Friday, February 2, 2007

Symbolism in Domestic Arts

At the most primitive level, ancient symbolism probably represented the most basic elements of human existence and these elements were reduced to the simplest of forms. Thus, a straight line would represent the earth or land and an arch, made up of two lines ascending to meet in the middle, would represent the sky or heavens. Combined, one would have the shape of the triangle, representing the sky over the earth, or heaven above earth. The triangle might represent shelter as well, in the form of a tent or cave and later, a dwelling place made of brick, wood, stone or mud. Initially, however, the triangle was a potent symbol of the marriage or synthesis of heaven and earth. To the devout, it would symbolise the protection of heaven above and for those who dwelt on earth. Ancient Egyptian art (much later than primitive rock art certainly) showed heaven in the form of a female goddess, outstretched over Earth, in the form of a male god.

Early weaving, restricted to straight lines, reduced symbols to angular forms similar to those found in primitive rock paintings and carvings. Thus, straight lines symbolised Earth or land, the arch represented the sky or heaven, triangles represented the meeting of heaven and earth, tents, caves or other dwellings, and wavy lines represented water, either in the form of rain, of lightning or of waves. The sun was represented by an equal-armed cross, and the earth could be represented by a square, its corners symbolising the four quarters or directions.

All these symbols are seen in the traditional domestic arts of Palestine, and can be found in profusion in embroidery patterns worked on thobs (gowns), pillows and hangings.

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