ARC 231: Early Christian art (Monday, Oct. 22 at 1 PM)

In 100 words or fewer, answer the following prompt:

  • How does the art in the Catacombs of Priscilla compare with your own experience with with Christian-inspired art (in churches, book illustrations, etc.)? Do the paintings in the catacombs seem very much tied to their own time, or do they represent timeless themes and motifs that you recognize?

28 Comments

  1. Reply
    Allyson Smith October 21, 2018

    Early christianity wants to branch away from the Roman faith, and not show as much art of Gods. However, the first art form seems to be a work of the Madonna and Child. It’s a woman nursing, and someone pointing at them holding a book. The christian inspired art that I see in churches are usually on stain glass windows, with simple images usually of Jesus giving something to someone. Which means most of the art stories are taken from the new testament. I think the paintings tie to their own time due to the fact that they wanted to separate from the Roman faith.

    • Reply
      Shawn Bandel October 28, 2018

      Ally,

      I would definitely agree with you when you made the claim that the Madonna and child was the first painting found within the tombs of Priscilla.You also made strong points when talking about how the art from the early christian architecture was specific to its time, as well as how you thought modern art is specific to its time. I would like to challenge this view, due to the fact that we can see Jesus depicted on the cross with two other crosses, one on each side. I would argue that this is a timeless theme and motif, due to the fact that we still see three crosses displayed in modern Christian art.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      Ally,
      Take a broad view of this art, both in the early period and more recently. The NT stories might be most familiar, but it would be highly unusual for any church program to exclude the OT, since the commentary on Christ as fulfillment of the Law is significant. For our period, San Vitale is a good example–you may wish to go back to that video and see the degree to which OT & NT imagery is intermingled.

      Shawn makes a good point with the evidence of the Crucifixion scene.

  2. Reply
    Rachel Norgren October 21, 2018

    Art in the catacombs of Pricilla is intriguing when compared to the modern christian art I have experienced. For instance, book illustrations and the art in the catacombs both are made in an effort to depict stories of the bible. Therefore, the paintings in the catacombs represent timeless motifs. I was able to recognize the connection between the painting of “the breaking of the bread” with the biblical story about the loaves and fishes right away. The catacomb paintings, although from long ago remain timeless.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      I find it interesting that the scenes are so consistent, both among (largely) illiterate/ancient congregations and modern, literate ones.

  3. Reply
    Dallas Colburn October 21, 2018

    It the paintings in the catacombs are images that contain timeless themes, however they are presented differently. For example, the painting on top the Sistine Chapel, in which there is a definite message behind the piece as well as very intricate art to go along with the story. In the catacombs however, it seems the art is more focused on the story itself and rather than aesthetics. One example is the woman with the baby which seems like Mary, however there is little detail and focus is on the event rather than the people.

    • Reply
      Timothy Gordon October 29, 2018

      It the paintings in the catacombs were based on all of the different themes. I do agree with what you said about the biggest difference between the two styles is that one is focused on the aesthetic while the other is focused on the telling of the stories

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      Dallas, Maybe your comment on aesthetics has a lot to do with the nature of the artist who worked here. Powerful artists who commanded great commissions were not as likely to be among the converted followers. At the same time, all artistic talent was in some process of degradation as the Empire began its collapse. There are probably some external factors that contribute to your observation.
      Also, Dallas & Tim, worth considering the function of the place,which will typically influence the choice of theme in a significant way.

  4. Reply
    Abigail Turrill October 22, 2018

    The art style in the Catacombs of Priscilla are primitive compared to what I generally first think of Christian art to be. However, lot of the ideas/meanings behind the art are the same. The image of Jesus as a shepherd and doves with olive branches are timeless images that were shown in the Catacombs and in churches all over the world today.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      Abigail,Please see note just above ^ (Dallas’ post) regarding the relative quality of the art in the catacombs.

  5. Reply
    Joseph Soetermans October 22, 2018

    The catacombs of Priscilla are quite similar to the Christian-inspired are of today. The themes tend to remain the same; however, there are some slight modifications of some stories that we do not see today. For example, in the Catacombs of Priscilla, the story of Abraham taking Issac to the mountain to be sacrificed was portrayed by Abraham leading Issac with Issac carrying a bundle of sticks on his back. In the more Westernized representations, we see Abraham about to sacrifice Issac before an angel stays his blade. Other examples, like the Madonna and Child, have been represented continuously.

    • Reply
      Peter Grosshans October 24, 2018

      How do you reconcile Exodus 20:4, which opposes the use of concrete images to represent the divine, with Christianity’s liberal use of figural images? Similarly, and arguably as an extension to the previous question, how does the Christian use of figural imagery separate themselves from the pagan use of figural images?
      The advantage of Biblical references communicated purely in architecture, such as the 12 niches (grottos)in Santa Costanza? (which may have referred to the 12 disciple) is that it successfully departs from the pagan dependence on figural images and avoids inserting divinity into that which is physical(idolatry)

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      To Peter’s question about the Christian use of figural images separating themselves from pagans: I don’t think you can make the case that they do!

  6. Reply
    Stephen Bishop October 22, 2018

    The art that was found in the catacombs at Priscilla seems to have set a very strong precedent for the visual interpretation of the Biblical characters. They each have motifs that could be found in every visual Bible or in the modern churches with scenes being copied only with updated levels of detail. The virgin mary especially must have set the precedent of the scene of her and baby Jesus as that layout was copied countless times.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      Interesting, though, that this very early art was of course long before many people had access to Bibles.

  7. Reply
    Teddy Kruzich October 22, 2018

    The paintings in the Catacombs of Priscilla depict the same scenes as a lot of art work I grew up with in church, and children’s books, such as Jesus being a good shepherd, Mary holding Jesus, and Daniel and the fiery furnace. These stories that the painters made are timeless because they are stories and lessons that are still taught in churches today. There is also a pictorial of Communion in the catacomb, which has been and always will be a necessity of practicing the Christian faith.

    • Reply
      Nate Madison October 29, 2018

      I agree that the art in the catacombs show timeless themes and scenes. One feature that separates these from modern Christian art is the complete absence of crucifixion scenes or any sort of cross iconography. This was an era in which Christians were just becoming comfortable with using images, and chose to focus on scenes of past faith heroes. For some reason, they chose to not depict the death and resurrection of Christ, which were the cornerstones of the faith. This may have been their attempt to not venerate the image over the person.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      Nate, Are you sure about the “complete absence”? Take care in making sweeping judgements based on a rather small set of evidence. Likewise, would the crucifixion be something to show in a burial place, or are other themes more evocative of the meaning of that place?

  8. Reply
    Brad Polan October 22, 2018

    The paintings in these catacombs seem like a much “simpler” version of paintings that one would see today in many churches in the way that they are not master paintings like something such as the ceiling of the sistine chapel. One of the reasons this may be is the amount of light. Down in the catacombs the painters had to work with light only from oil lamps which would be much dimmer than the natural light you would get above ground.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      You can imagine why it would be difficult to locate an artist of Michelangelo’s caliber in the late Empire and when Christianity remained illegal. More significantly, compare with the relative skill seen above ground, in Imperial works, to contextualize the catacombs’ work.

  9. Reply
    Gregory Boyce October 22, 2018

    For me, I can see the same theme represented in Christian art as time goes on. We see in the 4th century that Christian art is shown in the ceilings of a Roman church, but as time goes on these events and people may be represented elsewhere. Roman art is represented on the ceiling, and sometimes on the walls. As buildings developed over time, windows replaced some walls, and mosaic images of people were placed as windows, and this is still done today. Parallel to this, the image of Jesus is shown as a fish, and when Christians hear this, it is something they recognize. So, we can see that Christian-inspired art is a representation of themes and motifs that still exist today.

    • Reply
      Otiniano-Ponti, Luciano October 29, 2018

      Christian art has been continuously changing through time. From the first basilicas in Rome, to the churches and chapel we can see today. This type of art often has a reference to symbolisms stating the image of God through these. Like Gregory explained, the fish is a popular symbol that was used. The mosaics changed into tainted glass windows and the paintings in the walls “al fresco” changed to actual paintings on canvases.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      Luciano, so when you say “change” you mean just the media?

  10. Reply
    Erica Gonzalez October 22, 2018

    The Catacombs of Priscilla compare to my own experience at church where they show scenes from the Bible. The use and value of the paintings and mosaics in their cultural experience were presented in the Catacomb. I get the same take away from when I go to church myself. The paintings represent important aspects of Christian life. They show timeless themes and motifs I recognize such as the “Breaking of the Bread”. The long table with 7 men behind it. They present inspirational scenes which are educational and instructive.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      …whether or not the audience was literate or not, which is an interesting aspect of this consideration.

  11. Reply
    Simi Omole October 22, 2018

    The art in the Catacombs of Priscilla seem to me, an obvious precedent to a lot of the Christian-inspired art I see around today. They started the depiction of stories from the Bible and this theme has been carried on to the present Christian-inspired art especially those of the major stories of the crucifixion and the last supper that are key in the Christian faith. As for things symbols such as the fish and the anchor as well as the inscriptions, they seemed to be tied to their own times as it is not common to see these around anymore.

    • Reply
      Aiden Stevens October 25, 2018

      I think that it is very interesting how you mentioned that some symbols found in the catacombs are no longer used by the Church today because they were more relevant to the early Christians and don’t carry the same meaning anymore. One such symbol that I noticed even in the churches that we have looked at more recently is the symbol of the peacock, which was seen on pendentives and columns of these Byzantine churches.

    • Reply
      JhenniferAmundson October 29, 2018

      True, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a peacock in any church building not immediately inspired by Rome. But other things, perhaps do carry over, but we have lost the visual interpretive skills.

Leave a Reply to Timothy Gordon Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

css.php