Christian Art Essay

For thousands of years, major factors that influence a society are the effects
of such things as religion, government, and art. When people study history, art
does not seem to play such an important role. However, art helps us understand
how a society feels, thinks, and looks at the surroundings which in they live.

Ecclesiastical art or commonly know as Christian art dates back to the first and
second centuries. The first influences of Christian art were believed to be
Roman in nature. While other historians feel that the Christian art influence
came from the east, particularly the Orient. The first know works of Christian
art were found in the Roman catacombs. The works found there were considered to
be done during the first or second century. A problem with finding at art in a
Christian nature is very complicated during the first and second centuries, due
the religion still being small. During this time it is believed to be more
decoration then really art. Historians feel that the first glimpses of art are
not pagan, but rather ornamentation. There also seems to be no real pattern of
items that can be considered Christian other then a noticeable recurrence of
vines. Symbolism is seen more in the second century in public cemeteries. These
works of art were rather different then pagan art during this same time. Two
examples of this would be the dove and the fish. Both of these symbols could be
recognized by normal people, but were not used in pagan decoration, thus having
to be brought about by some type of Christian influence. After the triumph of
Constantine, and around 313 A.D. to the fifth century came the main birth of
Christian art. Examples would include art seen on the walls of Roman catacombs,
also the believed figure of Christ changed from a beardless good shepherd to a
bearded man. Christ also was depicted as standing or sitting with an attitude of
authority. During this time period, the Greek monogram of Christ was forged into
Greek monuments and even into the coinage of the time. The crucifixion of Christ
was not yet used or really know during the centuries leading up to the fifth
century. However, the first representations of the crucifixion were merely a
plain cross with the figure of a lamb. The known symbol of Christ hanging from a
cross was seen somewhat in the fifth centuries on such things as carved on the
doors of Sta. Sabina in Rome or in the British Museum Ivory. This again was
still rarely found and was not in common use till it started to appear in
frescoes or mosaics after the time of Justinian (527-565). From the third to
fifth century, the Christian church was still using a lot of decoration forms of
art. Most of these designs are of glass, or mosaic in nature. Each of these
glass structures had representations of Christ and the Apostles, as well as
drawings in gold leaf which referred to the miracles that Christ performed. The
mosaics and glass structures of the time were rather beautiful. Between the
fourth and tenth centuries, the use of color was introduced. The first color
mosaics appeared in the catacombs, but later spread to the churches, oratories
and places of worship. The church also discovered that the use of mosaics
possessed an overwhelming since of attention, which other methods of decoration
lacked. The time it took to make a mosaic was long and tedious. After the
original design was drawn by the artist, the hard work was over. After the
artist was finished, other craftsmen would finish the job by placing the correct
stone in the proper place. The artist was not needed for this part and was
really free to go and persue other works for other churches. The best example of
making a mosaic is simply painting by numbers. Mosaics were also part of the
structure in which they decorated. Mosaics did not fade in color nor were they
effected by light or atmosphere; they seem to light up any part of a room in
church. Examples of mosaics still around today can be found at Mount Athos, near
Constantonople, and most importantly Ravenna, in Sicily, Rome. The reason why it
is so easy to see such mosaics in Ravenna is due to the out of the way location
is possesses. In Ravenna, there are many works that still exist today and are in
their original condition. The most original and untouched mosaic exists in the
baptistery, which dates back to the fourth century. In the baptistery, you can
see a mosaic that depicts the baptism of Christ, who is surrounded by the twelve
Apostles. It is said that as you walk into the room the whole mosaic seems to
swing and move around the room. But what is really remarkable is that the mosaic
in the baptistery has been completely untouched and is in the original condition
from when it was made. Ravenna is also home of another part of early Christian
art, the ivory chair of St. Maximianus (546-556). This chair has remained in the
city for over a thousand years and is considered one the finest examples of
ivory carving which seems to be the work of Oriental craftsmen who served the
church. The chair also depicts illustrations of Christ and the story of Joseph.

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During the sixth century, the desire to have Christian art spread from the
church to the home. In most cases, many homes had some type of art in every room
of the house which the family occupied. Over all, the Christian art found in
homes were the homes of wealthy people who could afford such things. As for
poorer people, they still had something that was a representation of Christ, if
not a carving outside the house or a simple cross that hung over the bed. Not
much change occurred in ecclesiastical art till around the turn of the middle
ages. During this period Christianity had spread west and was becoming even more
and more popular. Along with this new found popularity came changes in the art
seen in churches and in peoples homes. This period of time during the middle
ages is when work in enamels took place. The enamel work done was mainly for the
church, but in Britain the first uses came when it was applied to shields and
helmets. Later, enamels were used for such things as cups, shrines,
candlesticks, and plaques for book covers. The earliest example of enamel work
is found on the Alfred Jewel, located today at Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. The
jewel which was attached to an ivory staff and held by the deacon while reading
the Book of Gospels. During the eleventh century, Byzantium appears to be the
headquarters of the enamel use in the church. An example of this can be found on
the pectoral cross found in the South Kensington Museum. By the time of the
renaissance the main location of art left Italy and moved west. The renaissance
also introduced a new way to use enamels. This new way of using enamels went
from painting on things to actually painting in enamels. This major change in
the use of enamels took place in France who was also a major producer of
enamels. Shortly after or during the later part of the period of enamels, came
the artistic nature of embroideries. During the time period between the twelfth
and fifteenth centuries, nothing was more important the embroidery. Some
historians feel that bags, albs, stoles, and burses are to be seen as some of
the greatest works of art. The greatest embroidery work came from England. All
the way up to the sixteenth century there was a constant demand for skilled
embroideresses. The work of these women was very time consuming and tedious,
considering all of the work was done for the church. There were two reasons why
art after the sixteenth century became so important. The wealthy at the time
felt it unimportant to make the home beautiful but rather put the artistic
efforts of the time into the church. Making the church as beautiful as possible
would carry out the instance of religious feeling and to please the people who
ran the church. In other words, the rich people of the time felt it wise to
spend their money on the church, making it an artistic master piece, so that
their efforts might get be noticed by a higher power. But as time went on, the
need to spend as much time or money on the church becomes old and tiresome. Also
the role of the church changed in people’s lives and in society as a whole. It
was looked upon as the greater good for the people and not so much dedication to
the adornment of the church. The commercial element also came to be known, and
artists realized that they can make more money selling their works to people
than just working for a church. As for the end of ecclesiastical art, it had to
come. Many people felt that the church had become corrupt and was no longer a
place where excessive art was needed. Rather it was the church that inspired
many different types of art from enamels and mosaics to embroidery and painting.

In which one way or another has inspired art to this day and centuries to so.

“The Catholic Encyclopedia.”
(22 Feb. 2000) “Christian Art Link and other Directories.”
(22 Feb. 2000) “Symbols in Christian Art & Architecture.” (22 Feb. 200) “Christian
Art.” (22 Feb. 2000)


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