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Art and Architecture of Ancient American Civilizations

Art and Architecture of Ancient American Civilizations

Author: Sophia Tutorial
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Differentiate the art and architecture of ancient American civilizations.

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Hello. I'd like to welcome this episode of Explaining Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about ancient indigenous art of South America. As you've watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives with the things you're going to learn today are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, identify the geographical background for this time period, then identify examples of ancient indigenous artwork from South America.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is geoglyphs, arrangements of elements of landscape, rocks, earth, gravel. Nazca, a pre-Incan culture located in southwest Peru, also the name of a city and valleys in the same region. Moche, an early civilization characterized by iconography and monumental architecture.

The big idea for today is that the ancient indigenous cultures of South America are actually older than the more familiar Mesoamerican cultures and were accomplished artists, architects, and metalworkers. So the artwork that we're looking at today falls between 200 and 700 AD, right there. And the artwork that we're looking at today comes from Bolivia and Peru, modern day neighboring countries that reside within the continent of South America.

There is modern day Bolivia. And there is modern day Peru. And here's a nice picture of the Andes. So this was pretty rugged country.

Now, historically, the South American cultures we're looking at are older than the Mesoamerican cultures of the Olmec and Maya. Now, the South American indigenous cultures and the Nazca, Moche, and Tiwanaku were settled in the Andean high country in modern day Peru in Bolivia. Now, the first image I'm showing you is of the monkey on the right. And at first glance, it might appear to be a cave drawing or painting.

It might astonish you to point out that this is actually an aerial view of a monstrous land drawing, or geoglyph. The Nazca are probably best remembered for their land images, or Nazca line images, like this monkey here. They were made by literally drawing relatively wide paths in the earth, removing the darker stones from the Nazca plain where they were made, in order to reveal the lighter stone and soil beneath. The true purpose still remains somewhat of a mystery. But theories with support include their use for ritualistic processions along the lighter colored paths or as some sort of symbolic mapping system with a religious purpose.

Now, the Moche were another culture that flourished in the northern parts of Peru who were expert ceramic artists and kept extensive informational records on their ceramics. This portrait bottle is an example of their skill with ceramics and depicts what may be a warrior or ruler. It's an impressive example of the level of detail in realism that the artists were able to achieve.

As mentioned before, the indigenous civilizations of this area were accomplished metal workers. And these are examples of ear ornaments of gold and semi-precious stone from Sipan, Peru. That's another impressive example of the attention to detail that these artists had, as each little piece would have been independently cut, shaped, and applied on a miniature scale. These were found with an assortment of other funerary items in a tomb of a warrior priest in Sipan, Peru.

The Tiwanaku civilization existed for almost 1,000 years in and around southern Peru, Bolivia, and northern Chile. The monolithic gateway of the sun has today been moved from its original location, but is a rather large block of carved stone with a central doorway above which is a carved relief depicting a deity-- possibly a sun or sky deity-- with rays emanating from his head, some of which end with a puma's head. Now, the puma was the largest predatory animal in this region. It would have been a symbol of power. There are smaller attendant figures beneath him. The entire piece would have originally been elaborately painted or elaborately decorated, the deity in gold and turquoise inlay and the lower reliefs colorfully painted.

This is an example of Tiwanaku stela sculpture, which contrasts noticeably with the realism of the Moche portrait bottle we saw just a bit earlier. It's a very boxy, stylized depiction of an individual rendered in shallow relief. And its discovery in a temple, and the fact that it appears to be holding some sort of tablet, may suggest that it served some sort of religious function or simply as a marker to the entrance of a sacred structure.

That brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you identify the geographical border or background for this time period? Can you identify examples of ancient indigenous artwork from South America?

And once again, the big idea for today is that the ancient indigenous cultures of South America are actually older than the more familiar Mesoamerian cultures and were accomplished artists, architects, and metal workers.

There you go. Thank you very much for joining me today. I will see you next time.

Video Transcription

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Attributions
Terms to Know
Geoglyphs

Arrangements of elements of landscape, rocks, earth, gravel.

Moche

An early civilization characterized by iconography and monumental architecture.

Nazca

A pre-Incan culture located in southwest Peru; also the name of a city and valleys in the same region.