Lesson 2: Precolumbian Art

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What You Will Learn:

  • Explore All Art Movements and Periods

    You will learn about all the leading art movements and periods, such as primitive art, ancient Greek art, the Renaissance, Romanticism, Impressionism, Modernism, and contemporary art. There is also a lot of attention to non-Western art, such as Islamic Art, Hindu Art, Chinese Art, Oceanic Art and African Art, and the globalization of the art world.

  • All Famous Artists and Their Masterpieces

    The course covers important artists like Sultan Muhammad, Fan Kuan, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Utagawa Hiroshige, Vincent van Gogh, Ilya Repin, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Banksy and many more, and discusses their most influential works.

  • Cultural and Historical Context

    Our courses also focus on the study of the cultural, social, political, and economic contexts in which artworks are created.

  • Various Media and Techniques

    You will explore different art forms and techniques, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and digital art.

Introduction to this course:


Coatlicue, the goddess of the sky, became the mother of a flint knife. Her children, the stars, were completely distraught and cast the knife into the sky. The knife fell to the earth and shattered into thousands of pieces, each piece transforming into a god. These gods needed servants and, therefore, asked their mother for permission to create humans. Coatlicue instructed them to retrieve bones from the underworld and then bring them to life by pouring blood over them. During the theft of the bones from the underworld, one of the gods fell to the ground. All the stolen bones shattered into pieces of various sizes. This is the reason why all humans are different.

Het ruim tweeëneenhalve meter hoge beeld van Coatlicue, de Azteekse godin van de aarde en de hemel. Zij is afgebeeld met een rok van slangen, menselijke harten en handen. Haar hoofd bestaat uit twee elkaar rakende koppen van ratelslangen. Om haar middel draagt zij een riem van handen met daaraan pontificaal een mensenschedel. Het is een expressief beeld, vervaardigd uit andesiet, van een god waarmee een mens zich moeilijk kan identificeren. Het maakte ongetwijfeld veel indruk op de Azteekse bevolking. 
Locatie: Dit beeld van de godin Coatliceu staat in het Nationaal Museum voor Antropologie in de Mexicaanse hoofdstad Mexico-Stad.
Image: The over two-and-a-half-meter-high statue of Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess of the earth and sky. She is depicted wearing a skirt made of snakes, human hearts, and hands. Her head consists of two intertwining heads of rattlesnakes. Around her waist, she wears a belt of hands with a human skull prominently attached. It is an expressive sculpture, made from the igneous rock andesite, representing a god with whom it is difficult for a human to identify. Undoubtedly, it made a profound impression on the Aztec population. 
Location: This statue of the goddess Coatlicue is located in the National Museum of Anthropology, situated on the outskirts of Chapultepec Park in the Mexican capital, Mexico City.

The Origin of the Native Americans

According to this Aztec myth, humans are creations of the gods. Actually, not much is known about the origins of the Native American peoples. It is likely that the first Native Americans migrated to Central and South America around 20,000 BCE. Their ancestors had undergone a long journey, originating all the way from Siberia.
Their ancestors had a long journey behind them because they originally came from Siberia. Keep in mind that if a group of people split in half every 40 years and a splinter group moved 100 kilometers to the east to hunt and gather food, the distance between Siberia and the middle of North America could be covered in about 10,000 years. 
During the last Ice Age (Weichselien), about 40,000 years ago, they crossed the Bering Strait into present-day America. As the climate warmed again, large amounts of ice melted, causing sea levels to rise. This submerged the land bridge between Siberia and America, breaking the connection between Asia and America. Meanwhile, the nomads who produced primitive art, as described earlier, continued to move further south. Many generations passed during this migration. These nomadic tribes primarily lived off hunting, targeting bison, mammoths, and other animals. They also gathered edible plants and caught fish. The precolumbian art developed in the subsequent period.

Pre-columbiaanse gouden Vogelhanger uit de 5e-7e eeuw na Chr. in Panama
Image: A gold bird pendant from the 5th to 7th century AD. The artwork originates from Panama.
Location: The figurine is housed in the De Young Museum, formerly the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, located at 50 Dr. Hagiwara Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, USA.

The Development of Techniques and the Emergence of Precolumbian Art

Approximately the year 6000 BC, they began cultivating the land. Around 2000 BC, the inhabitants of Central and South America developed various techniques, such as cultivating new crops, land irrigation, weaving, pottery making, and the production of various ceramic figurines.

Indiaanse schildering van de Huichol-indianen in de deelstaat Jalisco. Image: The Huichol Indians in the Mexican state of Jalisco are known for their colorful wool paintings that arise under the influence of the hallucinogenic effects of the peyote cactus. The holy trinity of the Huichol Indians consists of peyote, deer, and corn. These objects are frequently depicted in their wool paintings. Also in this image, there is a deer. The deer spirit reveals itself to the Huichol when they consume peyote. These artistic expressions were created in the precolumbian era. The artists create the wool paintings by pressing the wool onto a panel on which a mixture of pine resin and beeswax has been applied.
Location: The Huichol Indians live in the northwest of the state of Jalisco, in the western part of Central Mexico. ©Ronnie Rokebrand.


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