Christian Art


Iconoclasm:  Jewish tradition, Deut. 12:2-3:  “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree.  And you shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and burn their Asherim with fire, and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods, and you shall obliterate their name from the earth.”


2nd century, Justin Martyr, early Catholic writer, condemns pagans for using statues in worship.  Only Gnostics had such pictures then.  Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 to btw. 211 and 215) and Tertullian (c. 155 to after 220) believed similarly:  They saw the 2nd commandment as absolute and binding on Christians. 


C. 327 A.D. even after Constantine was on the throne, Eusebius of Caesarea, the first church historian, wrote to the sister of the emperor that she shouldn’t have asked him for a picture of Jesus.  True, he said, pictures of Jesus and the apostles are sold in the bazaars of Palestine, but he thought the painters and shopkeepers weren’t Christian who did so.  Church still changing in this regard overall.


Gregory the Great, Pope, 590-604 A.D.:  “Pictures are used in the church in order that those who are ignorant of letters may, merely by looking at the walls, read there what they were unable to read in books.”  Still few religious statues between 476 and 9th centuries A.D.


726-843 A.D.  Leo III begins iconoclasm, 745 ban occurs, orders all images of Christ, saints, and prophets to be destroyed.

843-Theodora, empress in East, legalizes them again.

Political dispute aspect:  monasteries also had too much power, inc. wealth w/o paying taxes mostly.  Def. of images (2D vs. 3D compromise).  Blinded, tortured, even killed.


*Catacombs:  Tombs outside Rome, earliest Christian art in them.  Up to 5 levels deep.  In use 2nd-4th centuries.  Also place of refuge in emergencies, such as during persecution.  Orans—basic, hastily done art, pictures of someone praying.  Arms raised in prayer.  Text, p. 316.  Symbolizes soul praying for salvation.  Realism not objective, nor beauty, but to be a symbolic reminder of human position under God.  Clarity and simplicity vs. realism or beauty.


*Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus:  Classical styles, notice pagan god Caelus holding up the sky.  (Under who?)  Text, p. 321.


How is Jesus (text, pp. 320-21) portrayed differently from today’s usual portrayals?  (Beard)


Jesus portrayed as king, ruler after 313 A.D., as shepherd or teacher before.  Text, p. 318, 322 vs. 325.  Halo, purple robe, throne, etc.


Christian art, c. 500 A.D., stops looking to observe nature closely, has conventions, formula of classics w/o change.  Simplicity, clarity emphasized; foreshortening, shadows, points through robes could still be done.


Byzantium:  Freezes, yet preserves, in place old classical innovations, but no new approaches down, such as shadows on face.


Basilicas, “royal halls.”  Needs large meeting halls so assembled laity can listen to priest/elder/bishop.  Old pagan temples—usually just a small shrine to the god in it, processions and sacrifices done outside.  Basilicas—semi-circular end where judge/official would sit (in apse).  Often had wooden roofs with visible beams, columns line sides.  Adopted for cathedrals, churches.


Old St. Peters (text, p. 324, compare to St. Paul’s):  Begun 333 A.D., very influential design.  Nave, main central area, bigger than most Gothic cathedrals built centuries later.  215 foot wide transept, cross aisle.  Entrance on end, not side.  Puts most visual emphasis on end where sacrifice done, the apse.  Decoration on inside, not outside.


*Hagia Sophia (text, p. 330):   Interior of 233 feet by 252 feet, with a dome 112 feet in diamter, up to 184 feet high over pavement.  Central dome approach, with circle of columns, although combined with lateral western approach in fusion of styles.

4 pendentives (see figure 11.23, vs. text, p. 44, avoids obstructed interior) as supports, concave spherical triangles, support dome, based on 70 foot piers that massive arches support.  Puts circular dome on top of squarish/rectangular sides, transitions between the two.  “Dome on dome,” the first partially cut away at top to support the second.


 Lots of light, like dome floats on light coming in from 40 large windows below.


Text, p. 425:  illuminated manuscripts:  intricate designs or paintings in books. 


Text, p. 325:  emphasis on gesture, movement away from body shape.  Classical naturalism not so important, the background becomes more abstract or symbols used more; no illusion to optical space.  Halo vs. aureole.


Carolingian art—Aachen—chapel of Charlemagne’s palace (text, p. 347).  Literally just took old columns from ruins, even capitals.  Wanted to build in stone, not wood, as Romans did for major buildings.


*Romanesque Style (Norman Style):  1000-1150/1200 A.D.  TEXT, p. 420.  “Fortress of God.”  By 1000 A.D., most of Europe Christianized, Vikings and Magyars tamed, so now can build with more security.  Blocky appearance, normally rectangles, cubes, cylinders, half-cylinders.


Stone roofs vs. wood:  dignity issue, fire hazard, open rafters problem.vs. weight.  Heavy, solid walls, few windows since would weaken support for roof.  Like a bridge arch that’s a tunnel.  Intended for monks, not laity—protective symbolism vs. outside hostile world. 


Basilica of St. Sernin in Toulouse, Text, p. 421.  Even spacing of columns directs attention towards apse, altar.


*Bayeux Tapestry, text, p. 422 (show prop, if available):  ornamental band at atop, casualties at bottom.  Brutal realism.  Done by Anglo-Saxon women.


Ste. Madelaine, Verzelay, text, p. 423:  Cross vaulting, avoid barrel arch problem with lighting, openings (doors also) being limited.  Used flying buttresses.


*Gothic Style, text, p. 426:  Pointed arches make weight go straight down more, less need for massive support. 


Unlike Far East, Egypt, even Byzantium, western Europe restless, kept changing artistic styles, befits Germanic national character.  Symbolism of Gothic restless, unfinished, vs. serene classical temple.  Italians slows to adopt it, saw it as “barbarous,” why called “Gothic.”


No need for fixed radius as in Romaneque Style.  Can change span, height easily.  Make flatter or more pointed at will.  Stained glass, allows for far more light since can have (crowns) points at same height, unlike a dome/barrel arch.

*Flying Buttresses (text, pp. 428, 432, 434):  Supports vaults at points of greatest thrusts from outside, not concealed (as was case in Romanesque architecture) by roofing. 


Have firm arches with lighter materials to fill in-between.

 Span arches/ribs crosswise between pillars, then fill in triangular sections in-between.  Rib vault on ceiling allows for uninterrupted light.  Use pillars inside as main support, not outside walls (i.e., the ribbing).  Ribs on stone—More soaring, light-filled.


St. Denis, A.D. 1144, Royal Court showed up, Text, p. 426.  Suger—Abbot of St. Denis—full of light.  Bernard of Clairvaux, emphasized faith, anti-ostentation, but Suger undid the latter.


Typanum:  Above lintel of doorway.  Can add all sorts of details ad hoc almost.


Notre Dame, Paris, text, p. 428:  Built 1163-1250.


Chartes, Notre Dame, text, pp. 429, 431:  Façade, 157 feet by 427 feet, spire of 344 feet (south one).  Nave, 130 feet long by 122 feet high.  44 foot high windows, 20,000 sq. feet of glass.  Even more stained glass.


Amiens, text, p. 432:  144 foot high nave.


*Sainte Chapelle, p. 433:  “Jewelbox”—almost no stone walls.  6,700 sq. fet of glass with 1134 scenes, colored light.  75% glass walls.  A set of piers support the glass.


Salisbury:  84 foot vault, but 404 foot spire;  1220 begun, 1380 done.


Beauvais:  157 foot high vault collapses in 1284; Exterior pier undermines it.  Delicate balance symbolism.


*Giotto, text. p. 439:  “Father of Western painting,” illusions of space, bulk, movement, human expression.  Discovered how to do a 3-D on a flat surface; took old Byzantium ethereal conventions, broke free of them.  Not picture writing, but could make illusion of dramatizing a real scene before us.  Tried to be very realistic.  Space carefully considered, not ignored by “squeezing,” didn’t try to show each figure fully.  But (say) only showed backs or sides, unlike Egyptian art.  Individualized mourning by figure, varied, brought in emotions.  Wit, dexterity discussed by average people.  Gained fame in own right, unlike artists and sculptors of most cathedrals like Chartes, Strasbourg, or Nambourg.