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Art Through Time: A Global View

Converging Cultures Compare: How Can Art Aid in the Reconciliation of New and Old Beliefs?

Our Lady of Cocharcas Under the Baldachin

Our Lady of Cocharcas Under the Baldachin
Artist / Origin: Unknown artist, Peru
Region: South America
Date: 1765
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 78 ¼ in. (198.8 cm.), W: 56 ½ in. (143.5 cm.)
Location: Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Credit: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum


Double-Sided Diptych

Double-Sided Diptych
Artist / Origin: Gondar Workshops, Ethiopia
Region: Africa
Date: 17th–18th century
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Tempera on wood
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 6 ½ in. (16.5 cm.), W: 6 5/8 (16.9 cm.), D: 1 3/8 in. (3.5 cm.)
Location: The Newark Museum, New Jersey
Credit: Courtesy of the Newark Museum

How can art aid in the reconciliation of new and old beliefs?

Through trade, travel, conquest, and missionary zeal, Christianity has spread around the globe. Along the way, it has been adapted and interpreted according to the values, beliefs, and needs of various populations at different points in history. The art produced when Christianity has been adopted by or introduced to traditionally non-Christian cultures has both reflected the incorporation of foreign ideas and, at the same time, produced original ways of understanding those ideas. Images like Our Lady of Cocharcas or icon diptychs from Ethiopia show the fusion of old and new that has occurred when people have attempted to reconcile not only their indigenous religious beliefs with Christianity, but also their traditional art forms with those of European origin.

Both of these images depict the Virgin Mary. In what ways does each image adhere to traditional Christian-European models? How has each adapted those models to address the visual and cultural values of its audience?

If you had to guess, would you attribute these works to foreign artists or artists native to Peru and Ethiopia respectively? Can you make a case for the reverse?

Religious art, including the pieces shown here, has a spiritual function for devotees. In the context of cultural convergence and religious conversion, what other functions might images like these serve?


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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2