Art, Early Christian
ART, EARLY CHRISTIAN
Early Christian art comprises the architecture, painting and mosaic, sculpture, and minor arts of the first four centuries of Christianity. After the fifth century, it was replaced by Byzantine art. In this article early Christian art is treated under its three geographical manifestations: (1) in the West, (2) in the East, and, because of special conditions prevailing there, (3) in Egypt.
see church architecture, 2; symbolism, early christian.
1. In the West
The limits in time and space of early Christian art in the West are somewhat a matter of convention. Nevertheless, as far as time is concerned, the flowering of Byzantine art in the sixth century at Constantinople under Justinian establishes a convenient terminus ad quem for all early Christian art. With regard to extent in space, the works of Christian art produced in the areas under Roman domination can be considered as belonging to early Christian art of the West. However, the monuments and objects produced in the Byzantine enclaves in the West, notably at ravenna, and above all the monuments that were direct forerunners of Byzantine art, must be excluded. With its limits thus defined, early Christian art in the West is seen to be the continuation of Roman art under new social conditions as well as in a new spirit, that of Christianity.
Actually, one cannot speak of a Christian art in a strict sense. The essential of any art is not the subjects it treats so much as the forms in which they are arrayed, the latter issuing on one hand from the physical and social milieu and on the other hand from the moral climate, which is often even religious and mystical. It is in this sense that one can speak of an art that is Christian. Situated within the orbit of imperial Rome, the Christian ideal was clothed from its very beginnings in the forms offered to it by Roman art.
From the technical point of view, the West offered unusually propitious conditions for the formation of a Christian art. Among these was a certain richness of means available even to the less wealthy classes. These means included: solid and varied materials for construction, architectural knowledge that was constantly employed, a pictorial tradition inherited from the Etruscans, a craft that handled the difficulties of sculpture with great ease, and a whole range of possibilities in the minor arts, including mosaic work. Because of these factors, it is easier to follow the various stages of early Christian art in the West than in the East. Moreover, it is quite possible that the West furnished to Christian art as a whole its first expressive forms.
The evolution of early Christian art is not, however, an unbroken progression. A definite date—the official recognition of Christianity by the Edict of Milan in 313—
separates it into two stages. Before 313, Christian art was clandestine; after that date, it was openly established.
Clandestine Period. Christianity is in large part rooted in Judaism, but unlike Judaism it is not hostile to the use of images. Even though Christianity emphasizes the importance of the invisible, it is nevertheless the religion of an incarnate God and consequently recognizes the full value of the visible. The use of works of art is therefore in complete accord with its teaching. But Christianity was born in a milieu and in circumstances far from favorable to this concept.
In early apostolic times, those who preached did so in the synagogues. At that period, and especially throughout the regions of the Diaspora, the synagogues were less rigid in their opposition to the representation of sacred objects. This is borne out particularly by the presence of the paintings at dura-europos and of others in Palestine itself. The evidence, however, dates from a period later than the beginning of the third century and is scanty. In Rome the decoration of Jewish catacombs is confined almost exclusively to ornamental motifs or reproductions of liturgical furnishings. It is therefore quite probable that at first in the Christian communities the converts from paganism had to combat a current of opinion somewhat opposed to the representation of religious scenes. But the doctrine of the Church was on the side of the converted pagans, and they won their case.
Very soon both in Rome and throughout the empire, Christianity was faced with persecution. The Jewish communities were accused of atheism, exclusiveness, and hatred of the human race. The Christian faith aroused the same prejudices, since it appeared to be linked with the Jewish faith. A decree of Nero after the burning of Rome made the profession of Christianity a legal offence. Under Decius the profession of Christianity was counted as an attack against the Roman religion (which in fact it was) and by that very fact, an attack against the imperial authority. Persecution was undertaken as a measure of public safety and would often be cruel and violent, except under the reign of tolerant emperors such as Alexander Severus, Philip the Arab, and Gallienus. Throughout this whole period, therefore, the Christians were forced into the practice of covert worship.
They nevertheless took advantage of all the available possibilities to construct and decorate what they needed for worship or for the burial of their dead. Under these conditions Christian art began, and the circumstances and milieu of the time played a large role in shaping it.
Architecture. The first Christian churches were modest and unobtrusive. As the Acts of the Apostles indicate, the first churches were in private homes. It is probable that, especially in Rome, the richer Christians offered their palaces for the reunions of the faithful, since these were buildings particularly suited to the celebration of divine services. Doubtless the first churches in the real sense of the term were constructed under the reign of Alexander Severus (222–235); at least, according to Origen, his successor Maximinus had them burned. In any case, at the beginning of the third century, Pope Callistus arranged for the purchase of meeting places (tituli ) in the different quarters of Rome. In 260 Gallienus issued a decree ordering the restitution to the Christians of their places of worship. During the period of peace lasting from that date until 300, churches were permitted to be built.
These churches were in the form of basilicas, a type of structure whose origin is uncertain. Unlike the ceremonies in the pagan temples or in the Temple of Jerusalem, in the Christian ceremonies the faithful participated in the drama taking place in the sanctuary. The Roman civil basilica, like the tablinum adjoined by the triclinium in the palaces, permitted this participation, though there were other possible architectural arrangements that could have been used.
The catacombs also formed part of Christian architecture; they represent an authentic Christian innovation. In various sections of Rome, taking advantage of the laws applicable to groups, the Christians acquired ground for burial and then used it to dig catacombs. Such burial places are most numerous in Rome, but they exist also in Naples, Syracuse, and even outside of Italy.
Roman underground burial areas (hypogeums) consisted of only two or three subterranean rooms containing tombs (sarcophagi) or cinerary urns. Cremation was rejected by the first Christians as a practice opposed to the preservation of the body for the resurrection and lacking in respect for those sanctified members whose fidelity to Christ had been carried often to the point of martyrdom. To find sufficient space for the burial of the constantly increasing number of Christians became a problem. It was resolved by constructing something resembling the modern skyscraper in reverse. Subterranean galleries at various levels were dug out. In the walls of the galleries, niches were hollowed out to serve as tombs, either in the form of an arch (arcosolium) or cubicles that were placed one above the other (loculus).
One must classify also as catacombs the underground burial places (hypogeums) of such families as the Aurelii, who were heretical Christians of Rome. The catacomb on which the basilica of St. Peter now stands is one of the most ancient. It is the probable burial place of Peter the Apostle and is surrounded by a number of pagan and Christian tombs, all of which are decorated like the catacombs.
Painting. In the hypogeums, the walls and the arcosolia were decorated with paintings. In the catacombs, such paintings are scattered. At regular intervals along the passageways of the catacombs, either arcosolia or square rooms were dug out and sometimes provided with loculi. The walls of the rooms were further excavated to form arcosolia ; it is there that the paintings are found on each side of the arch or vault: at the back of the arcosolium, on the area below the arcosolium, or on the ceilings of the rooms. In these rooms, squares and lozenges in imitation of marble designs cover the lower part of the walls, while the ceilings are divided into sections by geometric lines. In these sections there are decorative motifs taken from Roman art (heads, busts, and animals) and especially figures of people either singly or in groups. The latter adorn also the various parts of the arcosolia.
In general, the subjects in the catacomb paintings are taken from the Bible, and the same ones occur repeatedly. The subjects most frequently treated include: the Good Shepherd or Orpheus with the animals, the story of Jonah, the resurrection of Lazarus, Daniel in the lions' den, the Multiplication of the Loaves, Noah's ark, the sacrifice of Abraham, the paralytic of Bethsaida, the three youths in the fiery furnace, Adam and Eve, the Adoration of the Magi, the story of Job, the Baptism of Jesus, the man born blind, Moses and the burning bush, Susannah and the elders, the Good Samaritan, and the Wedding Feast of Cana. To these may be added a few mythological subjects, such as Eros and Psyche and the seasons. It is remarkable that Christ is shown only under the symbol of the Good Shepherd or Orpheus, or in the working of a miracle, but never in a scene showing His Crucifixion or His Resurrection.
Various hypotheses have been offered to explain the choice of these subjects. J. wilpert has tried to link them with the Christian idea of death and, in particular, to the episodes from the Old Testament and the Gospels mentioned in the ancient prayer commending a soul to God. The archeologist P. Styger believes that these subjects were used to adorn both the catacombs and the Christian homes, and that they have therefore no symbolical value. Neither of these theories takes into account all the facts. The symbolism of these subjects cannot be denied, as the painting showing Susannah as a lamb between two wolves proves, but the symbolism is more general than Wilpert believes. The symbolism may also be related to the catechesis and the liturgy of the period, though it is safer to say that it is related to the ancient Jewish rituals and to Jewish and early Christian "summaries." The latter were canonical or apocryphal enumerations of outstanding deeds of the heroes of the faith and of the miracles worked by God. In any event, the symbolism is essentially related to the general idea of the economy of the salvation of human souls.
The oldest examples of these paintings date from the beginning of the third century. In this first period of early Christian art, the paintings either express a certain blitheness to be found in pagan art, or they are symbolical in nature and in accord with millennialist, other-worldly ideas. The earliest style closely resembled the elegant Roman style, as in the catacomb of Domitilla, but it later became more impressionistic. At the end of the third century, relief was replaced by contrasting tones, as in the group of Adam and Eve in the catacomb of SS. Peter and Marcellus. These changes in style indicate an acceptance of the contemporary tendencies toward allegory and symbolism, and an evolutionary process in which classical naturalism was gradually replaced by abstraction and simplification.
Sculpture. In the third century the wealthier pagans and Christians interred their dead in tombs, and the walls of the tombs were decorated with reliefs. On the Christian tombs frequent use was made of decorative motifs, particularly strigils and other motifs carrying Christian symbolism, e.g., the fish (see fish, symbolism of). But quite early other decorative motifs, such as the masks employed in ancient art, were combined with these.
The decorated lamps used in the catacombs to light the passageways and the places of burial first appeared probably in this period. The subjects used on them are in most cases conventional; fish, laurel leaves, cross, shell, and rosette (see lamps and lighting, early christian).
In the beginning, different Christian subjects were juxtaposed or combined with others of pagan origin without much concern for blending the subjects into a unified whole. This can be seen in the tomb of Livia Primitiva, where the Good Shepherd with his sheep is seen between strigils, flanked by a fish and an anchor; or in the tomb at La Gayolle in Provence, where the Good Shepherd is shown with a fisherman, an orante, and a seated figure. A fragment depicting the story of Jonah shows the attempt to use the classical style to express Christian content. As the century progresses, the Christian subject becomes the central or dominant element of the whole composition, which is generally pastoral in nature. Though derived from pagan sources, the Good Shepherd is represented in the light of the imagination of Christian artists intent on their own religious symbolism.
In this first period, then, Christian art developed by borrowing forms, by introducing new themes into them, and by transforming the whole in the direction of symbolic abstraction. The tendency toward symbolic abstraction is evident in all the art of the time, but Christian inspiration was one of the most active forces producing it.
Period of Open Development. The ordinance of 313 issued by Licinius in agreement with Constantine granted official recognition to Christianity and, by so doing, afforded conditions favorable to the fuller development of Christian art. The support given to religion by the emperors—except during the brief reign of Julian the Apostate (361–363)—improved these conditions still further. As a result, the erection of religious edifices became widespread. The art of mosaic, used to decorate the buildings, received new impetus, as increasingly its use in the catacombs was abandoned. The spirit of artistic productions also changed. The gracious charm of the classical style gave way to a more serious tone, eventually yielding a hieratic style more suited to the exaltation of the Supreme Sovereign, and modeled after the respectful images demanded by the emperor.
Church Architecture. The number of churches increased, and from the very beginning they were of large dimensions. The form most frequently employed was that of the basilica. Constantine probably took an active part in the erection of the following churches of this type in Rome: St. John Lateran, St. Peter, St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls, SS. Peter and Marcellinus, and St. Agnes. The basilicas of St. Pudentiana and St. Mary Major were also begun in the fourth century, and St. Sabina in the fifth. St. John Lateran is evidently the prototype of the Christian basilica; it is the first church mentioned in the records of the Holy See and the one in which the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul were deposited. It seems to have been the first official church of the bishops of Rome and was without doubt built at the same period as the triumphal arch of Constantine (315).
In Rome the basilica of the period of Constantine had five naves, with a projecting transept and apse at the east end of the building; in the provinces it was built with one or three naves without a transept and with a recessed apse. Unlike the ancient temples, which did not provide for the participation of the faithful in the important ceremonies, the Christian churches had their chief decorative work on the interior. The high-pitched wooden roof of the principal nave was gilded; the effect of depth was accentuated by the long rows of columns and by the austere appearance of the walls, relieved only by mosaics of a didactic nature. In addition, bays or bay windows in the walls lit the major interior area. Attention was thus drawn toward the altar, the center of worship. The transept itself was a passageway that permitted the faithful to approach directly. On the exterior there were no longer any of the groups of pillars typical of ancient buildings. On the façade the pediment remained to emphasize the sacred character of the edifice. In North Africa the Western type of basilica grew more complicated, as at Damus el-Carita, where it is divided into nine naves, or at Orléansville, where a new apse was added facing the west.
The circular plan of construction was taken from the Eastern basilica. It was employed particularly for commemorative monuments and persisted in the West in the form of baptisteries. The circular plan was used for the octagonal church of St. Constance, which was built in the first third of the fourth century and transformed into a baptistery in the fifth.
Painting. Painting was confined almost entirely to the decoration of the catacombs, where it served the cause of decoration along with mosaics. In the fourth century the character of painting remained the same as before until 350, when there was a sudden shift to the classic style. This can be seen in the decoration of the New Catacomb on the Via Latina. However, the quality of painting declined increasingly, and in the fifth century it wavered between conventionalism and mechanical execution. The decline of painting in the catacombs was due to the fact that the attention of artists was turned to the decoration of the buildings in which Christian life was then being carried on. At the same time, the subjects assumed a less symbolical and more profane aspect as the life of the Christians became more involved in the temporal world (e.g., tomb of Maximus and hypogeum of Trebius Justus).
Mosaics. As a result of the exuberance of this period of open development, wall surfaces blazed with the beauty of a technique richer than painting. Mosaic work took on a new life, which would reach its highest peak of expression in the Byzantine world. (see mosaics.) Up to this point, mosaic work had been confined to the vaulting, to the apses, and to the upper friezes. In the fourth century in St. Constance it was still strongly classic in style with a mixture of picturesque tendencies. The ceiling of the vaulted aisles of this church is divided into eight sections, on either side of which there are agricultural scenes related to the Eucharist, geometric and natural motifs, and portraits. In the fifth century the style changed. It evolved toward the hieratic Byzantine style, as in the representation of Christ enthroned among Apostles and holy women in the apse of St. Pudentiana. Narrative cycles with a didactic content appear also, as on the upper frieze of the nave of St. Mary Major, where in 44 panels the whole story of Genesis is told in a very compact and rigid style.
In fifth-century North Africa, mosaic work still retained many of its classical tendencies, as in the decoration of a tomb in a church near Kelibia in which birds and flowers are depicted near the plaque bearing the name of the deceased. Mosaic work also took on a more popular and abstract aspect, as on the tomb stones of Tabarka, where the deceased is represented in a full-face portrait with the features greatly simplified.
Certain features of the evolution that affected both mosaic and painting can be seen in the reliefs on tombs. Orderly structuring in composition disappears; different episodes are ranged next to one another in little pictures, sometimes in a disorderly fashion, in an effort to use all the available space. Artistry was still very flexible and strong in the fourth century, as is demonstrated by the tomb of Junius Bassus in 359 (see sarcophagus); but it became increasingly less skillful in the handling of planes and of figures. The human body became thicker and postures more stiff. Symbolism, such as the representation of the faithful by sheep, was progressively replaced by the use of historical figures in hieratic poses.
Minor Arts. In this period the minor arts assume more importance than they had during the period of clandestine Christian life. Notable examples of work in glass, gold, silver, and ivory survive. There is a fifth-century cup of engraved glass in the Louvre Museum that shows the monogram of Christ surrounded by scenes from the Old Testament. Fine examples of goldsmith's work include a gold buckle bearing portraits of saints and another in filigreed gold showing birds facing each other. A silver box for liturgical use bears scenes from the Scriptures: the three youths in the fiery furnace, the Adoration of the Magi, and the resurrection of Lazarus. Numerous examples of an art peculiar to this period have been found, especially in the catacombs. Glasses depicting Biblical scenes similar to those on the walls of the catacombs were made by placing a sheet of cut gold between two layers of glass. Another art form that developed and became more widespread was that of ivory carving, in the round or, more commonly, on diptychs, pyxes, and combs. Christian subjects are used along with profane subjects from mythology. Classical forms are employed, as on a diptych from the north of Italy (Brescia Museum) that depicts Diana and Endymion and on a panel showing Christ's Ascension (Munich Museum; see ascension of jesus christ). There occur forms tightly compressed within the frames, as on the diptych of Boethius in the Brescia Museum. Several ivory statuettes of the Good Shepherd are still in existence; one is in the Louvre.
Early Christian art in the West thus shows two fundamental tendencies, one toward mysticism and the other toward an acceptance of the secular. Their respective force depends on the circumstances, but between them an equilibrium is established in accord with Christian ideas. In the first period, mystical symbolism is preponderant and closely corresponds to the tendency of the time. It is expressed in the choice of subjects and in its spiritual overtone, even though it does not at first reject the classical style. In the second period, when Christianity became more involved in daily life, the use of symbolism diminishes to permit a more direct representation of the divine. However, the divine is exalted so that the world in which Christianity is henceforth involved may be submitted to it.
2. In the East
Early Christian art of the East, like that of the West, consists in general of the Christian art previous to the appearance of Byzantine art. Actually, only a few examples remain, and those are too scattered to permit the formation of an idea of the whole.
In no city of the East are there Christian funerary monuments comparable to those of Rome. As in the West, persecution in the East was intermittent; but the religious edifices built during the lulls in persecution were either destroyed by wars and invasions or replaced by Byzantine-style churches. Because of the paucity of exemplars, the major tendencies of the period cannot be easily discerned. The difficulty is increased by the fact that each center of art was quite different from the others and by the fact that the influence of Roman art entered subtly into local art. Documentation on the subject is too incomplete to permit tracing a systematic picture of early Christian art in the East. To supplement the lack of objects and monuments, one is forced to draw up instead a sort of nomenclature and to have recourse to contemporary or later written documents.
Early Christian art in the East reached a dividing point at the beginning of the fourth century, as had Christian art during the imperial era in the West. Just as in the West, two periods are apparent: a period of semiclandestine activity and a period of open, officially sanctioned life.
Period of Semiclandestine Activity. The use of private homes for gatherings of the faithful, following the example of Christ in the Cenacle, is attested to from apostolic times. As proof of this one need only refer to the Acts of the Apostles (8.3) and to the Acts of the Martyrs. This custom continued for quite a long time and resulted in the transformation of private homes into "church homes." This was the case at Dura-Europos, a caravan stop between northern Syria and Mesopotamia, dating beyond any doubt from the first third of the third century.
The house at Dura-Europos was built around a court and consisted of several rooms, one of which was arranged and decorated as a chapel, probably with the additional use of one or two other rooms as the community grew. At the back of the chapel was a sort of receptacle in front of which there was an arch on two columns; the back wall was ornamented with two superimposed frescoes. The upper fresco depicted the Good Shepherd and the lower one Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. On the walls beginning at the north side of the arch were the story of Peter saved from the waters of Genesareth, followed by the episode of the paralytic of Capharnaum, and underneath that the three Marys at the sepulcher; on the south side, the story of David and Goliath; on the west, the Good Samaritan.
The first two paintings show clear evidence of Roman influence. The others bear traces of Roman influence, yet something of the Oriental style is also apparent, notably in the hieratic quality of certain poses. The style is more marked in numerous paintings depicting scenes from the Old Testament that adorn a synagogue (of a slightly later date), which is located quite close to the chapel.
According to the Chronicle of Edessa, the great flood of 201 destroyed a church of Edessa, and if it is recalled that under Abgar IX the Great, Christianity was established in 202 as the state religion, there is every reason to suppose that numerous churches were then constructed in this independent kingdom. In Apamea in Phrygia, traces of a small, square church with an apse, called the church of the Ark, can still be seen in the location of the acropolis of Celaenae. The church was doubtless anterior to the persecution of Diocletian in 303.
The numerous square churches in Asia Minor, notably the group known under the name of Bin-bir-Kilissé (the thousand and one churches) and the basilicas of central Syria built in the fourth century, lead one to believe that they had been preceded by churches of the same style, especially if one reads the letter of St. Irenaeus to Florinus (190) in which he speaks of Polycarp of Smyrna teaching in a Basilichê aulê. In the middle of the third century, because of his crimes, the Emperor Philip was forbidden access to the Palaia Ecclesia (Ancient Church) of Antioch.
It seems quite certain that there were numerous Constantinian churches in Palestine and Syria. This can be surmised from several works written in the fourth century by Gregory of Nyssa, and also from the writings of Origen. According to the latter, in the middle of the third century the churches of Caesarea of Palestine were burned by the pagans. Eusebius also recorded that a large number of churches were destroyed by the persecution of Diocletian, though they had been officially tolerated by Gallienus.
Very little can be learned either from literature or archeology about the funerary architecture. Dating certainly from this period are tombs in Palestine and Arabia (Khefa Amer, Haifa, Nâblus, and Nazareth), in Mesopotamia (Edessa and Dara), and in Asia Minor (Ephesus, Seleucia, and Sardis). On the whole, except for Dura-Europos, whose Western characteristics have been noted, recourse must be had to written documentation for information about this period. It is from texts that one learns of the transformation of the "church home" into a church in the real sense of the word.
Period of Open Development. When they had received full liberty to practice their religion, the first concern of the Eastern Christians, like those of the West, was to erect places of worship. The destroyed churches were rebuilt; the written records of about the same date, and in particular the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, are explicit on this point. A great number of new churches were built. Starting in the fourth century, the greater part of them were built on the plan of a basilica, which was so common in the fifth century; but the octagonal plan was used also, as described in a letter of St. Gregory of Nyssa to Amphilochus, Bishop of Iconium. Among the various forms of decoration, painting was frequently employed; at the end of the fourth century St. Nilus wrote a letter about a church that an eparch wished to have decorated with hunting scenes. Relief work on the capitals and friezes was certainly employed, since a link must have been established in this period between the elongated and pointed acanthus leaves of Leptis Magna of the third century in North Africa and those of the same type used in the sixth century throughout the East.
The birth of Byzantine art may be attributed to a new spirit that substituted aulic directions for local initiative and provided an environment of Oriental richness. Artistic techniques, however, had developed before the sixth century and later were only transformed.
Influences on Church Architecture. The art of the early Christian period, especially in regard to the basilicas, can be distinguished by geographical areas, i.e., Constantinople, Greece and the Balkans, Palestine, and Syria and Asia Minor; and by influences, i.e., Roman, Hellenistic, Constantinopolitan, and Oriental.
The Roman influence is seen in the basilica type of construction with its three or five naves, transept, apse to the east, wooden roof, and preference for brick. The Roman influence was evident in Constantinople in the first church of Hagia Sophia (415) and the church of John Studios (463); in Greece at Epidaurus (end of the fourth century), Nicopolis (end of the fifth century), Corinth (fifth century), and at Salonika in the basilica of Demetrius, which in its original state dates from 412; in northern Syria, in the church of Kalat Siman (end of the fifth century) and at Tafna in the Hauran, where the buildings were close to the square type; and in Asia Minor in the group of churches known as the Bin-bir-Kilissé (fifth–sixth centuries). The Hellenistic influence contributed the ornamental arcades on the façade and along the interior walls, as well as the arches with ceiling beams on the inside, to the church of Kalat Siman and the buildings at Tafna. Constantinople's main architectural contribution was to provide Asia Minor with the Roman type of construction, to which was added the façade with columns, but without any decoration in relief which was forbidden by the formal austerity of Constantinople. Examples can be seen at Perga, at Sagalassos, and in the group of Bin-bir-Kilissé.
The Oriental tendencies appear under four combined or separate aspects: the absence of the transept or the prolongation of the naves into the transept with a widening of the choir, the commemorative function of the sanctuary, and the triumphal arches on the pillars. Basilicas without a transept are found also in Greece at Salona (early fifth century), in Palestine in the basilica of the Nativity at Bethlehem (326), and in the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem (323–335).
The prolongation of the naves into the transept together with the broadening of the choir to meet the needs of the liturgy can be seen in Greece in the basilica of Demetrius at Salonika. The sanctuary is most frequently octagonal in form and honors a monument of sacred history: in Palestine, the basilica of the Nativity at Bethlehem and the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem; and in Asia Minor, the original church of St. John at Ephesus, which consisted of four basilicas adjoining the martyrium of the saint. This latter type of construction on a larger scale is found at Kalat Siman. There four buildings of the basilica type, one of which has an apse at its east end, are arranged in a cross around an octagonal court whose center is occupied by the pillar of St. Simeon.
The triumphal arches with pillars originated in central Syria at the end of the fourth century at Idjaz in the church of the Apostles. They appeared again in the same region at the end of the fifth century at Kalb Lauzeh and Ruweha, and in Hauran at Umm Idj-Djimal in the churches of Julianos and of Masechot.
In ancient Mesopotamia the use of unfired brick as well as a fondness for display resulted in the technique of applying facings to buildings. The Christian Orient shared the same tastes, joined with a predilection for fired brick, which, though not used in Syria, was the most commonly employed material in Roman architecture. Under the reign of Constantine, several churches were decorated at Constantinople, and doubtless also at Bethlehem, with facings of marble and mosaic. Where mural paintings existed, they were repeated in the floor mosaics, as St. Gregory of Nyssa attested in his description of the representation of the martyrdom of St. Theodore. The same sumptuous technique was used also in secular edifices. The mosaics of the pavement of the Grand Palace or those found while the foundations were being dug for the City Hall at Constantinople, all dating from the fifth century, are justly celebrated.
Mosaic and Mirror Arts. In the fifth century, mosaic work covered the walls of churches and apses and appeared in the ornamentation of the cupolas; regrettably, very few examples remain. There is outstanding work in several churches in Palestine, especially in the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves at Et-Tabgah on Lake Genesareth. In Syria, the celebrated mosaic of the Phoenix of Antioch was probably Christian in origin.
Some famous buildings and important objects can be dated from the fourth and fifth centuries: the baptistery of the Orthodox or the mausoleum of Galla Placidia at Ravenna (fifth century); the Rothschild Cameo (middle of the fourth century); the numerous consular diptychs or pyxes in ivory; golden objects such as buckles, of which one bearing the name of Constantine is in the Louvre; illuminated manuscripts such as the Itala (Berlin), Homer's Iliad (Ambrosian Library, Milan), and the Vaticanus and Romanus Virgils (Vatican Library). All these are objects belonging to court art and therefore essentially pre-Byzantine. For this reason they perhaps should not be assigned to the period of early Christian art.
Sculpture. The same holds true for sculpture in Byzantium, where statues of the emperors and functionaries and the triumphal columns were erected by imperial or official order. Unlike the West, tombs with figures are rare and of the triumphal type, such as the tomb found at Constantinople (now in Berlin) on which Christ is shown between two Apostles.
Objects that sprang from individual or local initiative are also of considerable interest. There is, for example, a head of the fourth or fifth century (Louvre), which came from Tartus in Syria. It shows some Oriental characteristics in the treatment of the eyes and hair, and there is a Greek cast to the outline of the face, indicating that studios were set up in the vicinity of the court. A Syrian relief depicts St. Simeon Stylites praying on his pillar. Its decidedly local origin is indicated by the stiff style employed. A fragment of a parapet from Crimea (fourth or fifth century) has a clearly designed and finely cut picture of Christ. There is also a small gold box of the fifth century from Syria, decorated with repoussé work of a rather primitive style. The fragment remaining bears two medallions, one of which contains a picture of the Virgin and the other a figure who perhaps is Christ. The eyes, the stylization of the hair, and the beard of the male figure are all of a very definite Oriental style.
It is regrettable for the history of early Christian art that examples are so rare in the East. The few that do remain illustrate some of the techniques adopted by Byzantine art, but they can give no true notion of the interpenetration of ancient aesthetics and Christian ideas, which must have been greater in the East than in the West.
3. In Egypt
During the Christian period and long after the country came under Muslim domination, Egypt had an indigenous Christian art, known as Coptic art. Before the distinguishing characteristics of Coptic art developed, and parallel to its development up to the sixth century, there was a certain amount of artistic production that cannot be called Coptic and belongs to an early Christian art linked to the art that appeared in the area covered by the expansion of Christianity. Much of this art has disappeared, and nothing is known of some works but the bare mention by contemporary or later writers. Celsus speaks of the "great church" of Alexandria, ruled by Bishop Demetrius (189–231). A papyrus of Oxyrhyncus (third century) mentions churches located in the upper and lower valleys of the Nile, which undoubtedly were destroyed during the persecution of Diocletian. In Alexandria, before the peace of Constantine, a martyrium of St. Mark and a church built by the bishop Theonas are known to have existed. It is also possible that during this period the back portion of the columned agora of Ashmunein in Middle Egypt was transformed into a trefoiled apse.
Catacombs. The catacombs of Abu el-Akhem, Mustapha, and Qabbary, all near Alexandria, belong also to this first period. To these must be added the hypogeums of Qabbary, of Kom al-Kugafa, and of the eastern necropolis. There are loculi, or small chambers, hollowed out in their rooms. The inscriptions and the ampullae found there prove they are Christian. At some distance, but unfortunately destroyed, is the subterranean cemetery of Karmuz, behind the Serapeum; the arrangement would lead one to believe that it originally served as a sanctuary. The gallery containing the loculi was entered through a square chamber lengthened by an apse, and on the side was another square chamber in which arcosolia were dug. The frieze of the apse, from the third century but altered during the Byzantine period, presented successively the Wedding Feast of Cana, the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, and a Eucharistic banquet. It is possible that this painting should be listed among the very rare examples of the union of a Biblical scene and its symbolical interpretation. Some of its details were unusual: the presence in the farthest scenes of a half-nude seated woman seen from the back; the movement of the Apostle Andrew carrying the fish to Christ; and especially the triangular composition formed by Christ between the Apostles Peter and Andrew. The arcosolia of the lateral room were also decorated with paintings: angels standing erect, the Marys at the Tomb, Christ with a lion and a dragon under His feet, the Apostles, St. John the Baptist, and others.
Churches. Of the churches erected by imperial order in Egypt, the best known are the four basilicas that constituted the center of pilgrimage of Apa Menas, near Lake Mariut, west of Alexandria. The basilica of the crypt, with three naves, a projecting apse, and a baptistery, was constructed probably by Constantine. The basilica was intended for pilgrims, but it proved too small. At the end of the fourth century, therefore, Arcadius constructed a longer basilica with a protruding transept. The sick gathered in the basilica of the Baths (fifth century); this basilica terminated in two facing apses. A funerary basilica with two apses, an atrium, a baptistery, and funeral chapels on the sides (fifth century) was joined to the north cemetery. These basilicas are in ruins, but enough remains to indicate how rich they were in decoration: marble columns, marble facings, beautiful capitals, and sometimes mosaics.
At the other extreme of Egypt, as far south as Luxor, a group of 10th-century chapels is found in the oasis of Khargeh, where Nestorius died in exile (c. 451). In the midst of the chapels are two little sanctuaries in the form of square mausoleums (fourth and fifth centuries). One is called the chapel of the Exodus because the principal painting on the ceiling, which is in the form of a cupola, depicts soldiers pursuing the Hebrews. Other figures and scenes from the Old and New Testaments include: Adam and Eve, Noah, Jonah, Job and his friends, Daniel in the lions' den, the sacrifice of Isaac, St. Thecla and her followers, a shepherd with his flock, the suffering of Isaiah, and Susannah and the elders. Some subjects are of special interest because they are unknown in other early Christian monuments: Jeremiah weeping over the ruin of Jerusalem, Jethro rejoining Moses on Sinai, and the meeting of Rebecca and Eliezer. The painting in the other chapel, called the chapel of Peace, contains several hieratic figures grouped around a center decorated with plant motifs: Adam and Eve, the sacrifice of Isaac, an allegory of peace, Daniel in the lions' den, allegories of justice and of prayer, Jacob, Noah's ark, the Annunciation, and St. Paul with his disciple St. Thecla. Certain elements are clearly Egyptian, notably the costumes in the allegory of peace and the shape of the boat representing the ark.
These are the principal Egyptian early Christian monuments that are not typically Coptic. Unlike the products of Coptic art, on the whole these monuments show a direct Alexandrian or imperial influence.
Bibliography: Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie. r. garrucci, Storia dell'arte cristiana, 6 v. (Prato 1872–81). j. wilpert, Die Malereien der Katakomben Roms. 2 v. (Freiburg i.Br. 1903). h. leclercq, Manuel d'archéologie chrétienne, 2 v. (Paris 1907). w. lowrie, Monuments of the Early Church (New York 1923). p. styger, Die römischen Katakomben (Berlin 1933). e. w. anthony, A History of Mosaic (Boston 1935). walters art gallery, Early Christian and Byzantine Art (Baltimore 1947). f. w. deichmann, Frühchristliche Kirchen im Rom (Basel 1948). e. h. swift, Roman Sources of Christian Art (New York 1951). c. r. morey, Early Christian Art (2d ed. Princeton 1953). d. t. rice, The Beginnings of Christian Art (Nashville 1957). e. coche de la fortÉ, L'Antiquité chrétienne au Musée du Louvre (Paris 1958). l. hertling and e. kirschbaum, The Roman Catacombs and Their Martyrs, tr. m. j. costelloe (2d ed. London 1960). w. f. volbach, Early Christian Art, tr. c. ligota (New York 1962). w. sas-zaloziecky, L'Art paléochrétien (Paris 1964). p. du bourguet, La Peinture paléochrétienne (Paris 1965). r. krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture (Pelican History of Art, ed. n. pevsner) (Baltimore 1965), a good survey in English.
[p. du bourguet]