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Art Through Time: A Global View

Dreams and Visions Compare: Why Do We Depict Visionary Experience?


Lintel 25 of Yaxchilán Structure 23

Lintel 25 of Yaxchilán Structure 23
Artist / Origin: Maya artist, Yaxchilán, Chiapas, Mexico
Region: Mesoamerica, Central America, and the Caribbean
Date: Late Classic period, 600–900 CE
Period: 500 CE – 1000 CE
Material: Limestone relief
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions: H: 51 in. (129.5 cm.), W: 33.7 in. (85.7 cm)
Location: The British Museum, London, UK
Credit: Werner Forman/Art Resource, NY

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa
Artist / Origin: Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, 1598–1680)
Region: Europe
Date: 1647–52
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Marble, stucco, and gilt bronze
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions: H: 11 ft. 6 in. (3.5 m.)
Location: Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, Italy
Credit: Courtesy of SCALA/Art Resource, NY

Why do we depict visionary experience?

Although most people in modern Western society tend to associate visions with psychosis, at many times and in many places they have been understood as signs of political or spiritual authority. Both of these works portray women in the midst of visionary experiences. The presentation of each speaks to both the role of the artwork in its respective location and the status of the vision’s seer in the culture that produced the work.

Questions to Consider

  • How does each of these images visualize the experience of its main subject? Is it evident that each depicts an individual having a vision? Why or why not?
  • What elements characterize the visionary experience in each of these pieces? What is the visual impact of each? Keeping in mind cultural context, what can you infer from your observations about the intended function of each work?
  • Think about the original context in which each of these artworks was found. How does that location add to your understanding of the work’s meaning and the value attached to visions 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