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Early Christian Art
Transcript of Early Christian Art
Santa Maria Antiqua sarcophagus
Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus
Christians Borrowing from Pagans
Left Side of the Sarcophagus
third century sarcophagus (above) from the Church of Santa Maria
undoubtedly made to serve as the tomb of a relatively prosperous third century Christian
male philosopher type that we see here is easily identifiable with the same type other non-Christian sarcophagi
standing female figure appears next to a seated, bearded male figure holding a scroll
she holds her arms outstretched
combines two different conventions:
outstretched hands in Early Christian art represent the so-called "orant" or praying figure
juxtaposition of this female figure with the philosopher figure associates her with the convention of the muse, or source of inspiration for the philosopher
Jonah is represented sleeping under the ivy after being vomited from the great fish, shown on the left
the pose of the reclining Jonah with his arm over his head is based on the Greek (pagan) mythological figure of Endymion
Endymion = whose wish to sleep for ever--and thus become ageless and immortal
explains the popularity of this subject on non-Christian sarcophagi
Baptism of Christ
the Good Shepherd = popular Christian image
parable from the New Testament
the motif had clear parallels in Greek and Roman art, going back to Archaic Greek art
Moschophoros, or calf-bearer, from the early sixth century B.C.E.
on the very right appears an image of the Baptism of Christ
rare representation of Christ probably refers to the importance of the sacrament of Baptism, which signified death and rebirth into a new Christian life
male and female figures at the center of the Santa Maria Antiqua sarcophagus have their faces are unfinished
this suggests that this tomb was not made with a specific patron in mind
it was fabricated on a speculative basis, with the expectation that a patron would buy it and have his and presumably his wife's likenesses added
A Curious Detail
influenced by the splendor of the rituals associated with the emperor, the Christian liturgy placed emphasis on the dramatic entrances and the stages of the rituals
for example, the "introit" or entrance of the priest into the church was influenced by the "adventus" or arrival of the emperor
the culmination of the entrance as well as the focal point of the architecture was the apse
here the sacraments would be performed, and it was here that the priest would proclaim the word
in Roman civic and imperial basilicas, the apse had been the seat of authority; in the imperial basilicas, the emperor would be enthroned
these associations with authority made the apse a suitable stage for the Christian rituals
The priest would be like the magistrate proclaiming the word of a higher authority.
A Stage for Rituals
APSE: a large semicircular or polygonal recess in a church, arched or with a domed roof, typically at the eastern end, and usually containing the altar.
A late fourth century mosaic in the apse of the Roman church of Santa Pudenziana visualizes this.
We see in this image a dramatic transformation in the conception of Christ from the pre-Constantinian period.
A silver plate made for the Emperor Theodosius in 388 to mark the tenth anniversary of his accession to power shows the Emperor in the center handing down the scroll of the law.
Notably the Emperor Theodosius is shown with a halo much like the figure of Christ.
From Teacher to the Ruler of Heaven
Christ as the Ruler of a Heavenly City
Just as Rome became Christian, Christianity and Christ took on the aura of Imperial Rome.
Christian Becomes Part of the Establishment
Before Emperor Constantine's acceptance, Christianity had a marginal status in the Roman world.
Attracting converts in the urban populations, Christianity appealed to the faithful's desires for personal salvation; however, due to Christianity's monotheism (which prohibited its followers from participating in the public cults), Christians suffered periodic episodes of persecution.
But by the middle of the fourth century, Christianity under imperial patronage had become a part of the establishment.
The elite of Roman society were becoming new converts.
Such an individual was Junius Bassus...
member of a senatorial family
father had held the position of Praetorian prefect...which involved administration of the Western Empire
Junius Bassus held the position of praefectus urbi for Rome
office of urban prefect was established in the early period of Rome under the kings
a position held by members of the most elite families of Rome
responsible for the administration of the city of Rome
died at the age of 42 in the year 359, a sarcophagus was made for him
Junius Bassus had become a convert to Christianity shortly before his death
Christ is shown in the center seated on a jewel-encrusted throne
he wears a gold toga with purple trim, both colors associated with imperial authority
his right hand is extended in the "ad locutio" gesture conventional in imperial representations
a book in his right hand shows Christ proclaiming the word (Gospel)
simislar to a so-called traditio legis, or the handing down of the law
reflects the transformed status of Christianity
most evident in the image at the center of the upper register
before the time of Constantine, the figure of Christ was rarely directly represented, but here on the Junius Bassus sarcophagus we see Christ prominently represented
not in a narrative representation from the New Testament but in a formula derived from Roman Imperial art
Establishing Formulas for Representing Christian Figures
The Traditio Legis ("Giving of the Law") was a formula in Roman art to give visual testament to the emperor as the sole source of the law.
St. Peter - venerated as a saint and traditionally considered to be the first bishop and Pope by the Roman Catholic Church
St. Paul - taught the gospel of Christ to the first-century world. He is generally considered one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age
artists had articulated identifiable formulas for representing Saints Peter and Paul
Peter was represented with a bowl haircut and a short cropped beard
Paul was represented with a pointed beard and usually a high forehead
early establishment of these formulas was undoubtedly a product of the doctrine of apostolic authority in the early church
bishops claimed that their authority could be traced back to the original Twelve Apostles
Contrasting Images of Christ: young (as shown), based on Apollo and bearded Christ (Santa Pudenziana) based on Zeus
The lower register directly underneath depicts Christ's Entry into Jerusalem.
This image was also based on a formula derived from Roman imperial art.
The adventus was a formula devised to show the triumphal arrival of the emperor with figures offering homage.
the proportions are far from the standards of classical art
the style of the relief especially with the rich folds of drapery and soft facial features can be seen as classic or alluding to the classical style
In both its style and iconography, the Junius Bassus Sarcophagus witnesses the adoption of the tradition of Greek and Roman art by Christian artists.
Works like this were appealing to patrons like Junius Bassus who were a part of the upper level of Roman society.
Christian art did not reject the classical tradition: rather, the classical tradition will be a reoccurring element in Christian art throughout the Middle Ages.
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
Santa Maria Maggiore
church that borrowned from the ancient Roman/classical tradition
instead of basilica for civic events this is a space for a large group to worship
early Christians needs a building to hold a large group of people and also a focus for the altar
Borrowing from Roman Traditions
The side aisles are divided by colonnades of Corinthian columns
The wall of the nave is broken by clerestory windows that provide direct lighting in the nave.
Now plain, the walls apparently originally were decorated with mosaics.
colonnade on each side down the nave supported round arches
flat roof over the nave, like a Roman basilica
spareness here, a lack of a decorative program
basic forms are pure
Light would have been understood as a symbol of divinity.
Light was a symbol for Christ.
The emphasis in this architecture is on the spiritual effect and not the physical.
nave wall of Santa Sabina has little sense of weight
the architect was particularly aware of the light effects in an interior space like this.
glass tiles of the mosaics (no longer present) would create a shimmering effect and the walls would appear to float
emphasis of drawing you into apse
colonnade and clerestory help that
beautiful rhythm and light
realizes the idea of Roman basilica
symbols of authority
basilicas are places of law (judges, magistrates, etc.)
could hold a tremendous amount of people
chair at the back of the apse, Christians replace with altar
altar is elaborate
sense of depth in the mosaics
physicality of the body, sense of space, and depth
portrait shows individuality
sense of architecture and landscape
willingness to experiment beyond stable classical traditions
Mary and Christ seated
sense of gravity and mass in space
a little bit of foreshortening
physicality that was rejected in earlier art
Art and Architecture after Constantine
By the beginning of the fourth century Christianity was a growing mystery religion in the cities of the Roman world.
It was attracting converts from different social levels.
Christian theology and art was enriched through the cultural interaction with the Greco-Roman world.
In 312, the Emperor Constantine defeated his principal rival Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.
Constantine claimed to had seen a sign in the heavens portending his victory.
Constantine became the principal patron of Christianity.
Edict of Milan issued; which granted religious toleration
Constantine's imperial sanction of Christianity transformed its status and nature.
Christianity would take on the aura of imperial Rome
Christianity would be radically transformed through the actions of a single man.
A Growing Mystery Religion