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Early Christian Art - An Evolutionary Tale of Pagan to Roman Styles
By Annette Labedzki
√ Updated: September 14, 2010

The beginning of Christian Art is slated to the end of the second century or the early third century AD. The Early Christian Period, ranging from the year 100 to 500, witnessed spectacular growth in the development & growth of Christianity. During this phase, almost all Christian Artworks were 'Symbolic,' used mostly to educate & instruct the masses. They also served as religious mediums, spreading the words of God. Religion was one of the key forces, influencing most art forms, created after the birth of Christ.

christian art symbolsUntil the year 200, in Rome, religion was a practice of low class and the strong & mighty did not support it. Therefore, the Early Christian Art was restricted to the decoration of hidden places, like Roman catacombs, where Gods were worshipped secretly. 'Pagan Iconography' and 'Roman Art' style were in a way the foundation of the Early Christian Art, such as the Catacomb Artwork, "The Good Shepherd." These cryptic places were fashioned to respect the memory of the dead. Constantine, the great Roman emperor, however, issued his 'Edict of Milan' in 313 AD for religious tolerance, and declared Christianity as the Roman Empire's state religion. Now, the Christians could fearlessly come out from the hiding, without the risk of being persecuted.

Post 313 AD, in the 4th century AD; Constantine built several huge, well-built churches and shrines. Usually five-aisled basilicas, these buildings had a nave in the center, with an aisle on both the sides, while an apse acquired one end of the structure. Together they formed an elevated platform for bishops and priests to sit on. Basilica buildings, concentrating on a round or polygonal shrine, like "Church of the Nativity" in Bethlehem, "St John Lateran," Rome; "St. Mary Major," Rome; and "Old St. Peter's Basilica," Rome; are some key complexes of this era.

The Early Christian Art employed 'Symbolism,' for example the fish, represented Christ; lamb, Jesus' sacrifice; lambs, Christian sacrifice; cross; Jesus' crucifixion; anchor, hope & steadfastness; garden, paradise; bird, soul; dove, peace & purity; and so on. The art forms practiced were graffiti, paintings, or carvings, using the same artistic media as that of the 'Pagans,' such as frescos, mosaics, sculptures, and manuscript illumination. A carved marble relief, "The Throne of God as a Trinitarian Image," (c. 400 CE) is an ideal example of this 'Early Christian Symbolism.' Later however, the 'Pictorial Symbolism' graduated to the 'Personified' one, such Jonah in the whale's abdomen, Orpheus with animals, and Daniel in the lion's den.

mosaic symbolsThe Christian Art after 313 AD consisted of messages glorifying God, the words of God, the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles. The art was not so much about 'Realism' or technique, as much it was about the content, conveyed through the mosaics, which embellished the interiors of the early Christian basilicas, like the "Church of St. Maria Maggiore" in Rome. The paintings also carried the messages from liturgical books and other manuscripts, such as Vienna Genesis, Rossano Gospels, & Cotton Genesis. In addition, the art was even advertised with the help of ornate sarcophagi, elaborated with religious symbols, biblical figures, and narratives, such as "Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus" and "Dogmatic Sarcophagus."

As the Early Christian Art transitioned to Romanesque and to the great gothic cathedrals, it subtly departed from 'Naturalism,' getting more sophisticated until the 'Renaissance Period.' During this time, humanity and Christianity came together, bridging the early Christian Gothic sensibilities and the Renaissance, reflecting an interesting perspective about the Early Christians.

Annette Labedzki received her BFA at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. She has more than 25 years experience. She is the founder and developer of an online art gallery featuring original art from all over the world. It is a great site for art collectors to buy original art. It is also a venue for artists to display and sell their art . Artists can join for free and their image upload is unlimited. Please visit the website at http://www.labedzki-art.com

Article Source: Early Christian Art - An Evolutionary Tale of Pagan to Roman Styles

Learn More About Christian Symbolism

Learn more about Christian symbolism in these recommended books from Amazon:
Signs and Symbols in Christian Art: With Illustrations from Paintings from the Renaissance
Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols

Saints, Signs, and Symbols: The Symbolic Language of Christian Art
Worship Without Words: The Signs and Symbols of Our Faith


ICHTHUS Fish - A Popular Christian Symbol
By Ed Gallagher

fish symbolAfter the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, many of his followers scattered and went underground. Of course, his apostles and closest disciples were emboldened by the Holy Spirit and set out to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus.

Persecution of those who believed that Jesus was Christ, the Christians, occurred almost immediately and it became necessary for Christians to identify one another through the use of symbols. One of the most well known was the symbols of the fish.

This fish symbols has been found by archaeologists in caves and catacombs that were used as meeting places. It has been found in markings of graves and even in dwelling places. It was a symbol that was recognized by other true followers but not by those who were not. Why the fish?

There are several interesting theories surrounding the use of the fish. First off, Jesus preached primarily in Galilee, a fishing town. Many of His first chosen apostles were fishermen, including Simon Peter to whom he entrusted the keys of the church. Jesus, who taught in parables, told his disciples he would make them fishers of men. There are several passages in the New Testament that reference fish.

christian fishOne very popular school of thought concerning the fish comes in the Greek word for fish, IXOYE; iota, chi, theta, upsilon, and sigma. In English the sounds from those letters would be ICHTHUS and you may have heard the fish symbol referred to as the "ichthus fish". The combination of these letters is an acronym - Iesous Christos Theou Uiou Soter - which translated means Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.

Catholic theology has elaborated on the five words of the acronym into the Jesus prayer, which goes, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Ed Gallagher is a researcher, speaker and the author of Catholic Symbols, a blog that deals with the meaning and origins of various Christian Symbols, Religious Symbols and primarily Catholic Symbols.

Article Source: ICHTHUS Fish - A Popular Christian Symbol

Learn More About Christian Symbolism

Learn more about Christian symbolism in these recommended books from Amazon:
Signs and Symbols in Christian Art: With Illustrations from Paintings from the Renaissance
Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols

Saints, Signs, and Symbols: The Symbolic Language of Christian Art
Worship Without Words: The Signs and Symbols of Our Faith

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