For thousands of years, major factors that influence a society are the effectsof such things as religion, government, and art. When people study history, artdoes not seem to play such an important role. However, art helps us understandhow 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 andsecond centuries. The first influences of Christian art were believed to beRoman in nature.
While other historians feel that the Christian art influencecame from the east, particularly the Orient. The first know works of Christianart were found in the Roman catacombs. The works found there were considered tobe done during the first or second century. A problem with finding at art in aChristian nature is very complicated during the first and second centuries, duethe religion still being small. During this time it is believed to be moredecoration then really art.
Historians feel that the first glimpses of art arenot pagan, but rather ornamentation. There also seems to be no real pattern ofitems that can be considered Christian other then a noticeable recurrence ofvines. Symbolism is seen more in the second century in public cemeteries. Theseworks of art were rather different then pagan art during this same time.
Twoexamples of this would be the dove and the fish. Both of these symbols could berecognized by normal people, but were not used in pagan decoration, thus havingto be brought about by some type of Christian influence. After the triumph ofConstantine, and around 313 A. D. to the fifth century came the main birth ofChristian 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 abearded man. Christ also was depicted as standing or sitting with an attitude ofauthority. During this time period, the Greek monogram of Christ was forged intoGreek monuments and even into the coinage of the time. The crucifixion of Christwas not yet used or really know during the centuries leading up to the fifthcentury. However, the first representations of the crucifixion were merely aplain cross with the figure of a lamb.
The known symbol of Christ hanging from across was seen somewhat in the fifth centuries on such things as carved on thedoors of Sta. Sabina in Rome or in the British Museum Ivory. This again wasstill rarely found and was not in common use till it started to appear infrescoes or mosaics after the time of Justinian (527-565). From the third tofifth century, the Christian church was still using a lot of decoration forms ofart.
Most of these designs are of glass, or mosaic in nature. Each of theseglass structures had representations of Christ and the Apostles, as well asdrawings in gold leaf which referred to the miracles that Christ performed. Themosaics and glass structures of the time were rather beautiful. Between thefourth and tenth centuries, the use of color was introduced.
The first colormosaics appeared in the catacombs, but later spread to the churches, oratoriesand places of worship. The church also discovered that the use of mosaicspossessed an overwhelming since of attention, which other methods of decorationlacked. The time it took to make a mosaic was long and tedious. After theoriginal design was drawn by the artist, the hard work was over.
After theartist was finished, other craftsmen would finish the job by placing the correctstone in the proper place. The artist was not needed for this part and wasreally free to go and persue other works for other churches. The best example ofmaking a mosaic is simply painting by numbers. Mosaics were also part of thestructure in which they decorated.
Mosaics did not fade in color nor were theyeffected by light or atmosphere; they seem to light up any part of a room inchurch. Examples of mosaics still around today can be found at Mount Athos, nearConstantonople, and most importantly Ravenna, in Sicily, Rome. The reason why itis so easy to see such mosaics in Ravenna is due to the out of the way locationis possesses. In Ravenna, there are many works that still exist today and are intheir original condition. The most original and untouched mosaic exists in thebaptistery, which dates back to the fourth century. In the baptistery, you cansee a mosaic that depicts the baptism of Christ, who is surrounded by the twelveApostles.
It is said that as you walk into the room the whole mosaic seems toswing and move around the room. But what is really remarkable is that the mosaicin the baptistery has been completely untouched and is in the original conditionfrom when it was made. Ravenna is also home of another part of early Christianart, the ivory chair of St. Maximianus (546-556). This chair has remained in thecity for over a thousand years and is considered one the finest examples ofivory carving which seems to be the work of Oriental craftsmen who served thechurch. The chair also depicts illustrations of Christ and the story of Joseph.
During the sixth century, the desire to have Christian art spread from thechurch to the home. In most cases, many homes had some type of art in every roomof the house which the family occupied. Over all, the Christian art found inhomes were the homes of wealthy people who could afford such things. As forpoorer people, they still had something that was a representation of Christ, ifnot a carving outside the house or a simple cross that hung over the bed.
Notmuch change occurred in ecclesiastical art till around the turn of the middleages. During this period Christianity had spread west and was becoming even moreand more popular. Along with this new found popularity came changes in the artseen in churches and in peoples homes. This period of time during the middleages is when work in enamels took place. The enamel work done was mainly for thechurch, but in Britain the first uses came when it was applied to shields andhelmets.
Later, enamels were used for such things as cups, shrines,candlesticks, and plaques for book covers. The earliest example of enamel workis found on the Alfred Jewel, located today at Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. Thejewel which was attached to an ivory staff and held by the deacon while readingthe Book of Gospels. During the eleventh century, Byzantium appears to be theheadquarters of the enamel use in the church. An example of this can be found onthe pectoral cross found in the South Kensington Museum.
By the time of therenaissance the main location of art left Italy and moved west. The renaissancealso introduced a new way to use enamels. This new way of using enamels wentfrom painting on things to actually painting in enamels. This major change inthe use of enamels took place in France who was also a major producer ofenamels. Shortly after or during the later part of the period of enamels, camethe artistic nature of embroideries. During the time period between the twelfthand fifteenth centuries, nothing was more important the embroidery.
Somehistorians feel that bags, albs, stoles, and burses are to be seen as some ofthe greatest works of art. The greatest embroidery work came from England. Allthe way up to the sixteenth century there was a constant demand for skilledembroideresses. 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 whyart after the sixteenth century became so important. The wealthy at the timefelt it unimportant to make the home beautiful but rather put the artisticefforts of the time into the church. Making the church as beautiful as possiblewould carry out the instance of religious feeling and to please the people whoran the church. In other words, the rich people of the time felt it wise tospend their money on the church, making it an artistic master piece, so thattheir efforts might get be noticed by a higher power. But as time went on, theneed to spend as much time or money on the church becomes old and tiresome.
Alsothe role of the church changed in people’s lives and in society as a whole. Itwas looked upon as the greater good for the people and not so much dedication tothe adornment of the church. The commercial element also came to be known, andartists realized that they can make more money selling their works to peoplethan just working for a church. As for the end of ecclesiastical art, it had tocome. Many people felt that the church had become corrupt and was no longer aplace where excessive art was needed.
Rather it was the church that inspiredmany 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. Bibliography”The Catholic Encyclopedia. ” http://www.
newadvent. org/cathen/05248a. htm(22 Feb. 2000) “Christian Art Link and other Directories. ” www.
royspage. com/christian_links_and_directory_of. htm(22 Feb. 2000) “Symbols in Christian Art & Architecture.
“www. fastlane. net/homepages/wegast/symbols/symbols. htm (22 Feb. 200) “ChristianArt.
” www. fni. com/heritage/nov95/Horton. html (22 Feb. 2000)