1. Explain the formal and iconographic characteristics of Late Antique, Jewish, and Christian art
  2. Discuss the relationship of Roman and Early Christian art and architecture
  3. Identify the sources of Late Antique Christian architecture
  4. Describe the plan and elevation of an Early Christian church
  5. Explain the organization, function, and ornamentation of Early Christian catacombs
  6. Discuss the materials, techniques, and processes used to create Late Antique art and architecture
  7. Identify historical events and characters that exerted influence on the development of Late Antique art and architecture
  8. Describe the persistence of classical art in the Late Antique period

This unit deals with the Late Classical / Early Christian art that was produced during / after the decline of the Roman Empire.

Questions for consideration:
  1. Outline the manner in which "Christianity" influenced the late Roman world.
  2. In what ways did the art of Early Christian Rome "borrow, adapt, adjust" the typology (symbols) of the pagan Roman Empire? [chart made]
  3. Why is Dura-Europos important for our understanding of art / religion during the middle 2nd Century?
  4. How might you explain the somewhat naive (awkward) treatment given to the artwork associated with Early Christian Rome?

I recommend understanding EC art through categorizing the art and examining each of the artworks / examples listed beneath. There are specific reasons behind my choices for these particular works and it will be your job to determine what those are. You should be familiar with the titles, locations and dates (w/ in a decade) of all of these.

1. Synogogue at Dura Europos: Samuel Anointing David
2. Model of Christian Community House
3. Painting on Ceiling of Catacombs of St. Peter and Marcellinus: Good Shepherd, Scenes from Jonah

1. Early Christian Sarcophagus [Santa Maria Antique - Rome]
2. Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus
3. Statue of Christ (aka Christ Seated)

1. Old St. Peter's [Rome / non-extant]
2. Santa Sabina [Rome / helps understand Old St. Peter's]
3a. Santa Costanza [Rome]
3b. San Cos Vault Mosaic
4a. Santa Maria Maggiore [Rome]
4b. San Maria Mag Mosaic - Parting of Abraham
5a. Masoleum of Galla Placidia
5b. Gal Pla Mosaic [entrance wall] - Christ as Good Shepherd
6. Sant' Apollinare Nuovo

Links relating to this unit:
  • Student-made video that demonstrates the content of this unit - link
  • Rome, Italy: Catacombs and Appian Way - link
    Rome's San Callisto catacombs housed early Christian heroes later recognized as martyrs and saints as early as the 3rd century. Along with the catacombs, which were abandoned and forgotten in the Middle Ages, Rome's ancient Appian Way is enjoying resurgence as a well-known attraction for locals and tourists alike.
  • The First Christian Art and its Early Developments (Lord Richard Harries) - link
    The earliest surviving Christian art is in the catacombs in Rome. This lecture will look at how this developed, survived two centuries of iconoclasm and established itself with a distinctive rationale.
  • Late Roman Art: Constantine his Arch and Basilica (Kenny Mencher) - link
    An analysis of the triumphal arch form and first basilican plans. This video the Arch of Constantine and the evolution of the Christian basilica. The first St. Peters.
  • Roman Art into Early Christian Art (Kenny Mencher) - link
  • Early Christian Art Catacombs and Sarcophagi (Mencher) - link
  • Rome of Constantine and a New Rome - link
    From Yale University: Course - Roman Architecture (HSAR 252); Professor Kleiner presents the architecture of Constantine the Great, the last pagan and first Christian emperor of Rome, who founded Constantinople as the "New Rome" in A.D. 324.
  • Vatican Nercopolis - link
    Interactive site that explores the mysterious space that exists underneath St. Peter's Basilica.
  • Paintings with Biblical Themes (Wikipedia) - link
  • Early Christian Architecture - link
  • Early Christian & Byzantine Art - link
  • Museo Pio Cristiano - link
  • Explore the Catacombs of Callixtus (Rome) - link
  • Early Christian Art (Tigertail Virtual Museum) - link
    Examine early Christian art and artifacts and gain understanding as to their meaning.
  • Online Study Guide (Early Christian Art) Gardner's Art Through the Ages (13e) - link
  • Ravenna Monuments (360 degree panorama) - link
    Check out this wonderful website - loaded full of images that make you feel as though you are actually THERE.

Reference documents:

Here are some QUESTIONS relating to the unit's material that may serve as a study guide to you. I am simply "dumping" the collective total of questions I have used in the past (from a variety of sources) and redundancies are inevitable. As time goes on, I will eliminate redundancies and place the questions into the most appropriate order.

Questions of a general theme

• What were the influences of religion in the art of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity? In other words, how did Roman art and architecture change as a result of Christianity and the decisions of Constantine?

• How does early Christian art (the New Aesthetic) differ from classical Roman art?

• This chapter pertains to the art labeled “Early Christian”. What does this mean? Was this the art created by the early Christians?

• What is the earliest datable period for Christian art?

• Discuss the connections between Rome, Constantinople and Christianity.

• Briefly describe the Late Roman Empire's attitude toward religion.

• Why were Christians persecuted by Romans?

• Discuss the historical developments that occurred from the Early Christian period to the Late Byzantine? [note: This is a huge question, but do your best to sum up the notable events / dates.]

• What is the concept of “synchronism” in early Christian art?

• Why is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem important?

• Briefly describe the state of the Empire of the West during the rule of Honorius.

• Summarize the evolution of mosaics from their origins to those made by early Christians.

• The “Life of Christ” is normally categorized into three distinct areas: The Incarnation, Ministry and Passion. What were the major events related to each of these? What iconography is associated with each? [note: Big question]

• Early Christian art retained strong links to the classical tradition, while transforming classical subject matter into a new Christian context. Analyze a fresco, mosaic and sculpture relief from Early Christian art that illustrates this classical influence. [note: Big question]

• Explore the different portrayals of Christ in Early Christian and Byzantine mosaics.
a) Start with the Good Shepherd lunette mosaic from the so-called Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
b) Next, the Transfiguration of Christ mosaic from the Monastery of Saint Catherine (Mount Sinai).
c) And finally, the Christ Pantokrator mosaic from Daphni, Greece.

• Christian symbols: Identify the Christian symbols below and briefly describe their meaning.
  • Dove
  • Fish
  • Lamb
  • Four Evangelists
  • Monogram of the Chi-Rho
  • Crosses: Latin, Greek, Russian

  • Aisles
  • Ambulatory
  • Aspe
  • Atrium
  • Baldacchino
  • Baptistery
  • Basilica
  • Catacomb
  • Catacombs
  • Clerestory
  • Cloisonne
  • Codex
  • Cruciform
  • Deisis
  • Diptych
  • Dura Europos
  • Eucharist
  • House church
  • Icon
  • Iconoclasm
  • Illuminated manuscripts
  • Lunette
  • Manuscript
  • Narthex
  • Nave
  • Orant pose
  • Orants
  • Pantokrator
  • Parchment
  • Penteteuch
  • Prefiguration
  • Relics
  • Reverse perspective
  • Sarcophagus
  • Scriptorium
  • Tesserae
  • Torah
  • Transept
  • Vellum

  • Jesus born in 4 BCE, during reign of Augustus when Herod ruled, ministry at 27/28. Around 33 crucified outside Jerusalem. Had been minor religion, initially used symbols known only in sect: Chi Rho, fish, lamb. Religion granted by imperials, could start making not so cryptic. First of lower classes (promise of rich afterlife where all judged on equal terms), 2nd Century = more common in upper classes. Nearly 1/3 of Rome were Christian by time Constantine converted.
  • Paganism; appease gods by honoring visibly, Christianity; divine retribution at end of world. Took a lot of figures/scenes and charged with symbolism to become Christian: victories to angels, Eve to Venus.
  • Portable altars in houses of wealthier members.
  • If people refused to worship Roman emperor (states official gods, deified emperors and pantheon of classical gods) >>> subject to persecution; therefore, much underground Christian activity for the first 300 years. As appeal grew, so did state's fear of weakening imperial authority.
  • "Early Christian Art" refers to the art produced, from the 1st - 5th Centuries, which is Christian in subject matter (not necessarily the art of the early Christians, per se)
    • Classical (pagan) >>>>> Early Christian >>>>> Middle Ages
  • Early Christian Art serves as a transitional phase between Classical Greco-Roman & Middle Ages.

Circling back to Constantine... let's return to previous unit
REMEMBER >> Constantine is a transitional figure & his art -- transitional works

Portrait of Constantine 315-320 CE
Arch of Constantine 312-315 CE
Coins bearing image of Constantine L - 307 CE << >> R - ca 315 CE

**Basilica Nova** ca. 315 CE

Synogogue at Dura Europos: Samuel Anointing David
245-256 CE

Q: Why has the Synagogue of Dura Europos referred to as the “Pompeii of the desert”?
Q: Why was the Sasanian victory at Dura-Europos important?
Q: With respect to the following work: Dura Europos - Samuel Anointing David; How is David depicted as royalty?
Q: Why were there no cult statues in early Christian places of worship?

  • Second Commandment of the OT - prohibited use of graven images (form of idolatry - ..."no 'other gods' should come before Me")
    • focus was on salvation for afterlife
    • therefore, Christian art avoided representation of the human figure
      • realistic representation of world disappeared
      • nudes forbidden, ignored anatomy. Interest in soul and instructing new believers
  • Dura-Europos (modern-day Syria) - link to wikipedia page
    • Hellenistic settlement, founded shortly after death of Alex Great
    • population evacuated in 256, due to threat of Persian invasion
    • became known as the “Pompeii of the desert”; cult buildings & shrines left in tact.
  • The Synagogue:
    • was originally a private house; converted into synagogue in latter part of 2nd Century (exemplifies that great tolerance was given towards one another)
    • multiple religions of 1st through 4th Centuries
    • walls contain three (3) levels of old testament scenes; divided into compartments like Pompeii paintings
    • Torah niche, with bench along walls; below -- imitation stone.
  • prophet Samuel anoints (with oil) the future King of Israel - David (who wears Roman purple), while his older brothers look on
  • Samuel = larger (indicative of importance)
  • several figures (David's brothers) are missing feet (appears haphazard, somewhat like shorthand)
  • compositions here are devoid of emotion and action; told through gestures and figures standing in rows
  • notice, however - the togas & the somewhat lackluster attempt to represent figures in classical repose (contrapposto)

Model of Christian Community House (Dura-Europos)
ca. 240 - 256

Q: Describe the Christian community house at Dura-Europos.
Q: Why was the Dura-Europos Christian community house small?
Q: For the early Christians, when was the act of baptism performed?
  • House 300 yards from synagogue (testament to the tolerance that must have occurred in this area).
  • Church typical roman house: red cross painted above main entrance alerted was gathering place.
  • Remodeled private residence in poor district, courtyard surrounded by rooms.
  • No more than 70 could fit, raised platform at one end.
  • Canopy-covered font for baptismal rites.
  • Baptismal font – in the house church
  • Christianity close to Judaism; based on writings, monotheistic, no blood sacrifices (symbolic). Early 3rd frontiers eroding, economy in steep decline. Decius issued edict requiring every citizen to sacrifice to the gods exempting Jewish: respect for ancient god. Caused 1st persecution, preferred martyrdom (new concept) with eternal life. Cult of martyrs became popular, increase thru middle ages. Diocletian so concerned by growing popularity in army ordered persecutions in 303-305.

CATACOMBS - literally means “in the hollows”

Q: Catacombs -- What does the word mean?
Q: What occurred here? What was the original function of the catacombs?
Q: What are the misconceptions associated with the catacombs? Describe several reasons for debunking these misconceptions (theories).
Q: Describe the common iconography or subject matter found in the catacombs.
Q: Why was Jonah an important figure for early Christians?

  • Persecution ended with Constantine; he believed the Christian God was source of his power, rather than an opposing threat. Christianity legalized by Edict of Milan (313 CE).
  • Burial rites and safeguarding of tombs very important. Most significant monuments before Edict of Milan were catacombs (subterranean networks of chambers as cemeteries). 2nd – 4th Centuries = in constant use, 4 million bodies may have been in Roman catacombs alone.
  • Passageway 3-4 feet wide, 8’ high in gridiron plan of 2-4 stories. Wall openings cut for bodies, called loculi. Each loculi had 2-3 bodies. Eventually 60-90 miles of tunnels and corridors housing as many as 4 million bodies.
  • During persecution = places to hide (bad theory). Another theory (correct one): not secret or used as hiding (from 19th C romantic imagination).
  • Catacomb art - often quick, sketchy impression, air spoiled by decomposing corpses, humidity, lighting unfit. Awkward and tiring poses, all contribute to mediocre quality.

Painting on Ceiling of Catacombs of St. Peter and Marcellinus: Good Shepherd, Scenes from Jonah

Q: How does the theme of the “Good Shepherd” reflect the heritage of the pre-Christian world?
Q: How does this show classical influence?
Q: Why is that important?
Q: How has the iconography been adapted to fit the new religion?
Q: What is the medium?
  • Similar to Roman houses.
  • large circle = dome of heaven; inside cross of faith.
  • Center sheep on Christ's shoulders (as good shepherd/like calf bearer); lost sheep retrieved = sinner who has strayed and been rescued.
  • Arms terminate in 4 lunettes.
  • Key episodes from story of Jonah: thrown from ship, emerges from ketos (sea dragon) whale (3 days), safe on land. Popular figure in EC funerary contexts, prefiguration of Christ rising from death. Jonah proof of Lords power to rescue faithful from death.
  • Between lunettes - man, woman, child, arms raised in prayer (orants - gesture of prayer, seeking heavenly reward)
  • note: gesture of upright arms / hands - also symbolic of crucifixion
  • The catacomb of San Pietroe Marcellino (Saints Peter and Marcellinus hereafter) extends to almost 3ha with 4.5km of subterranean galleries at three levels, containing between 20,000 and 25,000 burials (Guyon 1987; 2004).
  • Located to the south-east of Rome on the ancient Via Labicana; it lies some 3km from the city walls and from the gate of the same name. The catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus, now at Via Cassilina 631, is closed to the public (except by appointment).

  • Prior to Constantine: Christ is the youthful protector of flock.
    John 10:11 - "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
    1. good shepherd (or)
    2. young teacher
  • After Christianity declared state religion: Christ assumed imperial attributes (like those found in depictions of Roman emperors).
    1. halo
    2. purple robe
    3. throne (denoting ruler-ship)
    4. eventually, he was shown with beard of mature adult.

Early Christian Sarcophagus [Santa Maria Antique - Rome]
ca. 270

Q: How might one recognize a Christian sarcophagus?
Q: Examine the Sarcophagus of Santa Maria Antiqua; Describe the representations found within the work and explain how at least one figure being depicted was borrowed, adopted or adjusted” to suit the iconographic needs of the early Christian artists.

  • the wealthier used marble sarcophagi with Christian themes
  • here -- combo of classical motifs & religious themes
    • Left 1/3 - Jonah
    • Center - orant (muse, woman); and seated philosopher (poet). Muse reference to crucifixion, trees behind (wood of cross). Head of orant and poet faces blocked out for donor portraits, before knowing who would purchase.
    • Right - Christ as Good Shepherd, receiving baptism with dove of Holy Ghost for sacrificial rebirth into faith and salvation.

A note on Christian iconography -- "something borrowed"

Pagan models used and charged with new (Christian) meaning... [some examples]

  • Philosopher pose >> Christ as a teacher
  • Orpheus (plays music to pacify the animals) or Hermes (patron saint of shepherds, carrying a ram) >> Christ as "the good shepherd"
  • ALSO -- "types" like the Archaic Calf Bearer, and even motif of Hercules (who drapes the Nemian lion headress over his shoulders) >> models for Christ as "the good shepherd"
  • Bacchus or Dionysus >> becomes Christ in the vineyard -- amidst grapes, grapevines (fruit of the vine, blood of Christ, bountiful harvest, etc.)
  • Sol Invictus or Helios (sun god who guides his quadriga chariot across sky) / Apollo >> resurrected Christ or Christ as "light of the world"
  • Zeus or motifs of Roman emperors >> Christ in majesty / enthroned

  • Venus >> Eve
  • Endymion >> Jonah (who invariably prefigured Christ's passion & resurrection)
  • Victory / winged creatures >> angels / celestial beings

  • Roman basilica >> EC Church

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (Rome)
ca. 359
Q: Describe the compositional format of the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, state the various scenes depicted and explain why the artist may have been asked to incorporate them into such a work.
Q: How does this figure show classical influences?
Q: Why is that important?
Q: How has the iconography been adapted to fit the new religion?
Q: Why is this iconography significant?
Q: The Crucifixion is not directly portrayed here (as it was exceedingly rare anywhere prior to the fifth century); however, this sculptor alluded to it in two particular scenes here. Explain. Furthermore, are there any other possible references to the Crucifixion found throughout the sarcophagus?

  • Junius Bassus - a city prefect of Rome; baptized just before his death at age 42 in 359 (another example of wealthier members of society incorporating Christian themes into their sarcophagi).
  • composition: two (2) registers, each containing five (5) compartments framed by Roman columns
  • Center columns -- putti climbing vines (pagan rites of Bacchus).
  • both OT and NT scenes contained on the work
  • Upper left: Sacrifice of Isaac (prefigured Lord’s sacrifice of own son), St. Peter taken prisoner, Christ enthroned (rests feet on canopy supported by Roman sky god holding mantle over head to show ascension into the heavens and ruler of universe) = heavenly triumph over earth. Not Roman toga: Greek pallium (associated with teachers & philosophers) beardless, and youthful. Next -- Christ arrested, Christ before Pontius Pilate.
  • Lower left: Misery of Job, Fall of man, Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, Daniel in lions' den, St. Paul led to martyrdom.
  • note: L & R ends of lower register -- Misery of Job & St Paul led to martyrdom (represent redemption through suffering).

Statue of Christ (aka Christ Seated / Enthroned)
ca. 350-375
Q: What is the date of this image?
Q: How does this figure show classical influences?
Q: Why is that important?
  • Christ depicted as seated / enthroned
  • Christians accused pagans of worshiping statues as gods (Christians suspect of freestanding statuary)
  • Here, Christ wears Roman tunic, toga, sandals, holds unopened scroll
  • This is an extremely rare depiction of Christ; During the next centuries, even small scale statuettes cease entirely

Old St. Peter's [Rome / non-extant]

Q: Why were Christians churches built above the catacombs?
Q: Who was the apostle that founded the Christian community in Rome? What does his name mean (translation)? Why is he associated with being the figure with whom the first Christian church was found?
Q: Who commissioned the construction of what we refer to today as the Old St. Peter’s Basilica?
Q: Name the term used to describe the entrance porch of Old St. Peter’s?

Background on Old Saint Peter's Basilica
  • When received sanction, Christians needed setting to accommodate rapidly growing numbers. Eager to provide buildings, especially memorials of founding saints. Constantine endowed architectural enterprise, basilicas, memorials, and mausoleums in Rome, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. Dual role of emperor and promoter of Christian faith; new churches on outskirts to avoid confrontation (this was a nice diplomatic move on part of Constantine). Greatest in Rome = Old St. Peter's, eventually replaced in Renaissance.
  • Built in center of what was to become the Vatican city, spot St. Peter had been buried. Excavations revealed 2nd Century memorial, convinced this was burial place, built church to house 4000. Immense cost, enshrine 2nd most hallowed site in Christendom, next to Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (Resurrection).
  • Fulfilled prophecy of “Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”. Peter = founder of Christian community in Rome, first bishop, head of line of popes. Lived in Rome after death of Christ, city bishop for 25 years. Martyred between 64 and 67 (reign of Nero). Crucified head-down (fearing to rival glory of Lord, nailed with feet in air and head downward) near vicinity of Vatican. Archeological excavations unable to confirm site.
  • Resembles Roman basilicas, was a perfect prototype for a church. Entrance faced apse where altar stood, (same place for judge or presiding official/s).
    • Greco-Roman temples -- built to house cult statue; therefore could only be adapted with difficulty to accommodate large numbers.
    • E.C. basilica contained a nave (center aisle), apse (at end of nave), aisles (on either sides of nave), and clerestory (higher windows above nave).
  • Later churches: above altar, a crucifix facing congregation; took place in EAST; most oriented with Eastern Altar. Because… Christ faced towards the WEST when crucified.

Plan: Old St. Peter's
  • wide nave (300 feet long), flanked by aisles and ending in apse.
  • Proceeded by open colonnaded courtyard.
  • Entered through narthex
  • when emerge into nave, view of altar in apse framed by triumphal arch (called a chancel arch) (transferring Roman emperors’ triumph into triumph of Christ)
  • New feature: transept
    • crossing marks St. Peters grave
    • housing relics – memorabilia of saint(s); pilgrims came to see
    • became standard element only much later, taking-on symbolism of cross.
  • Huge marble baldacchino (dome-like canopy over an altar) supported by spiral columns (sent from Greece by Constantine).
  • Catacombs - beneath church; over time crypt used for popes, also eventually lined side aisles.

Santa Sabina [Rome]
  • Built a century after Constantine's Old St. Peter's….
  • Reason for showing this image has to do with providing a good example of what Constantine’s Old St. Peters may have look like – especially in terms of the timbered ceiling.
  • No lavish exterior sculpture (probably like Aula Palatina [Trier, Germany]).
  • Inside: frescoes, mosaics, marble columns, chandeliers, gold & silver vessels used for Mass.
  • Likened to ideal Christian: somber and plain exterior, glowing and beautiful soul within.
  • Columns in nave (and the repeated arches) create a steady rhythm that focuses attention on apse and altar. Light from clerestory windows, illuminated frescoes and mosaics of nave, triumphal arch and apse. Spandrels marble images of chalice and Paten for Eucharist. Decoration of upper walls lost, triforium typically decorated with scenes from OT or Gospels.

Santa Costanza [Rome]
ca. 337-351
Q: Explain the themes represented in the interior decorative program of Santa Costanza.

The Early Christians also adopted a central plan building, with round or polygonal dome.
    • In WEST, generally mausoleums, baptisteries; in EAST, this type of plan was adopted for the churches.
    • Central altar with clerestory windows, circular barrel vaulted ambulatory.

View of Interior (Santa Costanza)
Mausoleum of Constantia - Rome, Italy
  • Constantine's daughter; sarcophagus was inside.
  • Only later was this converted into a church.
  • Dome on 12 pairs granite columns with composite capitols supporting round arches from earlier pagan buildings.
  • Bay opposite door -- held sarcophagus.

Section & plan (of Santa Costanza)
  • Modified to accommodate ambulatory (corridor separated from dome by columns).
    • ambulate = to walk
    • circumambulate = to walk around in a circle pattern
  • Adjacent to basilica church of St. Agnes whose tomb was in nearby catacomb.
  • It's as if the nave of EC basilica has been bent around a circle.
  • brick exterior <<< >>> interior mosaics
    • mosaics
      • most have been lost
      • OT & NT scenes found side-by-side

Vault Mosaic (of Santa Costanza)
  • Secular subject matter in ambulatory; Christian subject matter in apsidial chapels.
  • Portrait bust of Constantia amid vine scroll with Bacchic putti and birds, putti harvesting grapes (with vying birds) and producing wine.
  • Bottom edge drive wagons of grapes to pavilion with vats where more putti trample into juice.
  • Typology: Bacchus >>> Christ… “I am the vine…”

Mausoleum of Julii (Christ-Helios): Christ as Sol Invictus
(located under Saint Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican)
250-275 CE
  • Earliest known mosaic explicitly Christian content.
  • Christ as the sun in pagan cemetery under St. Peters.
  • Vines of Dionysus become vines of Christ.
  • Pagan sun god Apollo merged, rayed halo, driving horses of sun chariot and holding orb in left hand for domination over world.
  • Much more grand than the Good Shepherd mosaic (Galla Placidia).

Santa Maria Maggiore [Rome]

Santa Maria Mag Mosaic - Parting of Abraham

Q: Compare / contrast the Early Christian church of Santa Maria Maggiore to the Byzantine church of San Vitale (Ravenna) in terms of plan, architectural features and decoration.

  • People of Abraham and nephew Lot had grown too large: agreed to separate and lead followers in different direction.
  • Lot with his 2 daughters (instruments of evil) in front of him; to right city of Sodom.
  • Abraham stays in Canaan; moves toward building (maybe a basilica / church?) on left with unborn Isaac of before.
  • Separation emphatic by heads turning in glance and gesture. Wide eyes turned in sockets, hands, opposite movements.
  • Cast shadows -- give 3D appearance (a persistent classical convention, one which will soon be exceedingly rare in upcoming art)

A note about mosaics.

The need: To advertise new faith, and to instruct; They needed a medium to carry their message.
The answer: Bold, colorful glass mosaics.

Ravenna mosaics vs. Roman mosaics
  • Ravenna invented use of brilliant reflective glass for mosaics (and new cement); Romans used opaque marble (little glare / reflection).
  • more color in glass and reflective with gold leaf backings; Roman mosaics employed subtle, softer color.
  • bold contrast: Not intended for subtle changes like paint, color placed not blended (resulting in a greater flatness); Romans mosaics incorporate more subtle color transitions and gradations from light to dark [more akin to medium of painting].

Form and function
Because they were designed to be seen from distance (and the message is of greatest importance), certain artistic provisions were necessary:
  • used larger stones
  • surfaces left uneven to reflect
  • simple for legibility

Masoleum of Galla Placidia
Ravenna, Italy
ca. 425

Q: Explain the importance the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia has for the architectural history of Ravenna.

Background on Galla Placidia
  • Theodosius I made edict establishing Christianity as state religion, then ban against pagan worship. In spite of ban, paganism persisted; pagan philosophy still taught in schools in Athens. Loyalty to Greco-Roman gods: belief they caused greatness of Rome. 394 Olympic games abolished (end of paganism of games to gods). When he died, power to 2 sons ArcadiusEmp of East and Honorius of west. Visogoths threatened to overrun Italy, Honorius moved capital from Milan to Ravenna. Ravenna crucial to Byz empire, strategic location of trade. Rav last capital of Western Roman Empire.
  • City surrounded by swamps (easily defended). Honorarius died, reins of gov to half sister, Galla Placidia who had been captured by Visogoths in Rome, married Visogothic chieftain, retuned to Ravenna after his death.
  • Galla Placidia empress ruled western Roman empire. Early fusion of longitudinal basilican church and central plan, small cruciform structure with dome covered crossing, will have long history. Dedicated to St. Lawrence, designed to house sarcophagus of Honorius and Placidia, built 25 years before her death.

Exterior view: Galla Placidia
  • Barrel vaulted arms.
  • Plain brick exterior, but encloses richest mosaic program in EC art.
  • Every square inch in mosaic; nave, cross arms, dome, snowflakes, saints and apostles.

Galla Placidia Mosaic [entrance wall] - Christ as Good Shepherd
Q: Examine the following mosaic: Christ as the Good Shepherd (Galla Placidia) at Ravenna; How is this rooted in the classical tradition?
  • Above entrance, most regal scene.
  • Young man in pose as philosopher
  • Halo - from representations of emperor as sun-king, cross also originally imperial device.
  • No longer carries lamb, seated among flock
  • Gold and purple robe.
  • Cruciform staff alluding to his death.
  • Rocks in 3 steps; trinity and St. Peter (the rock).
  • Sheep in groups of 3 in landscape from foreground to background.
  • Distance by darkening sky.
  • Looks 3-D, cast shadows.

Sant'Apollinare Nuovo
Theodoric constructed palace-church, 3 aisled basilica dedicated to the Savior.
Later relics of St. Apollinaris transferred, rededicated and called Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.

Interior: Sant’Apollinare Nuovo
  • Mosaics in three zones
    • upper two Theodoric time
    • OT patriarchs and prophets between windows
    • life of Christ alternate with decorative above
Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes
Q: Examine the following mosaic: The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes; Why the stylistic change?
Q: Name the imperial attributes found in the Christ figure here. Why has Christ taken on such attributes (as opposed to his previous depictions)?

  • This is 80 years older than the mosaic from Galla Placidia

Stylistic change:
  • Jesus -- beardless
  • cross-inscribed nimbus (halo)
  • imperial dress (gold and purple robe)
  • faces us directly (frontality) -- directly facing the viewer is new
  • gold background (blue sky of physical world >>> now >>> gold of heavens [standard from now on])
  • No attempt at extraneous details
    • wanted to show sacramental character performing miracle of God
    • in almighty power, least number of figures necessary, aligning laterally and moving close to foreground.
    • land merely suggested by few rocks and bushes enclosing.
    • figures still cast shadows and have some volume; but - shadows in drapery now become bars (will soon disappear)

Directs disciples to distribute miraculous bread and fish to crowd (many people with Jesus, got late, told disciples to feed: only had 5 loaves and 2 fishes, food fed 5,000 people w/plenty to eat and 12 full baskets left).

Christ in pallium, disciples bringing tribute with covered hands (usual at time for tribute to a ruler).

The 3 F's: flat, frontal, floating

The Old Farmer Corycus [folio 7 verso of the Vatican Vergil]
BibliotecaApostolicaVaticana, Rome (Tempera on parchment)
ca. 400-420

Q: Why were illuminated manuscripts made more precious and expensive than earlier ancient books / scrolls?

Survival of books great
  • Therefore, 1000’s of texts in Hebrew, Greek, Christian themes available to mosaicists.

Constantine summoned people from Alexandria (intellectual center for Jews & pagans since Hellenistic) and great Episcopal sees of Christian church.
  • Established library where authorities gave instruction.
  • Learning transmitted by copying and recopying manuscripts.

Codex replaces scroll as popular book form
  • Copying and preservation aided by scroll (papyrus) replaced.
  • Codex made of vellum (calfskin) and parchment (lambskin), like modern book with separate pages inside cover bound at one side.
    • Better painting surfaces, scroll drawings would crack and come off during rolling and unrolling.
    • Transition also changed continuous narrative to series of individual pictures.
  • Copied as faithfully as possible, along with pictures, (recommended despite 2nd commandment, pictures in churches and books to instruct illiterate).

During the 6th C, texts and cycles of illustration to them agreed on, denaturing of classical forms advanced. Distant from worldly themes, naturalism, perspective; little regard given to pagan ideals of beauty in following centuries.

Rebecca and Eliezer at Well
Vienna Genesis (Tempera & gold on purple vellum)
early 6th C
  • Often dyed pages purple = COSTLY (from shells of mollusks)
  • Originally 96 folios; only 24 survive.
  • Vienna Genesis = Earliest well-preserved codex containing Biblical scenes.
  • Continuous narrative, becomes common in medieval art.
  • Story from Book of Genesis (opening of Bible); Rebecca leaves city of Nahor for water, gives water to Eliezer and his camels. Sign that he knows she is future wife for Isaac. 10 camel heads shown here; fewer bodies = story adjusted to communicate story as told.
  • City viewed from above. Rebecca walks on colonnaded avenue, source of well water; seminude female personification of a spring.
  • Book for imperial use: made to present to emperor (purple); lettered in silver (now black).

Some notes about Tyrian Purple
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  • A child born into a reigning emperor’s family was porphyrogenitos, “born into the purple”.
  • The dye substance consists of a mucous secretion from the hypobranchial gland of one of several medium-sized predatory sea snails found in the eastern Mediterranean.
  • Tyrian purple was expensive: the 4th-century-BC historian Theopompus reported, "Purple for dyes fetched its weight in silver at Colophon" in Asia Minor.
  • The expense rendered purple-dyed textiles status symbols.
  • Early sumptuary laws dictated and forbade their use. The production of shellfish purple was tightly controlled in Byzantium and subsidized by the imperial court, which restricted its use for the coloring of silks for imperial use.

Christ before Pilate
Rossano Gospels (Tempera on purple vellum)
early 6th C

Q: With respect to the Rossano Gospels
  • When were they written?
  • Why are they significant?
  • How has the iconography shifted?

  • Earliest illuminated manuscript with New Testament scenes.
  • People form an arch; may be based on painting in an apse.
  • Jesus (bearded adult, soon became norm) before Pilate, asks Jews to choose between Jesus and thief Barabbas in continuous narr. 2 levels separated by ground line, upper Pilate presides, people choose to let Bar off and demand death of Jesus as Judas returns the 30 pieces of silver. Jesus and bound Barabbas on lower, Bar with name inscribed as further clarity. Christ with cross-inscribed nimbus.

Suicide of Judas and Crucifixion of Christ
Plaque from a box (ivory)
ca. 420
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Q: How has the iconography been adapted to fit the new religion?
Q: How has the iconography shifted?
  • Ivory carving was a luxury art; private ownership, viewed at close range.
  • This is one plaque from a series of panels for ivorybox w/ suffering and triumph of Christ.
  • Judas hangs from tree with snapped neck and open bag of silver.
  • Earliest known rendition of the crucifixion, appears weightless: does not hang but is displayed.
  • Conquering death, eyes open.

Woman sacrificing at an altar
Right leaf of the diptych of the Nicomachi and the Symmachi (ivory)
ca. 400

Q: Why is the Diptych of Nicomachi and Symmachi significant?

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  • A Diptych is a pair of hinged tablets, usually of wood, with wax layer on inner sides for writing letters and documents. A court scribe in Rossano gospel has one as well as woman of the couple in Pompeii painting.
  • Testifies to the endurance of pagan themes.
  • May be marriage of 2 powerful Roman families -or- passing of 2 prominent males of the two families.
  • Pagan priestess celebrating rites of Bacchus (wears ivy in hair). Burns incense at altar, assisted by child, outdoors under oak tree: sacred to Jupiter.