Early Christian and Byzantine art

christianity began in the first century as a cult of the followers of christ.

Christianity has its roots in judaisim in three ways:

  1. based on written texts
  2. monotheistic
  3. had a moral cod, a code of ethics

christianity differed from cults in 2 ways:

  1. christian rituals did not involve animal or blood sacrafices
  2. christians did not worship the emperor (a cause of persecution for the first 300 years)

Constantine and Christianity

Eusebuis (a bishop) wrote much of what we know of constantine

maxtentius was a rival emperor who constantine defeated. Prior to the battle, constantine had a dream in which an angel came to him and said "under this sign you will conquer". He made the cross and the Chi Rio the symbol of his army. He won the battle and proclaimed the edict of Milan in 313 which legalized Christianity. He recognized the power of the cross and the Christian god he was baptized before he died

Cristian art: 3 periods:

  1. persecution period: 1st-3rd century While Christianity was not tolerated
  2. emergence 4th century Christianity became accepted
  3. New Christian style: 5th century a shift into medieval art

persecution stage:

roman subjects, roman style, christian meaning was given to roman symbols


garland: victory over death, resurection,

tendril (intertwined grapes and vine): Represents the Eucharist

nude figures: represent Christian martyrs

peacock: everlasting life

flying birds: the soul flying to heaven

emergence stage:

Christian subject matter,

the "roman style problem" roman realism was no appropriate to the Christian message

Christian art focused on the soul, while Romans focused on the body.

New Christian style:

Christian subject matter, Christian style: less materialism, light and shade, aerial perspective, atmospheric perspective, foreshortening, and natural environments

Ex- the good shepherd in the catacomb of saints pietro and marcelleno

rome, early 4th century fresco

ex- the good shepherd 3rd cent marble in the round freestanding

classical figure with roman toga and a sheep over his shoulder

in the roman style, the last Christian work with a naturalistic rather than symbolic form

ex- chalice of Antioch 350-500 ad silver and gold 19 cm high

symbolized Christ and his work

images include: young and mature Christ, apostles, vines, leaves, birds, grapes

Byzantine art

Byzantine comes from the name of a village, byzantium, the sight of Constantine’s capital, constantanople. Constantine died in 337 and justinian became emperor in the east from 520-540 ad. This began the golden age of byzantine culture and art. The culture developed througout greece, venice, sicily ect.

Byzantine style is more spiritual and other worldly than early christian art.

Characteristics of byzantine art:

expressive- colorful and emotional flat- 2 demensional, lacks space

symbolic decorative and detailed

the use of gold is important because it symbolizes perfection and it eliminates earthly associations

ex- the church of san vitale ravena 540-547 brick facing centrally planned church

has three levels with arched windows, ground level, gallery level, Clerestory

the inside of the building is bathed in a wonderful yellow light. the light is yellow because of the reflection off the gold.

The inside has: old and new testament scenes, symbols, decorative patterns, imperial portraits. The roman and Byzantine mosaic styles are different

ex- the court of justinian mosaic, left wall of the apse

the emperor where the royal purple, the man in gold is archbishop maximus

this depicts justinian as christ representative on earth, he is head of church and state

ex- the court of theodora mosaic right side wall of the apse

she stands with her court ladies and 2 churchmen she holds a chalice in a pose similar the the pose of the three magi located on her robe.

Ex- the basilica of Hagia Sophia in constantonople (church of holy wisdom)

an architectural masterpiece of justinians reign, monumental, completely original design

first domed basilica 270 foot length, dome 185 feet tall, 108 foot diameter

this was an imperial building, it was the personnel church of the emperor and court

it was not open to the public

2 crucial architectural elements- space (enormous space), light

ex- Madonna and child enthroned 13th century Byzantine artist

gold background, 2-D nimbus, colorful, not emotional, stiff and rigid