The Catholic Church launched the Counter-Reformation to fight for the hearts and minds of those Christians who had 'gone over' to Protestantism. To this end, the Society of Jesus (Societas Jesu) - founded by S. Ignatius Loyola and commonly known as the Jesuits - was formally established in 1540 by Pope Paul III, as an important teaching body and missionary order. Jesuit art was suitably inspirational. First, the architect Giacomo Barozzi (Vignola) was commissioned to design a church for the new order - The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus (Il Gesu) (1568-73) - for which the Baroque painter Giovanni Battista Gaulli painted the fabulous trompe l'oeil ceiling frescoes. Another Jesuit church, the San Ignazio, was the setting for what is arguably the greatest example of quadratura painting ever created - The Triumph and Apotheosis of St Ignatius of Loyola (1691-4) by Andrea Pozzo. There exists no greater exemplar of Counter-Reformation painting, and no better example of the differences between Protestant and Catholic art.
As it was, Byzantine architecture achieved its distinctive forms during the life of Justinian, who built four major churches in Constantinople, including: the Basilica of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (begun 526); the Basilica of Saint Irene (begun 532); the Basilica of the Apostles (536-46) - whose design was replicated in St Mark's Cathedral in Venice - and the greatest of all, the Basilica of Hagia Sophia (1532-37) (converted to a mosque in 1453, now a museum). Crowned by a massive dome whose weight was carried to corner piers by revolutionary concave triangular sections of stone, called pendentives, and decorated throughout with gold mosaics and multicoloured marble, the Hagia Sophia was the culmination of Roman architecture and a huge inspiration for later buildings throughout the Middle East, including the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.

The Orthodox Church of Constantinople, which enjoyed greater stability within the surviving Eastern Empire was key in commissioning imagery there and glorifying Christianity. As a stable Western European society emerged during the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church led the way in terms of art, using its resources to commission paintings and sculptures. Christian Wall Art
An interesting feature of Christian drawing from the Baroque period were the architectural drawings, prints and paintings of church interiors. Three of the leading exponents of this genre were: the Haarlem artist Pieter Saenredam noted for his architectural accuracy and his pictures of whitewashed church interiors (Interior of the Buurkerk, Utrecht, 1645); Emanuel de Witte, who was less concerned with technical accuracy and more interested in the atmosphere of the church (Interior of the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, 1680); and the Italian view painter (vedutista) Giovanni Paolo Panini (Interior of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, 1731). Christian Wall Art
Christian art of the 14th century, the pre-Renaissance era, was dominated by Giotto - see the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel Frescoes (c.1303-10) - and Duccio de Buoninsegna (1255-1318) - see the celebrated polyptych for Siena Cathedral, known as the Maesta Altarpiece (1308-11). After this came the Early Renaissance in Florence, exemplified by the city's duomo - for more, see: Florence Cathedral, Brunelleschi and the Renaissance (1420-36) - Masaccio (Brancacci Chapel frescoes) and Donatello (statue of David). If 15th century Christian art was dominated by Florence, the centre of 16th century Christian art was Rome, where the greatest patrons were Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84), Pope Julius II (1503-13), Pope Leo X (1513-21) and Pope Paul III (1534-49).
Many of these genre paintings contained subtle moral messages about how to live a Christian life, as well as not so subtle messages about the dangers of vice. This low-key Protestant iconography was a complete contrast to the intense Biblical scenes, such as the Crucifixion and the Lamentation, favoured by Catholic art. Still lifes provided another example of this moralistic art. Known as Vanitas painting, this genre consisted of arrangements of food and other objects laid out on a table, complete with symbolic messages that frowned upon gluttony and sensual indulgence. There were two varieties of vanitas paintings: "banquet pieces" (pronkstilleven), or "breakfast pieces" (ontbijtjes). Exponents of pronkstilleven included: Harmen van Steenwyck (1612-56), Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-84) and Willem Kalf (1622-93). While the leading practitioners of ontbijtjes included: Willem Claesz Heda (1594-1680) and Pieter Claesz (1597-1660). Christian Wall Art

The Italian Early Baroque painter Caravaggio was one of the heroes of the Catholic Counter-Reformation arts campaign. Not because of his piety, but because he painted Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles and Saints, with such unbelievable naturalism. Caravaggio's brand of unsophisticated realism was the perfect style for the Church's message. It gave key Biblical events an immediacy which no other painter had achieved. By abandoning the stylistic pretensions of late Mannerism - a style which was understood only by an educated minority, he provided the instant inspirational impact demanded by the Council of Trent. His greatest works include: The Calling of St Matthew (1600), The Martyrdom of St Matthew (1600), Conversion on the Way to Damascus (1601), Supper at Emmaus (1602), The Entombment of Christ (1601-3), The Crucifixion of St Peter (1601), and The Death of the Virgin (1601-6). His dramatic use of light and shadow was continued after his death by followers of so-called caravaggism. Christian Gifts

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.
2 Chronicles 2:14 - The son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father [was] a man of Tyre, skilful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen, and in crimson; also to grave any manner of graving, and to find out every device which shall be put to him, with thy cunning men, and with the cunning men of my lord David thy father. Christian Gifts
“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron's garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. These are the garments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests. They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. ...

Only one major innovative example of Christian church architecture was built in Europe during the 19th century - the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (1883), designed in a highly decorative neo-Gothic style by Antoni Gaudi. Celebrating the Holy Family and the mysteries of the Catholic faith, this extraordinary church with its tree-like formation of vaulted structures includes five towers and twelve campaniles. Made of stone and concrete, the building is embellished in parts with ceramic tiles, pompom finials and numerous sculptures, but is still not completely finished. Gaudi himself was inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and was associated with the Catalan Modernista school. Christian Wall Art
×