Before the Edict of Milan (313), which made Christianity the Roman Empire's state religion, Christian art was restricted to the decoration of the hidden places of worship. Most early religious artists worked in manner that was derived from Roman art, appropriately stylized to suit the spirituality of the religion. These artists chose to reject the ideals of perfection in form and technique. They rather sought to present images which would draw the spectator into the inner eye of their work, pointing to its spiritual significance. An iconography was devised to visualize Christian concepts. The first Christians don't see in art a way of expressing beauty, but one of transmitting their faith and beliefs as well as to teach them. After the fourth century, under imperial sponsorship, Early Christian architecture flourished throughout the Roman Empire on a monumental scale. Buildings were of two types, the longitudinal hall - basilica, and the centralized building - a baptistery or a mausoleum. The exteriors of Early Christian buildings were plain and unadorned and the interiors contrarily, were richly decorated with marble floors and wall slabs, frescoes, mosaics, metal works, hangings, and sumptuous altar furnishings in gold and silver. Early Christian illuminated manuscripts are of an unusually high quality. Freestanding Early Christian sculpture is rarely seen. Early Christian bas-reliefs survive in abundance in marble and porphyry. Overview
THE EARLY CHRISTIAN PERIOD c. 200-527. Concurrent with Late Antique Period. Diversity of styles, differs only in subject matter and function.
II. THE EARLY CHRISTIANS BEFORE CONSTANTINE (c. 200-313).
Little is known about Christian art in the first two centuries after the death of Jesus. Among the earliest manifestations extant are the early 3d-century paintings on the walls of the catacombs in Rome. Whereas the style resembles that of secular Roman wall painting, the subject matter consists mainly of biblical figures. Jonah, Daniel, and Susanna appear in scenes of miracles through divine intervention. Among the motifs that symbolized the hope of resurrection and immortality are the fish and the peacock. Following the official recognition of Christianity after the Edict of Toleration (313), the scope of Early Christian art was radically enlarged.
the Good Shepherd carrying his sheep (symbol of humanitarian concern)
the Orans (figure with hands uplifted in prayer)
dove (peace hereafter)
fish (Greek word "fish" formed an acrostic for "Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour)
I esus = Jesus
CH ristos = Christ
TH eou = of God
Y ios = Son
S oter = Saviour
BURIAL PLACES . Construction of cemeteries: most famous are catacombs, underground passages cut into rock ( tufa ), outside city walls of Rome, beginning, c. 200 with wall niches. Catacombs are the name given to "subterranean galleries cut into the tufa beds outside of Rome," (Gough, p.24). They were rediscovered by the modern world during the nineteenth century and the few that have been excavated provide information about the world in 250 AD. The catacombs contain most of what we know about Early Christian art in wall paintings called frescoes, (wall paintings made by mixing paints with wet plaster and creating a virtually indestructible work of art) Contrary to some modern beliefs, these catacombs were not a secret to anybody in Rome; indeed, the catacombs were used as Christian cemeteries not because they needed secrecy. In reality, the Roman law strictly protected tombs from violation. Pagan practice in Rome was to cremate dead bodies before burying; however, early Christians did not believe in this practice and preferred to bury their dead, unburned, outside of the city. As Rome was predominantly a pagan society where unorthodox beliefs were persecuted, there was a need for discretion in the art of the catacombs. "The depiction of the cross was avoided" because it was an indisputable sign of the death of Jesus Christ. In some cases the differences between Roman mythology and Christian art in the frescoes lie beneath the murky waters of time.
Gallery and loculi of the Catacomb of Callixtus, Rome, second century. Construction of the early catacombs began in the second century and was used for both memorial services and internment of the dead. Some of the catacombs were built on four levels connecting a enormous system of galleries and linking passages with steep, narrow steps. Bodies of the deceased were placed in niches, 16 to 24 inches high by 47 to 59 inches long cut from the wall of soft tufa rock. The bodies were fully clothed, wrapped in linen and sprinkled with ointments to offset the decaying odor and sealed with a slab inscribed with the name of the deceased, date of death and a religious symbol Along the passages burial chambers ( cubicula) open to the right and left. In the side walls of the galleries horizontal tiers of graves rise from the floor to the ceiling; the number of graves in the Roman catacombs is estimated at two millions. The graves, or loculi , are cut out of the rock sides of the gallery, so that the length of the bodies can be judged from the length of the graves.
Decorated with frescoes. Sometimes started from established hypogaea (family tombs).
Catacomb Paintings, Mosaics, Sculpture. Basic themes of deliverance through divine intervention and salvation obtained through prayer and sacraments of the church (Baptism and Eucharist).
Style of paintings--sketchy
Themes of Deliverance: Examples from Catacomb paintings of deliverance from Old and New Testaments (Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace, Book of Daniel; Sacrifice of Isaac, Genesis; Daniel in the Lion's Den, Book of Daniel; Jonah and the Whale, Book of Daniel)
Orant --praying figure—
( Representations of Christ: 1. Christ as Good Shepherd, 3rd century, Cleveland Museum of Art; 2. Christ Enthroned (as Philosopher), c. 350, Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome; 3. Christ as Helios--sun God (mosaic), Mausoleum of the Julii, Rome, 250-275. .
The style of the frescoes was Roman, but their subjects were entirely Christian. One example is the Catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus in Rome. The design is similar to Roman vaulted ceilings, and inscribed onto the dome is a cross, a symbol of the Christian faith. At the end of each arm of the cross are semicircular frames called "lunettes." Each of these lunettes contains an episode from Jonah's story in the Old Testament. On the left, Jonah is being thrown off a ship by sailors. On the right, Jonah is shown emerging from a ketos. A ketos was a sea dragon, equivalent to the whale in the contemporary version of the story. On the bottom, Jonah is seen safe on land, deep in thought about the miracle of salvation and the mercy of God. Jonah was a very popular figure in many early Christian sculptures as well as paintings because the early Christians considered him a forerunner of Christ.
Philosopher" Sarcophagus , c. 270 AD, Rome, Santa Maria Antiqua The seated philosopher is borrowed directly from contemporary sarcophagi. The orant or praying figure has already been seen in our previous work. The heads of the praying woman and seated man are unfinished as the practice of pre-making sarcophagi and adding portraits later was common. Christ as Good Shepherd Baptism of Christ Jonah and the Whale
Sarcophagus is decorated on front like western manner with two rows of five compartments. The deceased is not depicted but has scenes from Old and New Testaments. It is very rich in iconography. Crucifixion scenes are very rare. Triumphal entry into Jerusalem Sin of Adam/Eve Making Sacrifice necessary Abraham and Issac/ mirror of Christ’s sacrifice Christ Enthroned in Heaven/ Peter and Paul
Christ Enthroned, 350-375 AD marble, 28” high The Greco-Roman influence on this depiction is great. Many converts still retained “classical values” so rare Early Christian “idols” can be found. In succeeding Centuries the production of religious marbles cease entirely.
GATHERING PLACES . Constantine was trying to establish Christianity as the religion of the empire. The small "house-churches", where Christians had previously privately celebrated their liturgy, and the poor cemetery shrines, and the cramped chambers for ceremonial dinners in the catacombs simply weren't enough to impress. Constantine's eastern churches (and a few in the west) might be circular or octagonal, but the main pattern in the west, and especially around Rome was an adaptation of the Roman civil basilica. Basilicas were places for meetings, civic musters, documentation and notarization, and, above all, for civil court proceedings. Rome was a most litigious place and venues for judgements had to be numerous to handle the big caseload. A magistrate took his seat in a "curile" chair in the apse at the end of the long central hall of a civil basilica, and there he -- never a she -- rendered his judgement. Often the judge's seat would be placed directly in front of a huge image of the Emperor, a statue seated in a correspondingly larger judgement chair of its own. Some Christian basilicas -- usually called cemetery basilicas -- held tombs, graves and sometimes a "martyrion", a centrally located shrine to a martyred Saint to which the church was dedicated. Old St. Peter's was one of these.
St. Peter’s had a porticoed yard in front of the main entrance, called an atrium and thought to be modeled after the entrance courtyards of big Roman houses. The atrium was a place, outside the liturgical area of the basilica itself, where cadet converts could stay during Mass and a gathering place for the whole congregation before and after the religious rites. It soon also served as a graveyard for the clergy and high-ranking laity. The southern side of the ancient basilica was erected upon the northern side of the circus, which in the Middle Ages bore the name Palatium Neronis . It was built in the form of a cross and divided into five naves by four rows of twenty-two columns each. The old construction of the basilica with an apse was well suited to the service of the altar. A transept extending more or less towards both sides was often placed between the nave and the apse both to serve practical needs and on account of its symbolism. Nothing beyond a flat roof was ventured upon for the very broad middle nave, and often, at the beginning, the rafters of the roof were left uncovered.
Essential Features of Early Christian Basilica: Long nave flanked by aisles Two-story colonnade Clerestory windows Semicircular apse at either end Wooden roof Forms symbolic cross Altar is central focus
Central plan The polygonal or round structural designs of the Roman bath became a source of architectural inspiration for similar structures built to serve as monumental tombs or mausoleums. The finest example is Sta. Constanza, the mausoleum of Constantine's daughter, Constantia. I t was later turned into a Christian church. Central plan: based on round or octagonal structure. Interior design was modified to create an ambulatory , a barrel-vaulted corridor separate from the central domed cylinder supported by twelve columns. (one for each disciple). Very plain exterior and highly decorated interior
Santa Constanza. ca. 330 A.D Mosaic, as far as one can at present ascertain, became a vehicle of Christian art in the fourth century. Whereas Roman mosaics were mostly used as floors, the early Christian churches specialized in covering walls and ceilings. The tessarae were ungrouted, allowing light to reflect and refract within the glass. Also, they were set at slight angles to the wall, so that they caught the light in different ways. Larger stones were used as the distance of the viewer to the subject was greater. The subjects were simple for greater legibility. Roman images were absorbed into the typical Christian themes of the mosaics.
Christ as the Sun God Helios (Sol Invictus) , Mausoleum of the Julii, Rome, 250-275. In the minds of recently converted Christians, Jesus easily was identified with the more familiar deities. In this case, he is represented as Sol Invictus, the Invisible sun riding in his fiery chariot.
The Parting of Lot and Abraham . Mosaic. Santa Maria Maggiore. Rome.
Lot with his daughters heading toward Sodom --Abraham towards Canaan. The division between the two is emphasized. -Similar to COLUMN OF TRAJAN in representation
simplified forms easier to see from a distance.
shorthand devices - see grape-cluster of heads
emphasis on gesture in order for maning to be clear
Santa Pudenziana , apse mosaic of Christ in Majesty , (Rome), 417 CE (Late Antique) In the "apse" area of the Christian church, the more holy area, there are images of Christ and saints. They are more "devotional" or "iconic" images rather than narrative images that tell a story. These are to focus your devotional attention. Matthew Mark Luke John
Galla Placidia (386-452), the sister of Honorius, the Roman Emperor who moved the Capital of the western empire from Milan to Ravenna, built this little Latin cross plan Mausoleum around 425-450. It is famous today for the splendor of its mosaics. The exterior is very sober, contrasting with the magnificence of the interior decoration, the most ancient in Ravenna. Mosaics cover the walls of the vault, the lunettes and the cupola. The iconographic themes developed in the decorations represent the victory of life over death, in accordance with the funereal character of the building. The atmosphere of the Mausoleum of Gall Placidia is undoubtedly magical. On entering the small building, constructed in the form of a Latin cross, the visitor is struck by the sudden change from daylight to a created nocturnal ambience. The countless stars of the cupola have made a profound impression on the imagination and sensitivity of visitors to Ravenna. It is said that Cole Porter, while on his honeymoon in our city at the end of the 1920s, was so impressed by the mood of the small mausoleum that he wrote his famous Night and Day while thinking of the starry sky of Galla Placidia.
Interior (view toward the apse), S. Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna. 553 - 49 A.D. The Early Christian basilica "is only a shell whose shape reflects the space it encloses- the opposite of a Classical temple. This ascetic treatment of the exterior gives way to the utmost richness as we enter the church. Having left the everyday world behind, we find ourselves in a shimmering realm of light and color where precious marble surfaces and the brilliant glitter of mosaics evoke the spiritual splendor of the Kingdom of God."
Priestess of Bacchus, C. 390-401 A famous ivory diptych documents the relationship of patricians Quintus Aurelius Symmachus and Virius Nicomachus Flavianus and their anti-Christian ways. It is a revival piece of classic culture. It commemorates the marriage of the two families. This one is inscibed, "Symmachorum" with a elaborately dressed priest makes an offer to an elaborate altar. Extremely skilled Roman ivory carvers were commissioned by Pagans and Christians both. The folds and wrinkles with the foliage is reminiscent of earlier works.
This panel is one-half of a diptych (of which the other part is lost), a hinged two-leaved tablet. The marks of three holes on the left border indicate the points at which the two panels were connected. This diptych was a book cover, whose illustration reflects the waning influence of classicism giving way to the simplistic medieval style. In the Age of Justinian, roughly coinciding with the sixth century A.D., ivory carvings were in vogue. They were inspired by classical models and adapted to Christian scenes. The Archangel or Saint Michael who appears on this part of the diptych is probably a literal copy (as to details) of a much more ancient figure (perhaps the goddess Victory [see Nike] from whom the Christian angel is derived) the carver had before his eyes. Although the precision of the Archangel, his classical robes and the architectural elements framing the figure embody a focus on the realism of antiquity, there is an obvious loss of perspective--the angel seems to hover over the staircase, barely touching the stairs. Painstaking classical realism has been abandoned in favor of added emphasis on symbolism. This became the hallmark of medieval sculpture. The unworldly pose of the figure is essentially Byzantine. The inscription, which would clearly have been completed on the lost panel, translates "Receive these gifts, and having learned the cause".
A diptych is a sort of notebook, formed by the union of two tablets, placed one upon the other and united by rings or by a hinge. These tablets were made of wood, ivory, bone. or metal. Their inner surfaces had ordinarily a raised frame and were covered with wax, upon which characters were scratched by means of a stylus. Shown are two views of the diptych of the Consul Anastasius, ca.518 CE; you were asked to concentrate on the left panel, which represents Anastasius enthroned, performing one of his official functions in the Hippodrome (note the smaller figures of competitors and performers below), starting the races by dropping the bean-bag like "handkerchief" or mappa that he raises in his right hand while holding the eagle-surmounted staff of his authority in his left. Hierarchical/hieratic size, frontality, overall compositional symmetry and immobility ('though Anastasius is performing a role, the moment is frozen in time, posed rather than caught in mid-movement) characterize this image, similar to the same qualities observed in the Arch of Constantine.
Manuscript books began to supplant papyrus scrolls in Antiquity. Rare surviving books of the Fourth Century are surprisingly similar in general appearance to works written a millennium later. Until the late Middle Ages, the great majority of western books were written in monasteries by scribes, who enjoyed the highest social status in their communities. As civilization progressed and the demand for books became greater, later works were executed by pupils of the Renaissance "writing master", who taught the craft to apprentices. Some early students' copybooks survive as witnesses to the difficulties of mastering this exacting skill . These early books were mostly written on vellum, a fine grade of goat, calf, or sheep skin. Fortunately for collectors, it is an extremely durable substance which generally survives the centuries well. It was an expensive material, however, and the production of a complete Bible, for example, might require years of a scribe's time, and the skins of several hundred animals, thus making books a rare and expensive commodity. The great majority of early books in the Western world are of religious content, as fitting the "Age of Faith". Consequently, most manuscript leaves and books surviving today are Bibles, Psalters, Books of Hours, and Breviaries.
Oldest painted manuscript existing…… Similar quick style of Pompeian frescoes. Scene from Virgil's Georgics Painted on parchment (lambskin) Written by a single hand, has fifty miniatures which appear to be the work of at least three different painters. These are small pictures bordered by colored bands (six of them fill a whole page); some of them, especially in the "Georgics", represent country landscapes the freshness of which is worthy of the text they illustrate. The background of buildings and temples recalls the paintings at Pompeii;