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Art Through Time: A Global View

Cosmology and Belief Compare: How Do We Picture Our Gods?

Shiva Vinadhara (Holder of the Lute)

Shiva Vinadhara (Holder of the Lute)
Artist / Origin: Unknown artist, India
Region: South and Southeast Asia
Date: Chola Dynasty, ca. 950
Period: 500 CE – 1000 CE
Material: Bronze
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions: H: 29 in. (73.6 cm.); W: 14 in. (35.8 cm.); D: 9 ¾ in. (24.9 cm.)
Location: Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Credit: Courtesy of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Zeus of Artemision (also called Poseidon)

Zeus of Artemision (also called Poseidon)
Artist / Origin: Unknown Artist, Greece
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 460 BCE
Period: 500 BCE – 1 CE
Material: Bronze
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions: H: approx. 7 ft. (2.1 m.)
Location: National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
Credit: Courtesy of Vanni / Art Resource, NY

How do we picture our gods?

Ironically, while our gods have often been understood as artists sculpting the human form, it is humans, in turn, who give shape to the divine. People have chosen to represent the divine in all kinds of ways (including not at all). Whether we deem humankind created in the image of god or create god in the image of humans reveals a great deal about the way we understand and define our relationships to the divine.

Questions to Consider

  • What characteristics does each of these figures share with human beings? Why do you think so many religions anthropomorphize their divinities?
  • If you did not know the identity of either of the above sculptures, would you know that they represent gods? Why or why not? On what grounds do you think scholars have identified these figures?
  • The statue of Shiva measures approximately 2½ feet in height, while the Greek figure is larger than life size. How do you think scale might affect the experience of the viewer in each case?

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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