Much of the art surviving from Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire is Christian art, although this in large part because the continuity of church ownership has preserved church art better than secular works. While the Western Roman Empire's political structure essentially collapsed after the fall of Rome, its religious hierarchy, what is today the modern-day Roman Catholic Church commissioned and funded production of religious art imagery. Christian Gifts
Byzantine art, that is the art of the Eastern Orthodox Church - the form of Christianity that emerged in Constantinople (previously called Byzantium, now called Istanbul), headquarters of the Roman Empire in the east - was the first category of Christian art to really blossom. An expression of the theocratic state that it represented, Christian Byzantine art specialized in architecture, mosaic art, mural and icon painting. Byzantine artists also excelled at items of jewellery, goldsmithing and ivories, and produced the earliest illuminated manuscript, or codex.
Once Christianity was legally permitted, its need for religious art increased rapidly. New churches were built as centres of worship, using the architectural design of the basic Roman Basilica (used for civic administration and justice). A typical basilica church had a central nave with one or more aisles on either side and a semi-circular/polygonal apse at one end, covered by a semi-dome or sectional vault; the apse became the presbytery and contained a raised platform, upon which sat the bishop, his priests, and also the altar. Baptisteries were also designed and built for various rites, notably baptism followed by annointing-with-oil, as non-baptized people could not enter the Christian Basilica. Most interior decoration of these new religious buildings was done with mosaics, although mural paintings have also been uncovered. The sculptural decoration of sarcophagi became more intricate, often illustrating numerous scenes from the bible. But almost no sculpture in the round was made, for fear of creating pagan-style idols. Relief sculpture was therefore standard, mostly in stone although ivory carving was another popular medium. Overall, the 4th century witnessed more art, the use of richer materials, and the development of precise narrative sequences, as in the mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and the later 5th century churches of Ravenna. In addition, during the 5th century, Christian imagery began to accord greater importance to religious significance than to realism. Thus realistic perspective, proportions, colour and light were downgraded in favour of standardized conventions and symbols, when portraying Biblical figures and events.
In addition, there are numerous expressionist works by the French Catholic painter Georges Rouault, notably his series of The Holy Face, the Crucifixion and Christ Mocked, which make him one of the most important Christian artists of the 20th century. A similar accolade could be bestowed on the Russian fantasy painter Marc Chagall, whose imaginative Jewish art and scenes from the Old Testament were followed later by his series on religious themes - The Bible Message - now on display at the Cimiez Museum, in Nice. Chagall also produced a number of stained-glass designs for the cathedrals of Metz (1968), and Reims (1974), as well as the Hadassah Synagogue near Jerusalem. In addition, he was noted for the tapestry art that he designed for the Knesset.
Byzantine art, that is the art of the Eastern Orthodox Church - the form of Christianity that emerged in Constantinople (previously called Byzantium, now called Istanbul), headquarters of the Roman Empire in the east - was the first category of Christian art to really blossom. An expression of the theocratic state that it represented, Christian Byzantine art specialized in architecture, mosaic art, mural and icon painting. Byzantine artists also excelled at items of jewellery, goldsmithing and ivories, and produced the earliest illuminated manuscript, or codex. Scripture Art
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