Since its beginnings during the first century of the Roman Empire, Christianity has spread around the world to become the principal religion, value-system, and social agenda of mankind: at least until the 20th century. Run first by Christ and the Apostles, it gradually gave birth to its own hierarchical organization, the Christian Church, which over time became the largest and most influential patron of the arts. Indeed, from the outset, the Christian Church used many different types of art in order to create an identity for itself, increase its power and thus attract worshippers. In the process it developed its own Christian iconography, relying heavily on architecture (cathedrals, churches, monasteries), sculpture (statues of the Holy Family, as well as prophets, apostles, saints), painting (altarpieces, church murals), decorative art (stained glass, mosaics) and illuminated manuscripts (Gospels, psalters). In fact, during the early 16th century, the Church commissioned so much Biblical art - using money raised through higher taxes, and the 'sale' of benefices and indulgences - that it led to widespread protests: protests that coalesced into the Reformation, and the division of the Church into Roman Catholic and Protestant. Even so, one can say that, in the West at least, the history of art is the history of Christian art. Christian Gifts
Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz. They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith; their clothing is violet and purple; they are all the work of skilled men. But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. Thus shall you say to them: “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.” Christian Wall Art
In addition, there are numerous expressionist works by the French Catholic painter Georges Rouault, notably his series of The Holy Face, the Crucifixion and Christ Mocked, which make him one of the most important Christian artists of the 20th century. A similar accolade could be bestowed on the Russian fantasy painter Marc Chagall, whose imaginative Jewish art and scenes from the Old Testament were followed later by his series on religious themes - The Bible Message - now on display at the Cimiez Museum, in Nice. Chagall also produced a number of stained-glass designs for the cathedrals of Metz (1968), and Reims (1974), as well as the Hadassah Synagogue near Jerusalem. In addition, he was noted for the tapestry art that he designed for the Knesset.
With the fall of Rome and the disintegration of the Roman Empire, Western Europe entered the Dark Ages (400-800), a period of political uncertainty and cultural stagnation. The only possible unifying force was Christianity, but with Rome sacked and the Roman Church under pressure, its influence was limited. Only in Ireland, a country cut off from the European mainland, did Christianity flourish. In fact, Irish Monastic art and culture was critical in keeping alive the ideas of classical antiquity, as well as the message of the Bible. Early Medieval art in Ireland was dominated by the making of illuminated manuscripts, notably the Cathach of St. Columba (c.610), the Book of Durrow (c.650-80), the Lichfield Gospels (c.730), the Echternach Gospels (690-715), the Lindisfarne Gospels (698) and the stunning Book of Kells (800). Because of the country's ongoing tradition of Celtic art, most Irish manuscript illustrators used abstract Celtic designs, rather than figurative imagery preferred by Continental artists. Christian Wall Art