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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.
Late Gothic sculptors, based in Germany during the 15th and early 16th century, produced a burst of exquisite Christian wood-carving in a series of spectacular triptych altarpieces, never since equalled. Noted for the emotion of their expressionist figures, These master carvers included Michael Pacher (1435-98), Veit Stoss (c.1447-1533), Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531) and Gregor Erhart (c.1460-1540). See: German Gothic Art (c.1200-1450). Share Your Faith Products
In 313, after almost three centuries of precarious existence (and a tradition of art limited to rings, seals, plus some paintings in the catacombs), Christianity was finally permitted to exist. In this year, the Roman Emperors Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, which legalized Christian worship. Then, in 380, Christianity's future was assured when Emperor Theodosius I, the last Roman Emperor to rule over all the empire, declared that henceforth it was the empire's sole authorized religion. During the 5th century, under pressure from barbarian attacks, the Roman Empire split into two halves: east and west. The eastern half, centered on Constantinople, adopted the Eastern Orthodox Church, becoming world-famous for its icon painting and mosaics; the western half remained in Rome, and continued to follow the Roman Church. The latter blossomed under Charlemagne and the Ottonians, and fully re-established itself with its huge building campaign of Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals (c.1000-1350). Later, in 1517, the Dutch pastor Luther launched the religous revolution, known as the Reformation, culminating in the formation of a more modest, less hierarchical form of Christianity, known as Protestantism, since when the Roman Church has been referred to as Roman Catholicism. Christian art encompasses both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as the earlier offshoot, the Eastern Orthodox Church.
A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. ...
The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. ... Christian Canvas Art
Given its theocratic nature, it is perhaps not surprising that Byzantine culture is more noted for its icons than its murals. First appearing during the early 4th century, these small-scale devotional diptych panel paintings (sometimes called "travelling icons") of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, or Saints, proved hugely popular. Church screens (iconostases) were filled with them, as were private homes. After the victory of the pro-figurative Iconodules over the Iconoclasts in 842, the production of icons increased dramatically, and the techniques of icon painting spread to Greece and Russia, notably to Kiev, Novgorod and Moscow. Famous examples of Byzantine icon paintings include: The Virgin Hodegetria (mid 5th century, Hodegon Monastery, Constantinople: now lost); St Peter (c.550, Monastery of St Catherine, Mount Sinai); St Michael (c.950-1000, Tesoro di San Marco, Venice); the Holy Virgin of Vladimir (c.1131, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow); Madonna of Don Icon (c.1380, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) by Theophanes the Greek, founder of the Novgorod school of icon-painting (c.1100-1500); and Mother of God Hodigitria (1502-3) by Dionysius, an early master of the Moscow School of painting (c.1500-1700). Share Your Faith Products
As the power of Rome declined, that of Constantinople grew. In 535, the armies of Justinian I (482-565), Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565, invaded Italy (mostly occupied by barbarians) and in 540 conquered Ravenna, which became the seat of Byzantine government in Italy. From 540 to 600, the Exarch of Ravenna instigated a major building program of churches in the city and its port township of Classe: they included the Basilica of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe. The Basilica of San Vitale combines a Roman dome, doorways and stepped towers, with a Byzantine polygonal apse, as well as Byzantine capitals, and narrow bricks. It is world famous for its Byzantine mosaics, the most spectacular and best preserved mosaic art outside Constantinople. For details, see: Ravenna Mosaics (c.400-600).
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 Gifts
As a secular, non-sectarian, universal notion of art arose in 19th-century Western Europe, ancient and Medieval Christian art began to be collected for art appreciation rather than worship, while contemporary Christian art was considered marginal. Occasionally, secular artists treated Christian themes (Bouguereau, Manet) — but only rarely was a Christian artist included in the historical canon (such as Rouault or Stanley Spencer). However many modern artists such as Eric Gill, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Jacob Epstein, Elizabeth Frink and Graham Sutherland have produced well-known works of art for churches. Salvador Dali is an artist who had also produced notable and popular artworks with Christian themes. Contemporary artists such as Makoto Fujimura have had significant influence both in sacred and secular arts. Other notable artists include Larry D. Alexander and John August Swanson. Some writers, such as Gregory Wolfe, see this as part of a rebirth of Christian humanism. Christian Wall Art