Art of the Day

13 Mar


Drinking cup in the shape of a fist. Made in Central Turkey by the Hittites, probably during the reign of Tudhaliyas III. Silver, ca. 1400-1380 B.C. Currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Caption that appeared with the cup in the museum:

Surviving Hittite objects in precious metal are very rare. This cup was evidently used for rituals connectected with the weather god, Tarhuna, who appears holding a bull in the frieze around the rim. The named donor of the cup was “Great King Tudhaliyas,” who is shown leading priests and musicians from a city over a mountain, personfied as a human figure covered with leaves. The fist shape probably evoked a Hittite hieroglyph meaning “strength,” and the cup may have been presented to the god so that he would grant strength to the royal donor when the contents were drunk.

My comments:

When I saw this at the MFA, I immediately fell in love with it for its uniqueness and elegance of design. Design is something we talk about a surprising amount in my Foundation Drawing class in school, and it’s something that I’d never thought about before in terms of visual artwork;  usually it’s associated with fashion or interior decoration. But as I’ve learned, art is very much concerned with design, and it seems to refer to (in terms of two-dimensional artwork) the shape arrangement of the objects within a painting in relation to the frame that is the canvas. It’s a question, ultimately, of how positive space interacts with negative space.

But design also applies to sculpture and other three-dimensional works like the fist-shaped drinking cup above. And the design of this cup is something that I greatly admire and find exceedingly beautiful. I love that its creator did not just make a cup in a conventional shape and then carve a fist into it, but actually made the cup a fist, then manufactured it in a way to still be functional as a drinking cup. It’s a brilliant, surprisingly sophisticated design choice for a culture as ancient as the Hittites, especially since ancient cultures seem so rudiementary and “primitive” in other ways.

The cup seems so intentional, so artistically conscious, that I wonder if the Hittites who made it considered it artwork. Did they even have that concept? Where did the concept of art originate, and when did people start intentionally making art, actually calling what they made art? It’s surprising to me that that question has never crossed my mind.

One Response to “Art of the Day”

  1. tara March 14, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    ..Hittie kitchen workers talking ca1435. “Chebob, did you see that ridiculous drinking cup that the master had made for himself?” “I did, Mektha. the guy wins one arm wrestling contest and you’d thinnk he was some high priest!” “high priest of elbow bending!!” (laughter) ” well lets get back to killing the goat- we have twelve more to go!”

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