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.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: ...
And King Solomon sent and brought Hiram from Tyre. He was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in bronze. And he was full of wisdom, understanding, and skill for making any work in bronze. He came to King Solomon and did all his work. He cast two pillars of bronze. Eighteen cubits was the height of one pillar, and a line of twelve cubits measured its circumference. It was hollow, and its thickness was four fingers. The second pillar was the same. He also made two capitals of cast bronze to set on the tops of the pillars. The height of the one capital was five cubits, and the height of the other capital was five cubits. There were lattices of checker work with wreaths of chain work for the capitals on the tops of the pillars, a lattice for the one capital and a lattice for the other capital. ... 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. Christian Canvas Art
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. Christian Gifts
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).
Much of the art surviving from Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire is Christian art, although this in large part because the continuity of church ownership has preserved church art better than secular works. While the Western Roman Empire's political structure essentially collapsed after the fall of Rome, its religious hierarchy, what is today the modern-day Roman Catholic Church commissioned and funded production of religious art imagery.
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. ...
And King Solomon sent and brought Hiram from Tyre. He was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in bronze. And he was full of wisdom, understanding, and skill for making any work in bronze. He came to King Solomon and did all his work. He cast two pillars of bronze. Eighteen cubits was the height of one pillar, and a line of twelve cubits measured its circumference. It was hollow, and its thickness was four fingers. The second pillar was the same. He also made two capitals of cast bronze to set on the tops of the pillars. The height of the one capital was five cubits, and the height of the other capital was five cubits. There were lattices of checker work with wreaths of chain work for the capitals on the tops of the pillars, a lattice for the one capital and a lattice for the other capital. ...
“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. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: ... Christian Canvas Art