File - Second Time Is A Charm

Hollie Moffat
March 12, 2013
Art 1010
Early Christian and Byzantine Art
Early Christian and Byzantine Art refer to the art and architecture that was
produced for the Christian Empire during the rule of the Roman Emperor
Constantine the Great (reigned 306-337 CE.). Constantine was converted to
Christianity as a result of a vision he experienced while heading into the Battle of
the Milvian Bridge over the Tibet River against the emperor Maxentius in 312 CE.
Constantine believed he saw a lighted cross in the sky, followed by the words, “by
this, win”. As a result of his vision, Constantine had the cross symbol installed on all
of his soldiers shields. From the victory of this battle, Constantine was committed to
Christianity, and he would go on to pass the Edict of Milan in 313 CE. The Edict of
not only legalized Christianity, it also gave religious freedom to everyone, regardless
of belief.
Prior to the Edict of Milan, Christianity was illegal, and worshipers were
forced to meet in private, often hiding underground. They were forced to hide their
beliefs and practices for fear of persecution, so they built underground safe houses
called Catacombs. These also served as burial plots for the deceased. Early
Christians would paint pictures on the walls and ceilings inside the underground
passageways. The paintings inside the catacombs represented the power and glory
of Christ, and often used symbols to represent different aspects of Christianity.
Old St. Peters
After Christians were no longer forced to hide their beliefs, and where able to
start worshiping in public, they began to build churches. Some of these churches
were built on top of existing catacombs, and were built using the techniques of other
Roman architecture. One of the most impressive churches that was built was the Old
Saint Peter’s, which was modeled after the Roman basilicas, or meeting halls.
Although the basilicas had a plain exteriors, the interiors were much more dramatic.
Old St. Peter’s featured decadent mosaics and inlaid marble. Most of the early
churches are no longer standing, as the bulk of them were lost to fire.
The mosaics that decorated the Old St. Peter’s basilica were made with pieces
of glass and stone installed using a cement bed. These mosaics were installed on
walls where the light from the windows and candles caused them to flicker. Some
thought this gave the churches a mysterious glow, and began referring to them as
“Houses of Mystery”. This church also featured one of the most significant churches
built by Constantine. Today, as with most of the early churches built by Constantine,
Old St. Peter’s is no longer standing. Most of the early churches burnt down due to
the timber roof systems.
Byzantine Art
Byzantine Art refers to the period after Constantine died (527) and the
Roman Empire split into the East and West. Emperor Justinian took reign over the
Eastern Empire, and the art really began to flourish. Many beautiful churches were
built that adorned artwork that has been characterized as far more decorative in
detail than the early Christian art.
San Vitale
San Vitale is one of the most elaborate buildings that were built during the
Justinian era. The building was built around a center octagon, with a large dome at
the top. Eight massive piers surround the circle at the center of the octagon, and
between the piers are semicircular niches that resemble a flower. The interior is
decorated with beautiful Mosaics and marble, and has a very elaborate feel. One of
the most known Mosaic pieces in the San Vitale is called Justinian and Attendants.
This mosaic represents Justinian’s Victory over the Goths and proclaims him Ruler
over the Western half of the Empire. Another mosaic, that is located directly across
from Justinian and Attendants, is called Theodora and Attendants. Both of these
mosaics are located above the main entrance, or apse.
Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia is considered the most important of the buildings that
Justinian built. This building was built in Constantinople-now present day Istanbul.
This building has served as an Eastern Orthodox church, an Islamic mosque and a
museum. The size of the Hagia Sophia’s dome is considered monumental in
proportions. It is approximately 240 feet by 270 feet. The Dome rests on four huge
pillars which support the arches made of cut stone. This method allowed engineers
to create thinner walls and add more windows to light the interior of the church.
The exterior is made of a plain brick exterior, but inside the walls and
ceilings are adorn with the same beautiful mosaics that the Byzantine era is known
for. The mosaics were created to tell the stories of the Old and New Testament. One
of the best-known pieces inside the Hagia Sophia is the Mosaic called Virgin and
Child. The walls inside the Hagia Sophia are made of stone and marble brought in
from Egypt and Italy. They are decorated with gold, silver, ivory and gems. This type
of dramatic décor became trademark of the Byzantine Churches.
Works Cited
Brommer, Gerald. Discovering Art History. Worcester: Davis Pub. Inc, 1997.Print.
Cormack, Robin. Byzantine Art. Oxford. Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.
“Early Christian and Byzantine Art.”, 2012. Web.
1 Mar. 2013
Hutter, Irmgard. The Universe History of Art And Architecture: Early Christian and
Byzantine. New York. Universe Books, 1988. Print
Fichner-Rathus, Lois. Understanding Art. Boston. Clark Baxter, 2007. Print.