosen-Ayalon 67). However, Islamic art has stood to retain its interstices qualities and unique identity over time. Just as Islam as a religion embodies a way of life while at the same time serving as a strong force to reckon with particularly identifying characteristics. The Dome of the Rock is one such Islamic artwork that has stood the test of time with the unique qualities definitive of Islamic art.
The Dome of the Rock is built on a holy land shows the importance of the dome as a sacred place. Although scholars still debate about its origins, it was created as a mosque. There are no images or pictures in the building because the Quran is against it. The dome of the rock sits on a large rock which the Muslims believe that Abraham was to sacrifice his son. It is the same rock where Muhammad is believed to have departed to rise to heaven. As earlier mentioned, the shape of the dome borrowed some designs from burial places of Christians (Adahl 78).
The Dome of the Rock was erected between the years 688 and 692 under the supervision of Abd Al Malik. The construction is found located in Jerusalem on the temple mountain, a pace where it is considered as a holy place. The dome is covered mostly with gold all over it. It has an octagonal wall and aisles that circle the rock. The middle row of columns includes four piers and a dozen columns which maintains a rounded drum. The columns are covered by marble which can be seen visibly. It has windows above it where light penetrates reflecting the golden interior with its rays. The interior of the dome of the rock is covered with Islamic calligraphy with no humans or animals’ imagery to show that the place was holy. The dome has borrowed a lot from the byzantine geometry ways of construction. Although the dome has changed with each ruler from Muslims to Christian, its structure has not been altered a lot. In 1994, the Saudi Arabia government gave it eighty kilograms of gold to renovate its exterior. The main characteristics of Islamic art in the dome include but are not limited to calligraphy, vegetal patterns, figural presentations as well as geometric patterns (Milwright 102).
Both the Hagia Sophia and Dome of Rock have similarities like being built with octagonal shape with the domes on top of them making them appear unique in their ways. The interior walls of the two buildings signify their religious purposes. Regarding the mathematical and engineering aspects, the two buildings were built with geometrical designs with the sole purpose of standing the heavy weight of the domes. Moreover, over time, two artistic works have transformed to make them modern while at the same time retaining their religious aspects. The difference between the two buildings ranges from some factors. First, the two buildings were erected by different empires and evidently while the Dome of the Rock takes an Islamic design, the church of Wisdom was built on Byzantine Empire design. Dome shapes are different too.
The Hagia Sophia dome is rounded, and the dome of the rock dome is shaped like an egg. The interior designs of the dome of the rock do not have images of animals or human beings. On the other hand, the Hagia Sophia has both pictures of humans and animals. However, irrespective of the discussed similarities and differences in the construction of the buildings, one aspect stands out; they all serve religious purposes that emphasize the cultural orientation of Christians and Muslims respectively. As Such, while the two constrictions might have been erected in different historical times and with different people, their aesthetic purpose is evident with the Hagia Sophia taking on a Byzantine style and the Dome of the Rock taking on Islamic religious and cultural orientation.
Adahl, Karin. Islamic Art Collections: An International Survey. Routledge, 2013.
Eastmond, Antony. Art and Identity In Thirteenth-Century Byzantium: Hagia Sophia and the Empire of Trebizond. Routledge, 2017.
Milwright, Marcus. The Dome of the Rock and Its Umayyad Mosaic Inscriptions. Edinburgh University Press, 2016.
Rosen-Ayalon, Myriam. Islamic Art and Archaeology in Palestine. Routledge, 2016.
Weitzmann, Kurt. Greek Mythology in Byzantine Art. Princeton University Press, 2014.
Wescoat, Bonna D., and Robert G. Ousterhout, eds. Architecture of the Sacred: Space, Ritual, and Experience from Classical Greece to Byzantium. Cambridge University Press, 2014.
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