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6.1: Overview

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    Civilizations have emerged, expanded, and collapsed over the last 40,000 years in previous chapters. Civilizations have ascended to power independently due to geographic location (Jomon) or learned to coexist together (Mesopotamia). To become a civilization, people must be capable of social development, sustainable farming/harvesting, obtaining access to water, organizing a government, emanating progress and innovation, and possessing an enlightened culture.

    The word “civilization” is derived from the Latin “civilis”.

    This period produced an explosion of sophisticated and beautiful artwork across worldwide civilizations, art that conveyed a sense of completeness, pleasure when viewing the art, and a cohesiveness to the art. Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy, displays unity with symmetrical balance radiating from the front doors and large dome in the center yet demonstrating a fantastic variety in the use of sculpture placed on the façade and diversity of the colors and materials used during construction. The basilica also had a set of repeated arches and domes contributing to a grander appearance when approached from afar. This fraudulent representation was to deceive the enemy.

    Paint in this period was a combination of products, a binder, and color, mixed to form a liquid drying as a solid. Egg tempera paint was standard, a mixture of egg yolk, water, and mineral pigments. The minerals were taken right out of the earth and carved into sticks ready to mix with the egg yolk. A new technique in painting was adapted in the early 1st century BCE to paint portraits. Encaustic painting was a technique of the addition of mixing wax with egg-based tempera to create paint. Some cultures even used encaustic paint by painting the vivid colors on wooden boards and attaching the boards to mummies wrapped in linen, producing an eerie lifelike portrayal of the person inside.

    During the Romanesque and Gothic periods, vellum was the primary medium used to produce books or scrolls, smooth and durable, usually white, and an excellent medium to write on. Vellum is from the Latin word “vitulinum,” which means “made from the calf.” However, vellum was also a limited commodity, and writings were reserved for the elite and clergy.

    Paper was invented in ancient China but did not become popular in Europe until the 14th century. Paper usually made from linen rags left to rot in large vats of water were crushed until the linen became pulp, poured into molds and left to dry. The results were large pieces of paper suitable to use in the newly invented printing press. Paper was also inexpensive to produce and was a way to create information for more people than the expensive vellum.

    Brush and ink artwork started in Japan and China and spread to the rest of the world. They made bamboo brushes with tight tips and created ink from charred wood, adding water to create the proper flow and consistency. Calligraphy became a significant art form during the Song Dynasty. Iron gall ink was used in Europe from 500 CE to 1800 CE and was the standard ink for writing or drawing. Iron gall ink is purple-black and made from tannic acids and iron salts from various vegetables. Dip pens were used to transport the ink from the bottle to the paper for drawing.

    Linen is made from flax plant fibers and known around the world for its absorbency and ability to stay cooler in hot weather. Wool is a fiber from shearing sheep, llamas, or yaks. Wool is woven into clothing that retains its warmth even when wet. Cotton has been cultivated since 4500 BCE and used for clothing or weaving. Cotton was the standard fabric in the Middle Ages and handwoven on a wooden loom. The silkworm spun a cocoon of silk, which is washed and spun into thread on looms creating silk fabric. China first developed silk and traded it extensively with other civilizations giving the famous trade route, the Silk Road, its name.

    The mineral jade is a metamorphic rock made from different silicates. Jade is usually a light green when carved and was used to create jewelry, daggers, ornamental statues, and considered rare and difficult to carve. In those civilizations with access to jade, the carved jade ornaments reserved for the elite, important ornamentation in Mesoamerican cultures.

    Civilizations in The Sophisticated Art of Cultures (200 CE – 1400 CE) continued to grow and used many different varieties of resources to develop and create their artwork, leaving outstanding examples of their capabilities and artistic styles.



    Time Frame

    Starting Location

    Late Roman Empire

    3rd C – 6th C

    Mediterranean Sea Countries


    330 – 1453


    Islamic Golden Age

    mid 7th C – mid 13th C

    Saudi Arabian Peninsula


    Late 8th C – late 11th C



    1000 – 1150

    Western Europe


    12th C – end of 15th C



    10th C – 13th C



    9th C – 15th C


    Gupta Period

    320 – 550


    Khmer Empire

    802 - 1431


    Song Dynasty

    960 – 1276


    Asuka, Nara, Heian Periods

    538 – 1185


    Rapa Nui

    7th C est. – ongoing

    Rapa Nui Island (Easter Island)

    Ancestral Puebloans

    700 – 1300

    Southwest United State

    Mayan Classic Period

    250 – 1539

    Yucatan Peninsula

    Incan Empire

    Early 12th C – 1572



    14th – 16th


    This page titled 6.1: Overview is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .