World History 2 – Art Analysis

Learning Goals

  1. Relate how a historical art objects connects to a historical society.
  2. Offer a hypothesis on what the object tells us about that society.
  3. Analyze how art reflects values of historical societies.


Analyzing art as historical sources can be challenging as we must connect what we know of the society to what we can reasonably conclude about the artist’s motivations and the reception of the piece. As with all history, we rely on evidence, whether from our secondary source readings or from the object itself, to help us make arguments. Most historians use careful language in their analysis. So rather than writing "This sculpture clearly demonstrates Roman attitudes on race. . " a historian might write "The depiction of the child suggests that . . . and may have indicated . . . , perhaps indicating . . . .." Being honest about the limits of what your evidence shows is an important skill in history.

Chose One Source:

Aztecs Mexica- Serpent mosaic
Anthropomorphous jar – Eastern Cordillera – Muisca Period600/1600
Angkor Wat (Treat the entire complex as a piece of art)
Water Deity (Chalchiuhtlicue) 15th–early 16th century

Prepare assignment

[ ] Chose two from the list above and read the associated materials.
[ ] Write one paragraph each on what each art object might tell us about the society that produced the art as it relates to accessing, using, or making meaning with water. In your paragraph, explicitly tie your background reading for the week to your analysis. (2 paragraphs total.)

**Example using Cylinder seal and modern impression: bull-man combatting lion; nude hero combatting water buffalo; ca. 2250–2150 B.C.

The cylinder suggests a couple of hypothesis about the Akkaddian empire. As the associated text states, the water buffalo was native to the Indus valley, not Akkadia. Thus, the image suggests "possibly diplomatic connections between the Akkadian emire and the Indus Valley."The article for the week "Climate and Geography in Ancient Asia and the Pacific" offers some support for this idea that India could be connected, noting "India was fairly accessible to the outside world. . . ." Beyond that, I hypothesize that the hero wrestling with the water buffalo could be symbolic for Akkadian politics or the for the owner of the seal. Water buffalo are very large animals: the idea that a human would engage in combat with one without a weapon or tool speaks to the triumph of a human of extraordinary ability. As well, the water buffalo could represent both geography and and idea, as certain ideas are associated with certain animals (such as black cats and bad luck in the U.S.) What is clear is that access to deep rivers (the water buffalo’s habitat) helped shape art of 3rd millenium Akkadia, in Mesopotamia. So, the water of one regions (rivers) shaped the art of another region.