Ancient Christian Art and Art History

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  • GuideToArtHistory

    FamousArtistsArtStylesandPeriodsArtMediumsAncientArt

    IntroductiontoAncientChristianArtByArtHistory.net

    TheperiodofearlyChristianartbeganabouttheyear100andlasteduntiltheByzantinestyle,orroughlytheyear500.ThebeginningofthisperioddidnotseewidespreadworksofChristianart.Forone,Christiansfacedpersecutionandthiswouldcertainlyhaveplacedconstraintsuponartisticproduction.Also,earlyChristianswerepartofthelowerclassesofsocietysoartistswouldhavelackedopportunityforpatrons.EarlyChristiansmustalsohavebeenmindfulaboutrefrainingfromproducinggravenimageswhichtheybelievedsimilartopaganiconography.

    Nevertheless,intimeChristianartistswouldcreatearecognizablemovementandtheirworkswouldsurviveindarkplaceslikeinthecatacombsbeneathRome.WhiletheseartistsoftenborrowedfromRomanmotifs,theychangedtheirunderlyingsymbolismtoreflectaChristianethic.Forinstance,theimageoftheshepherd,onceaRomanmotif,wastransformedintothegoodshepherdundertheChristianmantle.EarlyChristiansalsoadoptedthegrapevineandevenpeacocksasreflectedintheirearlyfrescoesand,indeed,themediumoffrescowasalsoborrowedfromtheRomans.Christianartistsalsoproducedmosaics,illuminatedtexts,andsculptureartisticformsthatwerepopularinthepaganworld.

    Yet,earlyChristianartistsalsodevelopedtheirownmotifs.Theidentifyingimageofthefish,apopularimageeventoday,stemsfromthesefirstChristianartists.Hitherto,thefishhadnotbeenborrowedasanartisticmotiffromanyotherculture.Likewise,thedovebecameanearlysymbolofpeace.ArthistoriansbelievethatmanyoftheiconsborrowedfrompaganculturesearlyonallowedChristianartiststoremainfurtive.AdoptingthelambtorepresentChristalsoallowedtheirmessagetoremainhiddeninplainsight.

    AsChristianitybecamemorewidespreadandaccepted,artistsbegantoturntonewconstructionsofchurchesthatreplacedhiddenmeetingplacesespeciallyaftertheEdictofMilanin313whichnamedChristianitytheofficialreligionoftheRomanEmpire.DuringtheperiodofearlyChristianart,thebasictenetforartistswastotransmitfaithandtoteachthewordofGod.Artwasnotproducedforbeautyssakealone.OnceimperialsponsorshipattendedChristianartists,worksbecamemoreelaborateandsumptuousworksweredisplayedwithinbasilicas,baptisteries,andmausoleums.

    SurvivingexamplesofearlyChristianartincludemanybasreliefs,frescoes,wallslabs,

  • mosaics,andmetalworks.Historiansbelievetherewereprobablysignificantexamplesofpanelart,butthismediumwouldnothavesurvivedtheagingprocess.EarlyChristianartlaidthegroundworkfortheByzantineartperiodwhichwouldgrowoutoftheirtraditions.

    SeeAlso:SistineChapelChartresCathedralNotreDameCathedral

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