Early Christian and Byzantine art started after Jesusí death in the first century ranging and ending to the fourth century AD. The art produced during this period was secretive because Christianity was not a formal religion but as a cult; the Romans and rest of Europe persecuted Christians so the artist disguised their work with symbols and hints of Christian aspects. Christianity was the first cult to not involve rituals of sacrifice of animals and refused to worship an Emperor causing the Roman Empire to make Christianity illegal. Byzantine art excelled in the Justinian period in the east during 520-540 AD. The art was produced in Ravenna, Byzantine, Venice, Sicily, Greece, and Russia. The difference between Christian and Byzantine was Christian was earth beyond realism and Byzantine was more spiritual than worldly style. This art period was sectioned off into three different periods. The first was persecution from the first to the third century. The second was due to Constantine making Christianity legal in the fourth century. The last period is known as New Christian style starting in the fifth century. Most of the art from this period was frescoes, mosaics, and architecture.
Byzantine art had many basic characteristics. The first was expressionistic using color and emotion. Many of the are lacked depth in a two dimensional fashion. The art was symbolic in nature, decorative, detailed. The figures are stiff and rigid with gold.
The first period, the persecution, involved roman subject matter and roman style because of the strength and knowledge of the Roman Empire. However, the artist used Christian meaning in symbols to celebrate their religion. Such symbols were a piece of garland meant victory over death, a tendril was the Eucharist, a nude figure is Christmas, a peacock is immortality, and a flying bird is a soul flying to heaven.
The second period, the emergence stage, used Christian subject matter and Roman style. They used Roman style because that is what the artist were taught and used to but were now aloud to use Christian subject matter. Problems set forth during this period because Roman realism was not appropriate for the Christian message. The Christian art was about soul and not body.
The Good Shepherd in the Catacombs of St. Pietro and Marcellius is a fresco found in Rome during the fourth century. It contains shapes of crosses with Christ in the center and the good shepherd. It uses orans that are figures without stretched hands representing a prayer towards Heaven.
The Church of San Vitale is made from either 350 to 500 AD. It is made of sliver and gold. The subject matter is two figures of Christ from his younger years and the other is from his martyrdom. Figures of apostles, animals, and birds woven into a network of vines, branches, leaves, and grapes.
The Church of San Vitale is found in Ravenna with a brick facing. It is a centrally planned church with a ground level, gallery, and clerestory. The inside shows Old Testament and New Testament scenes, symbols, patterns, and imperial portraits. Those are beautiful gold mosaics.
The Apse Mosaic is found in San Vitale. The subject matter is a beardless Christ in the center. He wears a halo containing the image of Christ and purple robe of royalty. It is natural because of the landscape terrain, shading, and drapery. It is unnatural because the folds are not natural, frontal, Christ is not logically supported by the globe.
The Court of Justinian is a mosaic at the left side of the apse at San Vitale. The subject matter is the emperor wearing royal purple and the ArchBishop Maxima. Large green shields with the words Chi-Ris are shown. This depicts Justinian as Christ represented on earth and head of the Church and state.
The Basilica of Haggai Sophia is found in Constantinople. The subject matter is designs of Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Milefus. It is completely original, monumental, and the first domed basilica.
The Early Christian and Byzantine art period is the founder of most art found later in the western world. Christianity subject matter is the prime source of art up to the modern era. We find religious art in all styles and the major artists used Christianity in most of their paintings and built structures for Christian churches.
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