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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Heaven on Earth: Art from Islamic Lands contributions by Mikhail Piotrovksy, J. M. Rogers, A. A. Ivanov (Prestel) From the exhibition rooms of The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the Khalili Collection in London comes this dazzling display of`art from the Islamic world.

The exhibits, which are of great cultural, religious and aesthetic importance, include Qur’ans, textiles, jewelled objects and hardstones, metalwork, ceramics and paintings, and offer a superb introduction to the fine and decorative arts of the Islamic world. Ranging in date from the ninth to the nineteenth century and covering an area from Spain and the Arab world to Persia and the Indian subcontinent, they are a vivid demonstration of the well-know Muslim tradition: "Verily, God is beautiful and loves all beauty."

Authoritative essays by distinguished Islamic scholars, maps, and more than 150 colour photographs make this exhibition catalogue an indispensable addition to the library of all who are interested in Islamic art and culture.

This book is written for an English-speaking readership. Wherever possible personal names and place names have been given as they appear in standard English works of reference. The geographical and chronological range of the material is, however, so vast, that absolute consistency is impossible. The text inevitably uses various technical terms which, being in Arabic, Persian or Turkish, should properly be transliterated. There are, however, two intrinsic objections to transliteration: there is no completely consistent way of rendering Arabic, Persian and Turkish, so whichever system one adopts is going to displease at`least one constituency; and, while the non-specialist is hardly likely to care, the specialist, who knows the original, will be happy to have his prejudices flattered or his hackles raised. For that reason, the only diacriticals which have been retained are for the letters hamza (a vertical apostrophe) and y;ayn, a forward apostrophe. For consistency also, the letter waw in the Arabic alphabet is rendered as w in both Arabic and Persian.

Islam uses a lunar calendar starting from the year 622 AD, the date of the Hijra, the flight of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, which falls behind the solar calendar by a little more than eleven days a year. The result is consider-able discrepancies between Western and Islamic dates. In a work of this type, de-signed for the interested non-specialist, the systematic use of double dating would be otiose, so only the Western date is given. However, when a precise Muslim date appears in the colophon of a manuscript or accompanies a signature on a painting it plainly requires a precise equivalent. In such cases the Hijri date (AH) precedes the AD date.

A book of this sort is essentially a work of compilation and stands solidly on the shoulders of its predecessors. For reasons of space, the Bibliography has been kept to a minimum, so the citation of a volume must serve as an acknowledgment of its use.

Professor Piotrovsky's Introduction was translated by Geraldine Norman. The catalogue entries written by the Hermitage staff were translated by J. M. Rogers, who also translated A. A. Ivanov's essay on the development of the Hermitage collection of Islamic art.

Early Art of the Southeastern Indians: Feathered Serpents & Winged Beings by Susan C. Power (University of Georgia Press) is a visual journey through time, highlighting some of the most skillfully created art in native North America. The remarkable objects described and pictured here, many in full color, reveal the hands of master artists who developed lapidary and weaving traditions, established centers for production of shell and copper objects, and created the first ceramics in North America.

Presenting artifacts originating in the Archaic through the Mississippian periods—from thousands of years ago through A.D. 1600—Susan C. Power introduces us to an extraordinary assortment of ceremonial and functional objects, including pipes, vessels, figurines, and much more. Drawn from every corner of the Southeast—from Louisiana to the Ohio River valley, from Florida to Oklahoma—the pieces chronicle the emergence of new media and the mastery of new techniques as they offer clues to their creators’ widening awareness of their physical and spiritual worlds.

The most complex works, writes Power, were linked to male (and sometimes female) leaders. Wearing bold ensembles consisting of symbolic colors, sacred media, and richly complex designs, the leaders controlled large ceremonial centers that were noteworthy in regional art history, such as Etowah, Georgia; Spiro, Oklahoma; Cahokia, Illinois; and Moundville, Alabama. Many objects were used locally; others circulated to distant locales.
Power comments on the widening of artists’ subjects, starting with animals and insects, moving to humans, then culminating in supernatural combinations of both, and she discusses how a piece’s artistic "language" could function as a visual shorthand in local style and expression, yet embody an iconography of regional proportions. The remarkable achievements of these southeastern artists delight the senses and engage the mind while giving a brief glimpse into the rich, symbolic world of feathered serpents and winged beings.

The Meaning of Icons by Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky (SVS Press) This second edition of The Meaning of Icons was  produced with the active cooperation of Professor Leonid A. Ouspensky. It contains sixteen new plates and a number of illustrations in color, which, in the previous edition, appeared in black-and-white. This is the best theological introduction to the icons and is a standred reference. The text referring to new illustrative material has been appropriately modified, and several other adjustments and corrections have been made. Indices of plates and illustrations have been added, as well as a select bibliography.

From the Foreword by TITUS BURCKHARDT

The art of icons is a sacred art in the true sense of the word. It is nourished wholly on the spiritual truth to which it gives pictorial expression. For this reason it is often inadequately and faultily judged, when approached from outside with criteria borrowed from profane and purely human art. No one will better interpret it than a man whose mind is rooted in the same spirit. These are the basic considerations that have determined the composition of this book.
Most works on art place historical development in the foreground; they analyze the interplay of ethnic and geographical influences, which bear upon the art in question, and seek thereby to explain the art itself whilst the intellectual content of pictorial representation plays a subordinate role. In the art of icons, however, it is the content that is the criterion of form. The conscious and established doctrinal character of this art determines not only the iconography, but also its artistic form and general style. This is possible only because the meaning of an icon touches a center so near man's essence that it governs virtually all aspects of the work of art, from its didactic elements to the imponderables of artistic inspiration.
It is otherwise: profane art, where the subject of a picture forms only an occasion for the artist to express his own genius, which may be more vital than the subject chosen, and which derives its richness from elsewhere.A sacred art has, through its very content, access to a living and truly inexhaustible source.
Hence, it is in its nature to remain true to itself, even where a particular artist has not fully realized the spiritual depth of a given subject, and so does not draw direct from the spring of holiness, but only reflects more or less of that light which is comprehended in sacred forms sanctioned through traditional rules. This had to be stated clearly at the start, in order to justify the form of presentation of this book. In his introduction Leo­nid Ouspensky outlines the theological background in relation to icons and shows their close affinity to the experiences of contemplative life. But since ultimately everything depends on the reality of the Tradition, it was essential for its understanding to have also a fundamental elucidation of the latter's nature. Hence the introductory essay by Vladimir Lossky was put first, even though it may make the greatest demand on readers untrained in theology. From this presentation of the spiritual premises of icons, an insight into the historical devel­opment of this art emerges almost spontaneously. Fundamentally the icon remains always the same; changes of style arise from the meeting between the timeless spirit of Tradition and circumstances conditioned by time and place, which merely cause the unfolding of diverse potentialities, latent in the nature of the icon itself. The emphasis in this book as regards historical review lies on Russian iconography, which not only is the best explored, but also represents the peak of the whole art; Leonid Ouspensky says rightly that just as Byzantium brought theology to a certain perfection in words, Russia has done likewise in pictures. The technique of iconography, which cannot be separated from its spiritual meaning, is given a separate chapter.
The second part of the book is concerned with the typology of icons: the principal traditional compositions are illustrated by means of typical examples and based on references to Holy Scripture. Such a method agrees with the fundamental mode of approach indicated above; and in keeping with this the reproductions of the icons have been arranged not chronologic­ally but according to the "tchin" (or order) assigned to the themes on the Iconostasis. A description of the most important iconographical types serves, besides, to meet a general and growing need. In contrast to a predominantly sentimental interpretation of pictures, which one so often sees coupled with pseudo-mystical sayings, it is to wisdom itself, as contained in theological and liturgical writings, which this book seeks to give expression. Precisely because spiritual realities, which in the last analysis are our concern here, do not permit of being captured completely either in pictures or in words, the juxta­position of visible symbol and written doctrine can give the most powerful help towards realizing in anticipation the source from which springs the inspiration of both forms of expres­sion. Nothing would be more presumptuous than to wish to replace traditional wisdom with the standpoint of modern psychology, which is quite out of place here. There is just as little possibility of grasping spiritual content psychologically, as of explaining psychologically the essence of beauty. The examples of icons reproduced were chosen for their truth to tradition, truth expressed both by the iconographical canon and by their spiritual spontaneity. It was not by chance that in most cases Russian icons of a comparatively early period were chosen. The hieratic strictness of iconography has nothing akin with crude awkwardness, even if sometimes the spiritual appears to clothe itself in the child-like.
Contingent circumstances influenced the choice of icons, in that virtually only those works were accessible for reproduction which to-day are in Western Europe, Greece and America. Nevertheless, an advantage lay in this limitation, since most of the icons published elsewhere constitute the repetition of certain well-known examples, mostly from Russian museums, whereas this volume reproduces a number of unknown, or very little known, icons of good style. Examples of equal merit could not be found of all "classical" compositions, nor was it possible to make a quite faultless reproduction: of every icon chosen.

It need hardly be said that both the authors of this book themselves have lived and worked within the spiritual framework that conforms with the art of icons. Leonid Ouspensky has himself earned merit as an iconographer`in the actual practice of iconography. Vladimir Lossky is well known for his studies on the mystical theology of the Eastern Church.

AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ARCHETYPAL SYMBOLISM: The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism edited by Beverly Moon ($125.00, boxed cloth, 510 pages, color illustrations, bibliographies, index, Shambhala, ISBN: 1-57062-250-7)

THE BODY: An Encyclopedia of Archetypal Symbolism: The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism by George R. Elder ($125.00, boxed cloth, 452 pages, color illustrations, bibliographies, index, Shambhala, ISBN: 1-57062-096-2

In 1991 when the first edition of AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ARCHETYPAL SYMBOLISM was released, I marveled at the editorical consistency and fine organization that went into this volume. Having had the opportunity of working with the Archive as housed in San Francisco, I was well aware of how spotty some of the documentation was about many of the images and how uneven the ethnological information used to conjecture a meaning. The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS) is dedicated to the collection, description, and dissemination of archetypal images. Photographs of works of art, ritual images, and artifacts drawn from sacred traditions all over the world and contemporary art are presented as individual records, which include written accounts of the context and meaning of each image.

Each record not only provides the identity and location of the image but also describes the myths and rituals of the tradition from which it derives. In addition, a discussion of the symbolic patterns, or archetypes, found in the image and known from other cultures is included. Here also are found interpretive statements by analytical psychologists that connect the archetypal symbolism to the inner experience of contemporary men and women.

The Archive's collection of symbolic images was first begun in the 1930s by Olga Froebe Kapteyn to illustrate the topics of summer meetings of the Eranos Society that she hosted at her home in southern Switzerland. These gatherings were shaped by the ongoing presence of C. G. Jung and included historians of religion, art, and comparative mythology as well as occasional scientists.

Since the formation of the National Archive more than a decade ago it is obvious that in due time the records in the Archive's files might be stored and ultimately made available in electronic format. In fact, the texts of all records thus far prepared for publication have been entered in a sophisticated electronic database and edited to a more exacting standard than many of the more than ten thousand existing files; these files, developed over many years, are located at the Archive's branches in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Ultimately many of these records will be refined and included in the electronic format, but the larger challenge—a task that has only recently become feasible—is to develop an electronic archive of high-quality color images. The recent development of a research prototype CD-ROM version of the first volume has yielded very encouraging results, but actual publication in this format requires a mix of resources that are evolving rapidly but are by no means fully defined. At this time there is no commercial copy of the Archive available. We will inform you when there is.

ARAS has developed and unique format for researching sacred images. It has many aplications to individual dream work and artistic research in the affect of images. From our point of view it is only introductory in terms of cultural and ritual context. Each entry opens with a full-page color reproduction of some painting, sculpture, or artifact, accompanied by essential identifying data. These data are worth reviewing, it is often surprising, and significant, to discover the actual size of the work at hand or the medium employed. Furthermore, knowing its location might trigger a desire to see the piece in person. The image itself is the controling datum for the collection.

Below the repeated title and historical identification appears an italicized entry, the "precis." This succinct comment is developed usually in two sentences: the first states what the reader is looking at; the second provides some reason for the inclusion of this image in the chapter. Next, a "Description" in art-historical fashion helps to locate what is present in the image and anticipates the fuller discussion that follows.

The following large section, the "Cultural Context" (which has been prepared with the help of a research specialist in the field at issue), grounds the image in a particular history, stating, for example, what the Romans or the Aztecs felt about the image and why it was important to them. In a sense, this is the "meat" of the record, analogous to the manifest dream. These facts themselves should not change very much over time, even though our interpretations may change.

The "Archetypal Commentary" that follows is usually developed in two sections. The first attempts to show that the image at hand has relatives elsewhere, exists within a family or pattern of imagery worldwide or at least in some other cultures. Here we are not proving the existence of archetypes or arguing against the historical migration of motifs but calling attention to significant parallels—that is, hinting at the real existence of archetypal reality. This approach is similar to amplification in analysis, which puts a dream, a fantasy image, or even a disturbing symptom in a larger context so that one can feel the healing effect of knowing that one's particular "success" or "failure" really belongs to the universal drama of life.

The second section of the "Archetypal Commentary" explores psychological meaning. It is written for those who are not quite satisfied with traditional explanations of religious imagery and yet are unable to discard them as merely outdated. Since the worldview of Western culture is undergoing a major transition at present—and since history has shown the value of reinterpreting old truths in new ways lest what has been gained be lost—the researchers at ARAS share in the task of pouring old wine into new wineskins. This section often quotes Jung and Jungians but just as often "quotes" the image itself, allowing its peculiar nuances to tell us what it may mean today. The record is completed by providing a short bibliography.

AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ARCHETYPAL SYMBOLISM as the initial edition of the first volume of the ARAS Encyclopedia contains 120 records organized around mythic themes that follow the solar calendar from cosmos and creation to death, transformation, and rebirth. The thematic contents of AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ARCHETYPAL SYMBOLISM gives an idea of how useful this work is:

  • GODS

The perspective of this second volume of An Encyclopedia of Archetypal Symbolism, THE BODY, is concerned with how the human body and its parts, i.e. of head and hand, eye and arm, ear and breast, leg and loin, skin and skeleton—is a carrier of deep psychological insights and sacred meanings. One hundred outstanding color plates represent artifacts carved, painted, and sculpted in cultures that extend from prehistory to the recent past, and range from the caves of France to the temples of East Asia. These images are presented for reflection, gathered thematically in chapters focusing on particular body parts that are the objects of art and ritual.

The text of THE BODY was written by George R. Elder, a historian of religion with a profound understanding of visual, sacred, and psychological symbolism, and he is rightly understood to be its primary author. Yet the volume as a whole owes its being to the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism, without whose foundation and joint development by its curators, and many researchers, it could not exist.

THE BODY also offers some excellent insights into Archytypical symbolism. It thematic content includes:

  • SKIN
  • EYE
  • EAR

"What we need to grasp today, in a time of intensely destructive ethnic and religious conflicts, is that this sacred energy in these images is verified by its universal inferiority in all human nature and not by the exclusive correctness of any one vision of the divine. Whatever our own experience or conviction, it is only by recognizing the overlapping symbolic truths of each vital expression that we can be freed from the urge to coerce each other in the name of fanatical ethnic or racial certitudes. Freedom to worship from the perspective of symbolic understanding is not just a matter of respect for human rights, but becomes itself a primary religious commitment. The sacred wonder that speaks through the images in this book is a clear reflection of the symbolic attitude we require in order to live creatively in a pluralistic world."

READING IMAGES: Narrative Discourse and Reception in the Thirteenth-Century Illuminated Apocalypse by Suzanne Lewis ($85.00, cloth, 459 pages, 252 illustrations, notes, bibliography, person, place index, subject index. Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 0-521-67920-7)

READING IMAGES is a work of creative primary scholarship that offers a fundamental symbolic semantics to the interpretation of the images of the Apocalypse in the private act of reading. It focuses on the multilayered relationships between the textual image and its reader-viewer in the Apocalypse manuscripts produced in England during the thirteenth century, a period of profound social and cultural change. The increased composition and spread of illuminated manuscripts that occurred during this time furnished an important, cultural mechanism of reading into the images as a way to create new aspects to the self. Within the framework of this newly discernible subjectivity, Suzanne Lewis examines how contemporary theories of vision invested images with the power not only to promote memory and offer spiritual sustenance, but also to articulate and activate dominant ideological positions regarding the self, society, and the "other." This approach follows poststructuralist and narratological models of interpretation. As the Apocalypse narrative was visualized in pictures, it became a powerful paradigm within which stresses of contemporary experiences such as anti-Judaism, the later Crusades, and expectations of the world’s end could be defined. READING IMAGES explores the kinds of contemporary mythologies that constitute ideology, a realm in which visual representation becomes an agent rather than a reflector of social change.

In the ensuing chapters, Lewis explores the thirteenth century idea of the illustrated Apocalypse as a multivalent metaphorical structure. The Gothic book represents the end point of the medieval "reading" of the Book of Revelation, a long process of configuring and reconfiguring cycles of images in an apparent effort to bridge the inherent gaps m understanding the allegorical text and to resolve the tensions between allegory and narrative discourse in what might be called "pictorial exegesis."

In the first part, Lewis attempts to unravel the thirteenth-century Apocalypse by first considering the narrative as direct, first-person discourse where John is visibly present as both author and protagonist in the dramatic disclosure of his visions. Here we see how the new and complex roles of the narrator tend to make self-conscious and at the same time codify the seer-author who operates both inside and outside the book. Lewis then considers problems of archetype, genre, and narrative. Although the close juxtaposition of the Latin-glossed Revelation text with a series of textual illustrations might seem to constitute a simple, straightforward configuration of text-image relationships, the moment we move beyond the level of mimetic representation, find ourselves no longer in a secure, stable a world of reading and perception that can be defined easily within the parameters of traditional notions of genre or archetypal definition. As we begin to explore the stresses of identity, definition, and categorization, we become immediately aware of the richly complex medieval experience of image-text reading as a dynamic transactional process involving author, text, compiler, scribe, designer, and reader/viewer.

The English Gothic illuminated Apocalypse is then given an extended semiotic analysis of the thirteenth-century narrative paradigm, as seen through its several versions and variants. By engaging a series of immediate and contemporaneous retellings, Lewis attempts to map and decode the text-image discourse as both structure and responsive act. Rather than localizing the analysis within a web of complicating historical contingencies, she adopts a synchronic view of the manuscript variants dating from the second half of the thirteenth century as constituting a defining phenomenon, a singular discourse inflected by several visible "voices." As this discourse tends toward what Hayden White calls a "metadiscursive reflexiveness" endemic to all discourses, Lewis discovers that it is "about" visionary perception and private devotion, that is to say, it is about the inner world of the reader.

Unlike other illuminated biblical texts, the Apocalypse what appears to constitute a literal transformation of the text into an extended cycle of pictures every episode, moment and gesture. Instead of retelling stories in pictures, however, the images create another narrative discourse in the complex of semiotic systems confronting the reader. By construing for the eye a configurative meaning in the sense of "putting things together," gaps between written and unwritten texts that would conventionally be worked out in the reader’s mind are "pictured" for the imagination. The text thus assumes a new shape by shifting the reading of words to another level of experience, while at the same time creating an experiential framework within which the text can be understood. Because "reading must be understood as the constantly transformed product of historical change, not a timeless process focused on a timeless text,’’ the medieval experience of the illustrated Apocalypse becomes remarkably accessible to the terms and strategies of contemporary poststructuralist criticism. As Stanley Fish observed, meaning is not something one extracts from a text, like a nut from a shell, but an experience one has in the course of reading. The text is not to be regarded as a fixed object of attention, but as a sequence of events that unfold within the reader’s mind.

In Part II, Lewis turns to the strategies and problematic of locating the reader in the book. Although the reader’s transactional experiences encoded in the imaged text are theoretically without limit, she limits her analysis to what is most obvious and central to her purpose by exploring how the illuminated Apocalypse served and promoted the art of memory within the context of private devotion and meditation, how the book served to evoke a private liturgy in which the reader could spiritually experience the sacrament of the Eucharist, and how the book negotiated the dangerous straits of prophetic vision within the confining medieval framework of orthodox Christian belief. Although access to the "real world" is mediated through the cultural codes inherited from the society to which the reader belongs, the book’s messages are aimed at individuals, and the subjectivity of the reader-viewer is constituted in relation to that expectation. As the book increasingly addresses the rich inwardness of private life, we shall see the medieval system beginning to subordinate corporate sociality to a solitary individual enterprise. Indeed claims to encounter a remarkable cultivation of subjectivity that seems to resonate closely with the "modern" ideology of elitism and individualism that assumes " at the center of the world there is a contemplative individual self, bowed over its book, striving to gain touch with experience, truth [or] reality."

"Reality," however, is a fiction produced and sustained only by its cultural representation. Representation, as Craig Owens reminded us, is an integral part of the social process of differentiation, exclusion, incorporation, and rule. In a Lacanian sense, it is the double movement between identification and alienation that enables the subject to realize itself as a social being. Thus, we shall first consider thirteenth-century apocalyptic discourse as a coming to terms with the problematical domains of experience in the wider cultural praxis, moving across the historical and contextual trajectories constituted by thirteenth-century events, attitudes and fears, Church reform, anti-Judaism, the later Crusades, and visions of the end. Lewis finds herself exploring the kinds of contemporary mythologies that constitute ideology, a realm in which visual representation becomes an agent rather than a reflector of social change. The referential status of the apocalyptic image claims no less than to represent reality as it really is, an ideologically and culturally constructed ideal order behind and beyond appearance. Defined as appropriation, representation thus becomes constituted as an apparatus of power, a semiotic system at once fully historicized and politically inflected. When we examine the work as a "nexus of cultural activity through which social transactions circulate and flow," we will not interpret the Gothic Apocalypse as a representational system appropriated for political or propagandistic purposes nor will we attempt to decipher ideological messages encoded therein. Instead of endeavoring to assign its images a meaning, we shall be more interested in what they do.

As a discourse of longing and desire, the Apocalypse became increasingly more accessible to the medieval reader’s capacity to appropriate and to absorb its message on many levels -- optical-perceptual, intellectual, and spiritual, as the pictured text is engaged and eventually ingested through the art of memory as it was understood and practiced in the later Middle Ages. Within the framework of the growing privatization of spiritual life, reading and gazing at textual images became a central nurturing and soul-sustaining experience, at times supplanting the sacrament of the Eucharist in an age when lay reception of the host was being discouraged. Present throughout is the book’s author, John — seer, preceptor and pilgrim, guiding the reader to the ultimate goal of seeing God face to face, beyond time. As a book of prophecy, the thirteenth-century Apocalypse was a book about longing and fulfillment on a more encompassing or global level of human experience, thus offering a potent vehicle for shaping contemporary responses to crisis. The Gothic Apocalypse provided an image-structure capable of configuring an ideological framework within which such issues as Church reform and the Crusades were perceived, problematized, and resolved in spatializations of past, present, and future time.

In the last chapter, Lewis concludes her exploration of the reader’s experience within the framework of private devotion by considering three special cases in which the discourse of the thirteenth-century Apocalypse is expanded in prefatory or epilogue cycles of images. Conceived as integral components of the visionary book, these new images create paratactic semiotic structures that locate the pictured Apocalypse within a metadiscourse of longing and desire to "see" God within a new "technology of the self." As they evoke new surface realizations of Revelation’s "deep-plot" structure, the pictorial adjuncts open onto the stresses of visionary perception and private devotion as a spiritual and meditative preparation to the reading of the Apocalypse. At the same time that they expand and enrich the central discourse of the revelatory book by enveloping the imaged text within a matrix of correlate metaphorical structures, the ancillary cycles create new thresholds of understanding. As they invite the reader to cut back, peel away, and lay bare the nucleus of the book’s experience, they set into motion the operation of certain feelings and assumptions The new Gothic images open up an encompassing metadiscourse of longing and desire, a threshold experience that in time creates clear hierarchies of relevance and centrality in the reader’s understanding of the book’s meaning. [adapted from pp. 14-16 modified.]

Lewis’s work offers a fresh interpretation not only of the multifaceted interpenetration of text and image in its cultural context but more fundamentally as the cultural configuration of the upper class, thirteenth-century self. Her The Art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica Majora`(California Studies in the History of Art, No 21) is considered the definitive study.

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