Art History I Part V Early Christian Through The Gothic My dogs.
Catacomb The early Christians refused to “acknowledge” the official state religion of Rome as required under Roman law and were therefore considered to be criminals. Christianity was not outlawed, in fact all religions were legally practiced in Rome and its territories, but the Christians weren’t allowed to meet openly or build cemeteries to bury their since they were in conflict with Roman law. Desiring to bury their dead in consecrated soil, the Christian constructed tunnels under the cities where the entombed their dead. These are known as the catacombs. With sculpture being popular with pagans throughout history, the Christians rejected sculpture and instead favored two-dimensional art such as painting and mosaics. Here we see a wall painting inside the doorway (see detail Slide 2).
This is a depiction of Jesus Christ. He looks a little different from most portraits done in the Renaissance and later. For the first 150 years or so following His death, images of Jesus show him as clean-shaven. This would make sense since facial hair wasn’t popular with Roman men at the time of Jesus. For unknown reasons He suddenly acquires a beard after 150 AD and from then on this is how we usually see Him. The next slide shows another example of the early vision of Jesus by Christian artists. Jesus is also shown as much darker than later artists would have him, with thick, dark hair rather than the long blonde locks associated with Him from Renaissance paintings. Being Jewish and from the Middle East this may be a more authentic representation of His physical appearance. Jesus’ arms seem to making a welcoming gesture, with the arms flexing at the elbows and the hands moving to His chest and back out again perhaps symbolizing the “come to me message” of Jesus.
Catacomb Painting, Daniel In The Lion’s Den Biblical scenes and stories were popular subject matter in Early Christian art. Note the figure that appears to be Jesus in the next slide with thick, curly hair and a clean-shaven face.
I ΧΘΫΣ Iota Chi Theta Upsilon Sigma spells the word seen above and is an anagram for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior The Greek word seen at the top of the slide is ichthus , meaning fish. The letters of the word fish are an anagram for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. Thus the symbol of a fish (or anything relating to fishing such as boats or boat parts) became a secret code for Christians to identify themselves to each other. The fish is still used today as a symbol for Jesus and/or Christianity although most people do not know the origins of the symbol. The same is true regarding the Greek letter Chi which looks like the Arabic X and is the initial for the name Christ. Saying “Merry Xmas” is simply using the Greek abbreviation for Christ’s name in Christmas. When Christianity was new and trying to recruit new members it was the poor who were most interested in converting. The rich tend to be conservative and happy and see no need for change. Indeed, it was the poorest of the poor, the Roman slaves, who swelled the ranks of the new religion. All they could be offered was salvation after death but to a slave that sounded like a good deal. Because it was the poor who converted to Christianity, the wealthy were often viewed as the enemy, and thus evil. The catacomb painting in Slide 7 depicts three wealthy men burning in Hell. Their only sin was simply being rich but to the Early Christians, just as with some politicians today, that is enough to make them evil.
Three Wealthy Men Burning In Hell. Catacomb Wall Painting, 3 rd Century AD.
Catacomb Internment Niches. The bodies would be placed in the niches cut into the catacomb walls. It’s easy to see why painting was more popular than sculpture to the Early Christians as space was at a premium. Even with spacious accommodations the Christians would have disdained sculpture because it was seen as largely Pagan in nature. The next slide illustrates how the niches were often not organized with mathematical precision.
Sarcophagus lid, Christ Separating Sheep and Goats 4 th century. The Christians worked at suppressing the Pagans and the various Pagan religions for many hundreds of years. The Christians tried destroying Pagan art and demonizing Pagan symbols (such as making the serpent the symbol of Satan in the Garden of Eden). In the relief sculpture on the sarcophagus lid seen in the next Slide 11 we see Jesus as he seems to shun goats, an obvious reference to Paganism, while embracing sheep, symbolizing Christianity. Jesus has turned his back on the goats, and raised in hand in a negative gesture causing the animals to pull up short. Meanwhile, He caresses and welcomes the sheep who lean in close to receive His blessing.
Constantine legalized Christianity around 323 and by 394 Emperor Theodosius outlawed all religions other than Christianity. As the Christians came to power throughout the Roman Empire, and eventually all of Europe, Pagans were driven out and marginalized. As a last resort some built underground places of worship where they could continue to honor the Pagan Gods of their fathers. The altar to Mithra on the next slide was discovered in an excavated room beneath what was once a Roman city. It could be argued that once in power, the Christians were far more harsh towards the Pagans than the Pagans had been towards them.
Byzantine Art <ul><li>In addition to ending the prosecution of the Christians and being the first Roman emperor to be baptized, Constantine is also remembered for splitting the empire and the Christian Church. Seeing that the empire was near collapse in the 4 th century, Constantine took flight from the city of Rome and sailed to what is now Turkey, landing and settling in the city of Byzantium. He established a new capitol here and renamed the city Constantinople after himself. </li></ul><ul><li>He was unable to maintain his position as emperor of Rome but he did found a new empire called the Byzantine Empire after the original name of the capitol city. He also founded a new Church, which was exactly like the old Christian Church in every way. Of course the original Christian Church evolved into the Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantine Church is today known as the Eastern or Greek Orthodox Church. </li></ul><ul><li>Byzantine churches always feature a domed ceiling. Although the roof on the Church at San Vitale (next Slide) is octagonal, it is considered a domed ceiling. Since the Byzantines were essentially a continuation of Rome, large Byzantine structure were made of concrete just as were Roman buildings. The problem with a domed ceiling made of concrete is weight, as discussed with the Pantheon. However, on this structure some unremembered worker came up with the idea of inserting stacks of clay pots (similar objects inside one another is called nested) that displaced concrete and made the ceiling lighter. </li></ul>
This aerial view reveals the octagonal shaped domed ceiling.
Mosaics were a favorite medium for Byzantine artists. In the mosaic of Emperor Justinian found in the Church at San Vitale (Slide 18) we see the emperor flanked by 12 attendants. Some are difficult to see but a careful survey shows there 12 men behind Justinian. He also holds a bread basket. This would signify one half of the communion. Justinian’s halo and purple robe completes the image of the emperor as Jesus. Just in case the viewer doesn’t catch on to Justinian’s Christ association, the shield seen at the far left of the image bears the Chi-Rho symbol, appearing as the letter P superposed over the letter X. These are the initials for Jesus Christ in ancient Greek. This symbol is still used to signify Jesus by the Catholic Church (see Slide 19).
The mosaic of the Empress Theodora (next Slide) shows her holding wine complimenting the bread her husband held. She also wears purple and has a halo. On her robe is embroidered the three wise men bearing gifts as she tries to remind us of the Virgin Mary with her image. Theodora had an interesting story. Her father was an animal trainer who worked with bears and her mother was an actress and part time prostitute. She herself was also an actress and prostitute before becoming empress. She proved to be a formidable force in Byzantine politics, supporting her husband against his political enemies and winning the respect of the citizens for her strength and determination.
Mosaic Of last Supper St. Appolinaire Nuovo (Ravenna) 5 th Century The mosaic in the next Slide is not a particularly well done piece of art but it is one the most historically accurate depictions of the Last Supper. Romans didn’t sit in chairs at tables to eat their meals. Like the Greeks and the Etruscans, they reclined on short couches propped up on one elbow when eating. The painting by a Russian artist seen in Slide 24 has it partially right with the nearer guests reclining but the diners on the far side of the table are incorrectly seated in chairs. Slide 25 shows a restored room in a house excavated in Pompeii featuring one of these short couches.
Last Supper From St. Isaac’s Cathedral 1862-1917
The Byzantine image of Christ tends to be more severe than the Western images of the Savior. He appears older, darker and often stern and unforgiving rather than the younger, more benign appearing man seen in Western art.
Hagia Sophia (Church Of The Holy Wisdom) Slides 28 & 29 This was the principal church in the Byzantine Empire. Unfortunately, it’s great size has created many structural problems for the building. The idea for using clay pots to reduce the weight in the massive ceiling was not used in building Hagia Sophia and the dome of this building has collapsed several times. It has been rebuilt each time but the structure is still in danger of suffering another catastrophe at any time. Constantinople was a Christian city in a predominantly Muslim country. As such, it was attacked many times by the forces of Islam. Finally, in 1453 the city fell and Hagia Sophia was converted into a Mosque. Since mosques share the domed ceiling of the Byzantine churches all that was needed for the conversion was to cover the paintings and mosaics on the interior and add the minarets (all mosques have at least one) to the exterior. Recent photos of the interior of Hagia Sophia suggest some work has been done to stabilize the structure.
The size of the interior space in Hagia Sophia is almost overwhelming.
Islamic law was amended centuries ago to forbid the depictions of any people or animals in art. Therefore, the three motifs available to Islamic artists are floral designs, geometric patterns, and calligraphy or elaborate writing. The calligraphy generally takes the form of quotes from the Koran, the Muslim Holy Book. Examples of Islamic calligraphy can be seen in the round medallions on the walls of Hagia Sophia.
St. Basil’s Cathedral c. 1560 After Constantinople fell in 1453, Moscow declared itself to be the new capitol of the Byzantine Empire. It could be argued that the Byzantine Empire didn’t actually vanish until the Communist Revolution in Russia in 1917. Since Communism is officially atheistic Churches were not permitted to operate in the Soviet Union until it collapsed in 1989. St. Basil’s Cathedral is an Orthodox church (and Moscow’s most recognizable landmark) that can be identified by the domes in its design. This is an extreme example of a domed structure but those are domes. The next two slides show the cathedral from different angles.
Islamic Art <ul><li>Muslims adopted a policy of Iconoclasm in art, meaning no depictions of people or animals were permitted. This is why Islamic Art features three subjects that abide by this canon. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Calligraphy: Decorative script or writing, usually involving quotations from the Muslim Holy Book, the Koran. </li></ul><ul><li>Floral Designs. </li></ul><ul><li>Geometric Designs. </li></ul>
The next two slides show examples of Islamic art familiar to many of us, the so-called Oriental rug. The first is decorated with geometric patterns and the second is covered with floral designs. Rugs produced before the edict was issued banning depictions of people and animals (and thus containing such images) are especially valuable to collectors.
Reliquary During the Middle Ages Christians became obsessed with the collecting of religious relics. Anything associated with a Biblical figure or a significant person from Christian history could become a relic. Every church had to have at least one good relic to be taken seriously and congregations sometimes fought over relics. This elaborate gold box inlaid with ivory and precious stones was made to hold the foot bone of one of the saints. Of course, with relics commanding great sums of money from collectors (including some Popes) fakery abounded. Many of the best known relics are of dubious authenticity.
Reliquary 1450 Apparently foot bones were popular relics as were ornate, appropriately shaped reliquaries to hold them.
Reliquary c. 1150 This reliquary suggests the general shape of a church building. Not real gold, it’s made of wood and painted reflecting the more austere financial standing of the church where it was kept.
Byzantine Reliquary 13 th Century Not all reliquaries are made in interesting shapes. Most are simple boxes in form although they often feature elaborate decoration.
Byzantine Book Cover c. 1000 AD Any religious text, such as a Bible, or a prayer book or a hymn book, could be covered with a rich cover of precious metal (gold or silver) and decorated with jewels. Some Christians thought that the more money spent on expressing one’s faith… the more God would love the worshipper.
Latin Bible Not only were religious books decorated with fancy covers on the outside, but often the pages were garnished with scroll work or illustrations. These are generally known as “Illuminated Manuscripts.” Sometimes the borders of the pages were decorated and sometimes whole pages of illustrations were included. See the next slide for an example.
Beginning in the Middle Ages, portable altarpieces that could be easily stored, transported and erected for worship began to appear. These might be owned by a devout, wealthy family for use in the home, or might be donated… again by a wealthy patron… to a priest who traveled a circuit of smaller towns that lacked enough population to support a full-time clergy. These early portable altars are seen in two-piece form, called diptychs, and later in the Renaissance period tri-folding (three-piece) versions appeared that are called triptychs. Materials could vary, as could the level of decoration depending on the desires of the people who commissioned them. Someone who supports artists by purchasing art is a patron. Someone who then donates the art to the Church is the donor (or donator as some books use). Most of the portable altars feature paintings on the wooden panels but some incorporated sculpture into the decorative themes. Ivory seems to have been a popular medium for those who could afford it as seen in the diptychs in the next two slides. The following slide shows an ivory cross.
Sant' Apollinare In Classe (Slide 55) is an example of a Byzantine church built in the basilica style, based on the design used for Roman government buildings. It is rumored that the church was built on top of a Pagan graveyard and that some tombstones were used in the construction. Slide 56 clearly shows the basilica form, with a rectangular area divided into three spaces by colonades (rows of columns). Slide 57 depicts some of the mosaics that decorate the interior. Jesus is shown with sheep that may look odd at first because their tails have not been cropped short as we are accustomed to seeing today.
The Pisa Cathedral (Slide 59) is built in the basilica form, with the center section of the structure rising above the roof on either side. The windows on the sides of the elevated portion create what is called the “clear storey” that is a feature of the basilica form. By the way, storey is the correct spelling for the word meaning the level of a building. So if you tell a story about a three storey building be sure to use the proper words. The next slide shows the exterior view of the building. Like all cathedrals the one at Pisa has a bell tower. It’s the bell tower at the Pisa Cathedral that makes the site unique and famous. Do you know why this cathedral is known around the world? Slides 60-62 show the famous (infamous?) bell tower.
Shortly after construction began on the Pisa bell tower, the foundation beneath it shifted, causing the tower to lean. Workers actually compensated for this and put a slight bend in the tower to make it go straight up again. But the tower continued to lean over farther and farther until it was closed for safety reasons. It has only been recently that engineers managed to stabilize the structure allowing it to be reopened to the public.
Gothic <ul><li>The most recognizable art form from the Gothic period is the architecture. Specifically, the huge Gothic Cathedrals that represented an expression of faith on a scale hard to imagine. A cathedral is home to a bishop, opposed to a standard church. These were enormous investments in resources and often became the focal point for the cities where they were located. </li></ul><ul><li>The word Gothic was actually meant to be an insult. It was a term coined by an art critic long ago who disliked the Gothic style of architecture so much that he likened it to something created by barbarians, like the Goths, and the name stuck. </li></ul><ul><li>Some of the features typically found on the Gothic Cathedrals are the flying buttresses, the pointed arches and the ribbed or vaulted ceilings. These buildings are very tall and heavy due to the stone construction. To help support the enormous walls a buttress was designed that offered support while not being so intrusive as to detract from the design of the building. Since these support elements appear to literally leap off the side of the building down to the ground they were called flying buttresses. </li></ul><ul><li>The Romans invented the true arch but the Roman arch was limited by physics. The Roman arch was based on a mathematical formula of height versus width. If you wanted a higher arch it had to also be made wider. This kept the Roman arch from being made really tall. The Gothic designers wanted to go really tall with doors and windows and they found that turning the rounded Roman arch into one that was pointed at the top it could be elongated. </li></ul><ul><li>The ribbed ceilings are a function of the rows of beams that made a crisscross pattern in the ceiling giving them the name “ribbed” or “vaulted.” </li></ul><ul><li>Note the time it took to complete one of these massive projects. In most cases the architect did not live to see the finished building. It’s not that it really took 70 or 80 years to build a cathedral, but it often took that long to raise the money for construction. Work would cease when funds were depleted and would not resume until after fundraising efforts were undertaken. </li></ul><ul><li>The Paris Cathedral (Slide 65 and plan view on Slide 66) is an early cathedral as seen by the squared bell towers. Later designs incorporate a pointed spire style of bell tower. As a general rule architecture gets taller with time and the cathedrals are an example of this rule. In Slide 67 the flying buttresses and pointed arches can be seen. Slide 68 is an interior view showing the ribbed (vaulted ceiling). Slide 69 illustrates the twin bell towers and three-part entry. The cathedrals have three doors and they differ in size and complexity of decoration. The largest door in the center was reserved for use by the social elite. The second biggest door would be used by the lesser members of polite society while the smallest was where the peasants would be directed to enter. If one wanted to upgrade a bribe could be offered to the Church to improve one’s “door standing.” </li></ul><ul><li>Note that large, circular stained-glass windows are located on multiple sides of the building. All cathedrals were dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the rose was Her symbol so these are called Rose Windows in Her honor. </li></ul>
Flying Buttress Named for how they seem to leap from the side of the building and soar to the ground.
The interior of the cathedral is designed to be spiritual.. The great ceiling height reminds us to maintain humility, to remind us how small and insignificant we truly are in the context of the whole universe. The light poring in through the stained-glass windows gives the room an ethereal glow which heightens the sense of spirituality. The ribbed (vaulted) ceiling can be viewed in this slide.
Paris Cathedral Remember that this is an early cathedral and as such is much smaller than the later ones. Some are truly enormous.
This diagram shows the basilica form of a rectangular building divided into three parts, the flying buttress on the exterior and how the support beams create the ribbed ceiling.
Another look at the pointed arches; ribbed ceiling; and the immense stained glass windows. The pointed arches allowed the widows to rise vertically to great heights that would be impossible using the Roman arch with its strict mathematical formula of height versus width. These windows gave the cathedrals the height and sense of weightlessness the designers sought.
This is an access door to one of the bell towers on the Paris Cathedral. Certainly the door could have been made larger but perhaps the intent was to make one bend over and remind us that we should be humble when in God’s house doing His work.
Rheims Cathedral 1225-1290. The square bell towers identify this as an early cathedral design but we can see that it is taller than the Paris Cathedral started nearly 60 years earlier. As the buildings get newer they get taller.
Chartres Cathedral 1145-1220 <ul><li>This next slide shows how the cathedrals tended to be located on the higher elevations available. We try to elevate the divine and being higher implies superiority. Also note how the cathedral seems to be in the center of town. Often the city would grow around the church once it was completed. Living near the church had many benefits. Of course this symbolically implied power to the Church and when Europeans came to North America and founded what would become the United States giving the Church too much power was something they wished to avoid. The Church was told to build its structures in the outlying areas while the center of town was reserved for government buildings. </li></ul><ul><li>One American city broke with this custom and does have the religious building at its heart. This means the citizens must have all shared the same religion to agree on a specific church building as the center of the new city. Can you play detective and figure out which American city was the one built with the church at its core? One clue is that it is a state capitol. </li></ul><ul><li>Need another clue? When the pioneers arrived in the area in 1847, fleeing other states where they suffered persecution for their religious beliefs, their leader announced “This is the place” and they constructed their church before starting any other buildings. </li></ul><ul><li>Salt Lake Cit, Utah has the Mormon Temple as the central structure. </li></ul>
A dramatic photo of Chartres Cathedral. Note the spire-topped bell towers of the later design. This contrasts with the squared tops of the towers on the cathedrals at Paris and Rheims.
This view really conveys the enormity of the cathedral and the sense of power is exudes.
Chartres Cathedral can be identified as a later style by the spires on the bell towers. Recall that earlier designs, like the Paris Cathedral, were squared at the top. But there is a problem with this cathedral’s bell towers. They are asymmetrical, and do not match one another in height or design. The Gothic Cathedrals were designed with matching bell towers so what could explain this situation with Chartres? One tower was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt. The new tower does not match the old one. Which one is newer and how can you tell? The taller one is the new one. Remember, as a general rule buildings get taller and this cathedral was several hundreds of years old at the time of the fire so it was decided to erect the replacement in the taller style of the newer cathedrals.
First United Methodist Church By Charles L. Thompson Money was the reason for the mismatched towers on this church built in Little Rock, Arkansas during the 1930s. When the one tower was all that remained to finish building the new church the congregation, weary of the huge costs for the new church, balked at contributing more money so the second tower was never built.
Chartres Entry. Note that the central door is the biggest and nicest followed by the one on our left. Your social status dictated which door you used. The next two slide show the center door and one of the side doors for comparison.
Chartres Central Entry Tympanum. The tympanum is the area above the door. On Gothic cathedrals this area is usually decorated with relief sculpture.
Naumburg Cathedral, c. 1249-1255 Pilate Washes His Hands. Sculpture all but disappeared from post-Pagan Europe until the Early Renaissance except for the figures sculpted on the cathedrals. Biblical figures and stories were a favorite theme.
Amiens 1220-1288 The situation with Amiens Cathedral is the same as with Chartres. Fire destroyed one tower and the replacement was built taller in the style popular at the time of the reconstruction. The differences in the size and decoration of the three doors can be clearly seen in this slide. Amiens is also famous for the intricate, geometric designs its floors. The following two slides illustrate some of the patterns seen in the cathedral’s floor.
This photo conveys the sense of verticality sought by the cathedral architects. Taller is better and tend to elevate the divine. The massive building appears light and delicate with the extremely tall windows and doorways.
St. Chapelle Stained glass windows are an important feature of Gothic religious architecture. With no electricity for lighting windows allowed light into the building and the multi-colored glass gave the light a spiritual quality. This photo illustrates how the Gothic designers used the pointed arch to good effect. These very tall and narrow windows are not possible with the rounded Romanesque arch. It seems there is more window than wall giving even a massive structure a light and airy feel. This Parisian chapel was constructed in 1248 to house several valuable relics, including the crown of thorns reported worn by Jesus as well as the ever-popular sliver of wood from the True Cross.
In addition to providing spiritually uplifting light, the stained glass windows also served as educational tools. Frequently they depicted Biblical scenes and figures or religious beliefs and the priest could refer to them during sermons to illustrate stories and concepts. Here we see a baptism depicted in a St. Chapelle window.
Biblical stories and lessons are always popular subject matter for a cathedral’s stained glass windows. Here we see Adam following the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. One of the punishments he and his descendents must suffer is to work for a living. No more swinging in a hammock picking fruit of the tree.
Orvieto Cathedral 1290-1534 Despite an incredible 244 years for construction, this cathedral almost seems to be a lesser reflection of the more magnificent Gothic structures. Perhaps this is due to the design having actually started prior to the Gothic period and the finished result being the work of several different architects. It really bears little resemblance to the traditional Gothic cathedrals. Note the lack of the flying buttresses in the next slide.
Milan Cathedral 1386-2006 This is the notion of the Gothic Cathedral taken to an extreme. It is absolutely huge and wasn’t declared finished until 2006 after 620 years of construction. At that time it really wasn’t even done, they just said it was.
Well, that’s it. We’re done for now. I hope you got something useful out of this experience. I hope you learned something and had a little fun doing it. I wish you the very best in your future endeavors and remember that nobody can stop you… except you. You only fail when you give up and quit trying. One last word of advice; don’t do anything stupid. I think I’ll go for a ride, now…
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