Field Study of the Ancient World: OLMC Students at the Met!
Today, the OLMC 6th Grade made their way into New York City and the Metropolitan Museum of Art for their field study of ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilizations. Organized under the heading of “Man’s Pursuit of the Divine: Nature and Grace in the Art and Architecture of the Ancient World,” the students reflected on the particular depictions of man, the divine, nature, supernature, and the way that each of the exhibits offered insights into conceptions of beauty.
The magnificent exhibitions at the Met transported our students to a world that only too often remains an abstraction or an image on a screen. Our field study brought to life the history we have been studying, enlivening our imaginations by helping us to appreciate the people who devoted themselves to create such timeless and monumental works.
The 6th graders were able to get a first-hand sense of the ominous scale and intimidating proportions of the royal reception room of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II in a recreation of his palace dating from the 9th century B.C. The proximity helped to impress upon them the purpose of art employed to make a political and religious statement about the powerful king--and his subjects!
Together, we discussed not only the purposes of art and architecture but the significance and limitations of the materials used to depict and give form to different kinds of ideas. We marveled at the severity of Assyrian reliefs, the intricacy and detail of Egyptian hieroglyphs, the delicate translucence of ancient alabaster pottery, the weight and gravity of sarcophagi, the startling realism of Greek and Roman sculpture, and the delicacy of gold jewelry and ornamentation.
We pondered together the absence of depictions of families and children in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and wondered at the domestic sensitivities of Greece and Rome--including the clever miniature rendering of a teacher and student. We compared the larger-than-life, exaggerated forms of Babylonian art with the curious hybridized anthropomorphism of Egypt, whose gods themselves reflect a view of idealized nature while presenting human beings in a strikingly mundane manner.
Greece and Rome invited us to puzzle over an artistic legacy that included gorgons and Medusa, not to mention the Sphinx, all of which seemed to recall a conception of nature and the divine that was shared with Mesopotamia and Egypt. Yet Greece and Rome clearly departed from that artistic conception and provide for us an appreciation for Man as the capstone of creation, in whose image even the gods are rendered and whose beautiful lifelike presentation in bronze and marble provocatively suggests with Protagoras that "man is the measure of all things."
It was a great day of discovery and wonder, one that helped us to envision the manner in which ideas take form. It left us all wanting more. A lot more. Stay tuned!