Early Christian, Jewish, and Byzantine Art
Early Christian art ps from the first to fifth centuries followed by the vast era of Byzantine art from the fifth century to the 16th century in Eastern Europe. Much of the art during this period had a religious context or enacted a religious purpose. The paintings and mosaics were meant to remind worshippers of their God, and the architecture was meant to serve both functional and aesthetic purposes.
When Constantine I issued the Edict of Milan in 313 and moved the center of the Roman’s empire from Rome to Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire and Constantinople became the center of power and culture. The architecture of the Christian era came in two forms: the basilica and central plans. The basilica plan typically contains a large nave, an apse and an atrium on either end, clerestory windows, and two side aisles along the nave. This plan is found in The Church of Santa Sabina.
The central plan, or tholos, served as tombs, martyrs’ churches, or baptisteries. These plans typically contain either a sarcophagus or altar at the center and most often have a large dome on top. This plan is found in the Church of Santa Costanza and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, which employs the cruciform, or cross-shaped, style. Mosaics during the Christian era sometimes used syncretic images such as in Harvesting of Grapes in the ambulatory of the Church of Santa Costanza.
The architecture of Byzantine art is characterized much by the Church of Hagia Sophia, or “Holy Wisdom. ” This church combines the two floor plans of the Christian period, basilica and central. It has pendentives to hold its massive dome, flowing layers of half domes along its exterior wall, and many windows to let the gold on the mosaics shimmer. The Church of San Vitale is designed in a central plan but is interesting in that it has a very modest, unassuming exterior, but a complex, mosaic-covered interior.
Two mosaics depicting Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora represent how artists employed reverse perspective. The Transifguration of Christ as St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai depicts Christ in a blue mandorla which represents royalty and glory. The mosaics in later centuries depict Christ in a Pantokrator fashion: a bust level portrait of Christ with book in one hand and “peace” in other. This Late Byzantine art also depicts Christ in new ways, such as the Crucifixion and together with Mary in Virgin of Vladmir.