Art has been an important part of human society across the ages and civilizations. It has been used to communicate, express, and preserve history while strengthening common bonds in the community. It had also seeped into the realm of God and the supernatural in ancient times just as deep as it has today. All this has at times resulted in the creation of some intriguing works of art. Here’s a list of 10 such ancient art that is unique and interesting.
1. Kantharos in the Form of Two Heads
Black-figure art is a common theme in many ancient Greek vessels showing Africans as slaves, representing the servants that serve them. But the joining of White and Black female heads in this kantharos (drinking cup) is unusual.
Kantharos are ancient Greek cups that were used for holding wine. Apart from their utility as a banquet cup, they were possibly used in rituals symbolizing rebirth or resurrection.
These vessels often displayed black art including the one at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston entitled “high-handled drinking cup (kantharos) in the form of two heads.”
The cup is made of the heads of two women, one African, and the other White. This joining of a Black and White head, where other arts from the era display Africans as slaves, makes such forms of cups unique and intriguing.
An inscription runs on each side of the cup reading “the boy is handsome.” (Source)
2. The Venus of Willendorf
Standing just 4.5 inches tall, Venus of Willendorf is a tiny figurine with emphasized sexual body parts that are associated with childbearing and fertility. This has raised suggestions that the upper paleolithic sculpture was used as a fertility fetish.
Discovered at Willendorf, Austria in 1908, this female figurine is just 4.5 inches tall. It is carved out of oolithic limestone and is dated 28,000–25,000 BCE.
Like other Venus figurines discovered from around that era, its sexual parts are emphasized, raising speculation that the figurine was used as an early fertility fetish. Its tiny stature allowed the owner to carry it around in their everyday travels in search of food.
3. The Night Revels
In the 900s CE, Gu Hongzhong showcased a minister’s night revelries in a narrative painting through five distinct scenes and presented it to the Chinese Emperor Li Yu. The minister Han Xizai was being considered for an important position and so Li Yu had asked Gu Hongzhong to spy on him.
The Night Revels of Han Xizai vividly depicts a night party hosted by Xizai, a minister of Emperor Li Yu.
The Emperor had asked Gu Hongzhong to spy on Han Xizai as was to be appointed to an important position. Hongzhong revealed his finding to the Emperor through this painting.
In the first scene, the host is seen sitting with Lang Chang, a scholar, while listening to a pipa lute.
The second scene shows Han Xizai playing the drum and Wang Wushan dancing to the beats.
In the next scene, he takes a rest being surrounded by four female companions.
Dressed in unbuttoned robes he is next seen enjoying the flute being played by four females.
In the final scene, Han Xizai waves goodbye to his guest.
4. Airavatesvara Temple- sculpture
One of the oldest examples of optical illusion in art, this ancient sculpture shows a bull and an elephant sharing a common head. Made over 850 years ago, this bas-relief can be found at the Airavatesvara Temple in India.
The Airavatesvara Temple in India is one of the three surviving temples constructed during the Chola Dynasty in India. What makes this temple special is a bas-relief believed to be one of the world’s oldest optical illusions.
The sculpture depicts two animals with their heads overlapped. If you focus on the animal on the right, an elephant will appear. And if you focus on the left, a bull will appear.
5. Why Born Enslaved!
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux carved an enslaved woman of African descent in shackles, straining against the ropes that bind her with a defiant and uplifting gaze. The marble bust with the inscription “Why Born Enslaved!” highlights the moral debt of slavery.
After the abolition of slavery in France in 1848, French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux explored slavery in his artwork. He modeled the original sculptor in 1868 in preparation for the Fontaine de l’Observatoire in Paris. Later, in 1873, the marble version was sculpted.
The life-sized bust depicts the agony of slavery and oppression – an enslaved woman with a defiant facial expression, trying to break free of the ropes that bind her.
An archival note suggests that the woman who modeled for Carpeaux was a Black model, born into slavery.