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Art Through Time: A Global View

Ceremony and Society Compare: What Is the Significance of Location in Ceremonies?

Procession of Tribute Bearers

Procession of Tribute Bearers
Artist / Origin: Unknown artist(s), Persepolis
Region: West Asia
Date: Achaemenid Period, 559–330 BCE
Period: 500 BCE – 1 CE
Material: Stone relief
Medium: Sculpture
Location: Persepolis, Iran
Credit: © CORBIS

Shah Jahan Watching an Elephant Fight

Shah Jahan Watching an Elephant Fight
Artist / Origin: Attributed to Bulaqi
Region: South and Southeast Asia
Date: Mughal Period, ca. 1639
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Medium: Calligraphy, Illumination, and Illustrated Books
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource, NY

What is the significance of location in ceremonies?

Ceremonies can happen anywhere. An intentionally chosen location, however, can heighten the impact of an already momentous event or lend gravity to an event that might otherwise seem insignificant. Sometimes the site chosen for a particular rite or ritual has historic significance, sometimes religious. Sometimes it is a structure created for the precise purpose of demonstrating a leader’s strength and resources or overwhelming an audience through its enormity, costly materials, and visual opulence. Throughout history, rulers from different parts of the world have recognized that the backdrops for ceremonies can often be as effective in communicating power as the ceremonies themselves.

Questions to Consider

  • Here we see a page from a Mughal manuscript depicting an event at the Red Fort, and a photograph from a stairway at Persepolis. What was significant about each of these structures? What made each an appropriate site for ceremonial activity?
  • In the Mughal image we see an illustration of the kind of event that took place at the Red Fort. In the photograph, we see an actual stairway from the complex at Persepolis. How is art that records ceremony the same as or different from art that surrounds ceremony? Do they serve any of the same purposes?
  • Think of a location where you have witnessed a ceremony. How does it compare to the two ceremonial sites represented here? Why do you think that specific location was chosen? What role did art and architecture play in shaping your experience in that space?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


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