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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“The Catholic Encyclopedia.”
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05248a.htm (22 Feb.
“Christian Art Link and other Directories.”
(22 Feb. 2000)
“Symbols in Christian Art & Architecture.”
(22 Feb. 200)
www.fni.com/heritage/nov95/Horton.html (22 Feb. 2000)
Cite this Christian art
Christian art. (2018, Sep 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/christian-art-essay/