Art History for Chapter 6:
The Revolutionary Rabbi: Christianity, the Roman Empire, and Islam, 4 B.C. to A.D. 1453
EARLY CHRISTIAN ART
Many art historians feel that the late Roman Empire saw some slippage in artistic quality. Just as the politicians ran out of creative solutions, so did artists, who often settled for borrowing from their predecessors (literally as they sometimes broke off sculptures from an older site to use in a newer one, such as in the Arch of Constantine.
Early Christian Art began in a small way, since the Christians were a persecuted minority. After their legalization by Constantine more art became oriented to the needs and desires of the Christians.
The earliest fragments of Christian art portray Jesus as a classical hero, young, strong, and beardless. Only with the rise of imperial Christianity does he become the bearded and long-haired figure with European features most commonly done today.
Simple crosses were the first form of sculpture for Christians. More decorative statues (including the crucifix which portrayed a suffering Christ on the cross) would only be made in the Middle Ages.
Catacombs, where Christians were allowed to bury their dead, became the first sites of Christian art. As the empire fell apart, a last gasp of a united Rome under Justinian resulted in several new churches in Ravenna, northern Italy. They were built with pristine clean lines, proportions and walls and domes. And their decoration with beautiful mosaics of sparkling glass preserved the power and theology of the fading civilized Rome. While the Byzantine Empire with its capital in Constantinople survived for a thousand years, Westerners found little interested in its art (although they plundered a great deal in the Fourth Crusade of 1204).
Justinian's Hagia Sophia, The Church of Holy Wisdom, rose over Constantinople at the emperor's command.