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.
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
The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month. Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” ...
“You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth. It shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And you shall make a molding of gold around it. And you shall make two golden rings for it. Under its molding on two opposite sides of it you shall make them, and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. ...

Wall painting was substantially cheaper than mosaics and was therefore reserved for poorer churches. Later, however, as economic difficulties grew, it became a more widespread alternative. It was characterized by large-scale 'architectural' compositions - Byzantine muralists typically used an entire wall as their 'canvas' - typically filled with narrative detail without regard to principles of time and place. Famous extant Byzantine Christian murals include: those in the burial chamber (450-500) at Nicaea (Iznik); the Weeping Christ (1164, Church of St Panteleimon, Nerezi, Skopje, Macedonia); the Crucifixion (1209, Church of St Joachim and St Anna, Studenica, Serbia).
Immortal religious paintings from the Renaissance include: The Flagellation of Christ (1460) by Piero della Francesca; The Last Supper (1495-98) and The Virgin of the Rocks (1484) by Leonardo da Vinci; Lamentation over the Dead Christ (c.1490) by Andrea Mantegna; The Sistine Madonna (1513) and The Transfiguration (1518-20) by Raphael; The Assumption of the Virgin (1516-8) by Titian; the Assumption of the Virgin (Parma Cathedral) (1524-30) on the ceiling of the dome in Parma Cathedral by Correggio; The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563) and Feast in the House of Levi (1573) by Paolo Veronese; and The Crucifixion (1565) by Tintoretto. The greatest Christian Renaissance sculpture included: The Gates of Paradise (1425-52, Florence Baptistery) by Lorenzo Ghiberti; The Incredulity of St Thomas (1467) by Andrea Verrocchio; numerous items of devotional terracotta sculpture by the Florentine Della Robbia family; Pieta (1500), David (1504) and the Tomb of Pope Julius II (1505-45) by Michelangelo. But surely the most iconic Christian art of the 16th century must be the Sistine Chapel frescoes, painted by Michelangelo. These include The Genesis Fresco (1508-12) - see in particular The Creation of Adam (God Passing the Spark of Life). Christian Wall Art
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