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Art Through Time: A Global View

Cosmology and Belief Compare: What Is the Relationship Between Art, Ritual, and Belief?


Artist / Origin: Unknown architect(s), Mecca
Region: West Asia
Date: Rebuilt multiple times; latest 17th century
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Granite and marble, covered with silk
Medium: Architecture and Planning
Dimensions: H: 49 ft. (14.93 m.), W: 39 ft. (11.88 m.), D: 33 ft. (10.05 m.)
Location: Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Credit: © Mohamed Messara/epa/Corbis

Ascension Dome from the Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica)

Ascension Dome from the Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica)
Artist / Origin: Probably Greek or Byzantine artist(s), Venice, Italy
Region: Europe
Date: 1150–1200
Period: 1000 CE – 1400 CE
Material: Mosaic
Medium: Other
Dimensions: Diam.: 42 ft. (13.8 m.)
Location: Venice, Italy
Credit: Courtesy of Cameraphoto Arte, Venice/Art Resource, NY

What is the relationship between art, ritual, and belief?

The spaces in which and at which people worship can tell us a great deal about their views toward not just religion, but also art. In comparing the luxurious interior of the Basilica of San Marco with the simple exterior of the Ka’ba, we might begin to consider the role of belief in shaping visual environments of worship. However, we might also think about the impact that visual spectacle can have in the context of faith.

Questions to Consider

  • At St. Mark’s in Venice, worship takes place inside. At the Ka’ba in Mecca, prayer occurs outside the structure. What role does art play in the adornment of each of these places of devotion and prayer? How does this reflect broader attitudes toward the visual arts within Christianity and Islam respectively?
  • What is the relationship between architectural form and ritual practice at each site? How does each shape the other?
  • Imagine being among the worshippers at both of these sites. Describe the visual impact of your surroundings at each? How would the experiences be different? Do you think the experiences would be similar in any ways? What does this suggest to you about the nature of religious art and architecture more generally?

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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