GUIDE 8 UNIT 2
EARLY CHRISTIAN ART
Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom in Kiev (Ukraine) preserves much of its original Byzantine interior. 1037.
FROM CATACOMBS TO CATHEDRALS
We are entering another thousand-year period in the history of humanity and art.
Before you start reading this section we need to touch the historical aspect of what happened with the powerful Roman Empire and Classical art (or Greco-Roman art).
In the 4th century the Roman Empire was divided into two parts: Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantine Empire). These parts would have very different historical fates. They will also provide two major branches for the Christian Church Catholic (in the West) and Orthodox (in the East).
The Latin-speaking Western Empire with its centre in Rome would face the barbarian invasions undergo a slow decline for 200 years and eventually fell under the barbarians. The Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire centred in Constantinople would grow to a powerful state. I would offer you to stick with the following simple timeline.
EARLY CHRISTIAN ART BYZANTINE ART
First 3 centuries A.D. 4th – 14th centuries
Period of PersecutionPeriod of Recognition
Since the very beginning of human history art and religion have been closely connected. In the first unit you have learned that art played a central role in prehistoric magic rituals as well as in Egyptian religious ceremonies to ensure the afterlife. Why so? Have you ever heard music a church choir or organ -in the cathedral with beautiful stained glass windows? Yes this is the answer art has an ability to deliver a strong emotional message to the human soul.
Early Christian Art
Let us follow the events happening in the both parts of crumbling Roman Empire.
Name two key events that took place in the 3rd century.
* – The Edict of Milan 313.
Two periods into which the Early Christian art is divided:
The Period of Persecution
As Christianity developed and Christian church formed a sort of federative republic within the heart of Rome the Romans began to fear it. In 302 when Christians refused to join in Roman religious ceremonies the emperor Diocletian instituted his terrible persecution of the mutinous sect wherein two thousand Christians died.
Catacombs – What wastheir purpose? How did they look?
In what way was Christian art connected to the Greco-Roman art? Analyze the ceiling fresco in the catacomb of Saints Pietro and Marcellino.
Symbols in Christian art
Fish was a symbol of *
Grapes – *
Cross – * (find in the paragraph about the catacomb of Saints Pietro and Marcellino)
Symbol an image or sign representing something else by association resemblance or convention.
The Period of Recognition
How did the situation change in the 4th century after Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity?
What changes do we observe in regards to the places and way the first Christians worshiped?
St. Petes Cathedral in Rome – one of the most important buildings to be erected during
the Early Christian period
Why is it considered to be that important? – *
Describe the cathedrals plan. You have to remember that it was based on the basilicas plan.
The following parts will appear in the countless cathedrals of the later centuries:
(Give definitions and find them on the plan in your book)
PORPILAEUM – *
ATRIUM – *
NARTHEX – *
AISLES – *
NAVE – *
TRANSEPT – *
APSE – *
ALTAR – *
There were two major types of churches (1) longitudinal and (2) central circular.
(1) Latin cross plan or *
Where the Latin cross was most prominent?
And where were the smaller circular churches with central plans more popular?
What can you say about the art of mosaic which was widely used for decoration in the Christian churches? Did the first Christians invent this technique? Analyze the style of the mosaic Christ as the Good Shepherd. From whom was the art of mosaic adopted?
Define the artistic style of the Period of Recognition. What style was it modeled after?
Martyrfrom the mausoleum ofGalla Placidia (Ravenna Italy)
[Mausoleum a large stately tomb or a building housing such a tomb or tombs]
How did the term Byzantine originate?
Byzantine art was not produced only in the town of Byzantium but had spread across many Eastern regions. Name them.
Now you understand better why the cathedral from Ukraine has ended up on the cover of this guide dont you?
Church ofSan Vitalein *_ (city & country) built by the emperor *_
Find on the map (see next Medieval section) this city that was a capital of the western empire at this time. What did you learn about it?
What type of architectural plan was used in San Vitale? – *
During reign of which Roman emperor Ravenna attained stability arts began to flourish and San Vitale was built? – *
When was Justinian Age in Ravenna? – * [century] (look at the dates under pictures)
AMBULATORY – *
San Vitale looks simple from outside. What can you say about its interior decoration?
Justinian and Attendants
This mosaic from San Vitale apse represents the Byzantine style at its peak.
What does the mosaic commemorate? – *
Are the human figures naturalistically depicted or their bodies are rather weightless?
What about their gestures and stares? – *
Is their any deep three-dimensional space in which they placed? – *
Do they really stand on the ground or rather are hovering above the earth? – *
What kind of background is this? !) – * [Note this is very typical for Byzantine art]
Now please go back to the first paragraph of Byzantine Art section. Write down the major characteristics of Byzantine art. Specify the difference between it andEarly Christian art.
In 330 A.D. Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to *
How did he rename it? -*
What happened after his death? – *
What is the modernname of this city? -*
In what present day country is it located? -*
I would like to emphasize one more time there were two branches of the Roman Empire and they were called Western Roman Empire (old Rome) and Eastern Roman Empire but officially it was still one Roman empire.
Notice that this cathedral was built by the emperor Justinian same emperor who is depicted in the mosaics of San Vitale Church in Ravenna.
What are the most striking aspects of this outstanding Church?
Size:* (Just to have an idea)
Which ingenious architectural idea produces the impression of the hovering dome?
It is particularly well seen from inside see it above; you can also see the similar effect in the St. Marks in Venice.
Later Byzantine Art
Until which century did Byzantine architecture continue to evolve?
St. Marks cathedral in * .
When was built? Date: * Century: *
Greek cross plan – *
How is it different from the Latin cross plan?
To wrap up this section I would like to show you a beautiful Russian church built in the Byzantine traditions (central plan). There were thousands and thousands of them all over Russia. Many churches were destroyed by the Bolsheviks after the Communist revolution in 1917 or used as the storage buildings. Others had been neglected and slowly deteriorated with time.
Church Pokrov on the Nerli River. Photo: William Sokolenko
After Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453 Russia continued for several centuries to develop national art that had grown out of the middle Byzantine period.