AJANTA. The ceilings and walls of the chaityas and viharas of the Ajanta caves (four cave-temples and 22 halls hewn into the rock) are decorated with magnificent Buddhist frescoes (ill. p. 532) and sculptures, dating from the 1st to the 7th century A. D. The paintings, on plaster, show scenes from the life of the Buddha and from the Jatakas (popular tales of the former incarnations of the Buddha).
ALHAMBRA (Arabic: 'Red Castle'). The Alhambra was the palace of the Moorish rulers of Spain at Granada. It comprises a series of palatial buildings, erected in the 13th and 14th centuries, and covers a vast area nearly two miles in circumference. The 'Court of the Lions', with 12 black marble lions supporting the basin of the central fountain (ill. 343), and the 'Court of the Alberca' are perhaps the most famous of the numerous arcaded courts and halls. Both the layout and, above all, the treatment of its interior, basically influenced Islamic architecture in Spain and throughout the Western part of the Muslim world (see Maghrib). The characteristic features of the Alhambra style are the lavish geometric decoration of the walls -- here, two-dimensional ornament assumes an architectural function -- and the use of calligraphy for its ornamental qualities. Another important element of this style are the so-called 'Azulejos' (Spanish: azul -- blue), i. e. polychrome and elaborately patterned tiles, which were used for facing the lower portion of the inner walls of the Alhambra. The Alhambra vases illustrate the Moorish artist's penchant for repeating zones, borders and friezes in a horizontal manner.
ANGKOR THOM. Angkor Thom, with its central sanctuary, the Bayon temple, was the capital of Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer kings (9th to 12th cent.). The 12th-century Angkor Vat outside the city walls is a three-storeyed terraced temple dedicated to Vishnu. Monumental rock carvings with mythological scenes decorate the inside of the surrounding wall of the first terrace.
ASOKA. The exact dates of the reign of the Mauryan emperor Asoka are not clearly established. He probably ruled between 274 and 232 B.C. Under Asoka, Buddhism -- hitherto despised -- became the official religion. The earliest examples of Indian Buddhist art, the memorial columns or stambhas (q. v.), date from Asoka's reign. These edict pillars -- as they were also called after the inscriptions they bore -- had bell-shaped capitals and were surmounted by animal figures. The life-size elephant, carved from the living rock, and the relief fragment of the 'Squatting Girl' belong to the same period. In its perfection Buddhist sculpture during Asoka's reign remained unique -- despite many later outstanding achievements -- and suggests Western Asiatic, Bactro-Persian influence.
AZTECS. Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire (c. 1430-1521) was completely destroyed during the Spanish conquest. It had stood on the site of the present Mexico City. The Aztecs (cf. p. 538) adoped
BARK PAINTING. This form of painting is one of the principal arts practised by the aborigines of Australia. Stylistically, there is a distinction between the bark paintings of Eastern Australia (spirals, waves, etc.) and those of Western Australia (diamond patterns, squares, meander patterns). Although ornament is entirely geometric, bark painting depicts scenes from the everyday life of the aboriginal artist. Animals are shown 'transparent', with muscles, stomach and spine displayed as fully as possible. This is sometimes referred to as the 'X-ray style'. Bark painting has been carried on until the present day and experts can identify the work of individual artists without much difficulty.
BASKETRY. This is one of the most important crafts of the North-West American Indians, who have no pottery. Their baskets -- made by a tight twining technique -- are frequently decorated with wool or coloured grasses in a manner reminiscent of embroidery.
Benin. The bronzes (figures and reliefs; ill. 342) of Benin ( Nigeria) are amongst the finest examples of metal casting in primitive art. They are made in the cire perdu -- 'lost wax' -- technique, a method widely used in Europe and the Far East. European influence, according to some leading scholars, cannot be ruled out. Indeed, some authorities would not call Benin art 'primitive'. The kingdom of Benin was founded by the Yoruba people at the beginning of the 14th century B.C. Terra-cotta heads, found in the holy city of Ife, are characteristic of the Yoruba style in their life-like realism. The influence of Yoruba art extended as far as Lake Chad, where small bronze figures have been found in increasing numbers since 1930, besides somewhat coarser sculptures and clay vessels decorated in relief. The bronze reliefs of the classic phase of Benin art already show a tendency towards abstraction. This characteristic feature of African art developed even further in wooden sculpture, where the form often seems to merge completely into pattern. Benin bronze, being rather