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Christian Art: Influences the World

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For thousands of years, major factors that influence a

society are the effects of such things as religion,

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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)
“Christian Art.”
www.fni.com/heritage/nov95/Horton.html (22 Feb. 2000)

Cite this Christian Art: Influences the World

Christian Art: Influences the World. (2018, Sep 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/christian-art-influences-the-world/

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