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.” Slideshare.net. Slideshare.net, 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.