Research and conjecture have led the author to conclude that these took place in distinct phases and, beginning back in Neanderthal times, he explores five different visions of the world: body, tree, pyramid, altar and veil.
Early man saw Mother Earth as an immense floating body which gathered breath through the mysterious daily cycles of the oceans. Agricultural development then allowed trees to become the new symbols of civilisation. The next era saw the arrival of immaculate and symmetrical pyramids, grand expressions of the unknown forces that bound the flat world together. Stonehenge and the Nazca Lines were altars; the Taj Mahal and the Alhambra are veils which continue to mask divine eternity. Eventually, man began to understand the laws of nature and Spalding suggests the watery horizons behind the shy smile of Mona Lisa reflect a rising tide of knowledge as well as the rising tide of a curved ocean and a growing realisation that our Earth was round. Many were surprised when Columbus didn’t disappear over an edge and his successful return allowed pioneering scientists to stamp their mark through experiment and education.
Our spiritual perception began to fade as we slowly detached ourselves from nature, but the book finishes in a flourish with a call for a new artistic vision that could marry culture, anthropology and geographical knowledge.
REALISATION: From Seeing to Understanding – The Origins of Art by Julian Spalding, Wilmington Square Books, £8.99 (paperback)
This review was published in the May 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine