Christian art is sacred art which uses themes and imagery from Christianity. Most Christian groups use or have used art to some extent, although some have had strong objections to some forms of religious image, and there have been major periods of iconoclasm within Christianity.
Images of Jesus and narrative scenes from the Life of Christ are the most common subjects, and scenes from the Old Testament play a part in the art of most denominations. Images of the Virgin Mary and saints are much rarer in Protestant art than that of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Christianity makes far wider use of images than related religions, in which figurative representations are forbidden, such as Islam and Judaism. However, there is also a considerable history of aniconism in Christianity from various periods.
Early Christian art survives from dates near the origins of Christianity. The oldest Christian sculptures are from sarcophagi, dating to the beginning of the 2nd century. The largest groups of Early Christian paintings come from the tombs in the Catacombs of Rome, and show the evolution of the depiction of Jesus, a process not complete until the 6th century, since when the conventional appearance of Jesus in art has remained remarkably consistent.
Until the adoption of Christianity by Constantine Christian art derived its style and much of its iconography from popular Roman art, but from this point grand Christian buildings built under imperial patronage brought a need for Christian versions of Roman elite and official art, of which mosaics in churches in Rome are the most prominent surviving examples. Christian art was caught up in, but did not originate, the shift in style from the classical tradition inherited from Ancient Greek art to a less realist and otherworldly hieratic style, the start of gothic art.
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.
The Orthodox Church of Constantinople, which enjoyed greater stability within the surviving Eastern Empire was key in commissioning imagery there and glorifying Christianity. As a stable Western European society emerged during the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church led the way in terms of art, using its resources to commission paintings and sculptures.
During the development of Christian art in the Byzantine Empire (see Byzantine art), a more abstract aesthetic replaced the naturalism previously established in Hellenistic art. This new style was hieratic, meaning its primary purpose was to convey religious meaning rather than accurately render objects and people. Realistic perspective, proportions, light and color were ignored in favor of geometric simplification of forms, reverse perspective and standardized conventions to portray individuals and events. The controversy over the use of graven images, the interpretation of the Second Commandment, and the crisis of Byzantine Iconoclasm led to a standardization of religious imagery within the Eastern Orthodoxy.
The fall of Constantinople in 1453 brought an end to the highest quality Byzantine art, produced in the Imperial workshops there. Orthodox art, known as icons regardless of the medium, has otherwise continued with relatively little change in subject and style up to the present day, with Russia gradually becoming the leading centre of production.
In the West, the Renaissance saw an increase in monumental secular works, but until the Protestant Reformation Christian art continued to be commissioned in great quantities by churches, clergy and by the aristocracy. The Reformation had a huge effect on Christian art, rapidly bringing the production of public Christian art to a virtual halt in Protestant countries, and causing the destruction of most of the art that already existed.
Artists were commissioned more secular genres like portraits, landscape paintings and because of the revival of Neoplatonism, subjects from classical mythology. In Catholic countries, production continued, and increased during the Counter-Reformation, but Catholic art was brought under much tighter control by the church hierarchy than had been the case before. From the 18th century the number of religious works produced by leading artists declined sharply, though important commissions were still placed, and some artists continued to produce large bodies of religious art on their own initiative.
As a secular, non-sectarian, universal notion of art arose in 19th-century Western Europe, ancient and Medieval Christian art began to be collected for art appreciation rather than worship, while contemporary Christian art was considered marginal. Occasionally, secular artists treated Christian themes (Bouguereau, Manet) — but only rarely was a Christian artist included in the historical canon (such as Rouault or Stanley Spencer). However many modern artists such as Eric Gill, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Jacob Epstein, Elizabeth Frink and Graham Sutherland have produced well-known works of art for churches. Salvador Dali is an artist who had also produced notable and popular artworks with Christian themes. Contemporary artists such as Makoto Fujimura have had significant influence both in sacred and secular arts. Other notable artists include Larry D. Alexander and John August Swanson. Some writers, such as Gregory Wolfe, see this as part of a rebirth of Christian humanism.
Since the advent of printing, the sale of reproductions of pious works has been a major element of popular Christian culture. In the 19th century, this included genre painters such as Mihály Munkácsy. The invention of color lithography led to broad circulation of holy cards. In the modern era, companies specializing in modern commercial Christian artists such as Thomas Blackshear and Thomas Kinkade, although widely regarded in the fine art world as kitsch, have been very successful.
The Annunciation (from Latin annuntiatio), also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Annunciation of Our Lady, or the Annunciation of the Lord, is the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox celebration of the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, marking His Incarnation. Gabriel told Mary to name her son Yeshua, meaning "YHWH is salvation".According to Luke 1:26, the Annunciation occurred "in the sixth month" of Elizabeth's pregnancy with John the Baptist. Many Christians observe this event with the Feast of the Annunciation on 25 March, an approximation of the northern vernal equinox nine full months before Christmas, the ceremonial birthday of Jesus.
The Annunciation is a key topic in Christian art in general, as well as in Marian art in the Catholic Church, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. A work of art depicting the Annunciation is sometimes itself called an Annunciation.Armenian Cross
An Armenian cross is a symbol that combines a cross with a floral postament or elements. In the Armenian Christianity it was combined with the Christian cross and this design was often used for high crosses (khachkar) – a free-standing cross made of stone and often richly decorated.Ascension of Jesus
The ascension of Jesus (anglicized from the Vulgate Latin Acts 1:9-11 section title: Ascensio Iesu) is the departure of Christ from Earth into the presence of God.
The biblical narrative in Chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles takes place 40 days after the resurrection: Jesus is taken up from the disciples in their sight, a cloud hides him from view, and two men in white appear to tell them that he will return "in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." In the Christian tradition, reflected in the major Christian creeds and confessional statements, the ascension is connected with the exaltation of Jesus, meaning that through his ascension, Jesus took his seat at the right hand of God: "He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty." In modern times the Ascension is seen less as the climax of the mystery of Christ than as "something of an embarrassment", in the words of McGill University's Douglas Farrow.In Christian art, the ascending Jesus is often shown blessing an earthly group below him, signifying the entire Church. The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on the 40th day of Easter, always a Thursday; the Orthodox tradition has a different calendar up to a month later than in the Western tradition, and while the Anglican communion continues to observe the feast, most Protestant churches have abandoned the observance.Celtic cross
The Celtic cross is a form of Christian cross featuring a nimbus or ring that emerged in Ireland and Britain in the Early Middle Ages. A type of ringed cross, it became widespread through its use in the stone high crosses erected across the islands, especially in regions evangelized by Irish missionaries, from the 9th through the 12th centuries.
A staple of Insular art, the Celtic cross is essentially a Latin cross with a nimbus surrounding the intersection of the arms and stem. Scholars have debated its exact origins, but it is related to earlier crosses featuring rings. The form gained new popularity during the Celtic Revival of the 19th century; the name "Celtic cross" is a convention dating from that time. The shape, usually decorated with interlace and other motifs from Insular art, became popular for funerary monuments and other uses, and has remained so, spreading well beyond Ireland.Christian symbolism
Christian symbolism is the use of symbols, including archetypes, acts, artwork or events, by Christianity. It invests objects or actions with an inner meaning expressing Christian ideas.
The symbolism of the early Church was characterized by being understood by initiates only, while after the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire during the 4th-century more recognizable symbols entered in use. Christianity has borrowed from the common stock of significant symbols known to most periods and to all regions of the world.Christianity has not generally practiced Aniconism, or the avoidance or prohibition of types of images, even if the early Jewish Christians sects, as well as some modern denominations, preferred to some extent not to use figures in their symbols, by invoking the Decalogue's prohibition of idolatry.Early Christian art and architecture
Early Christian art and architecture or Paleochristian art is the art produced by Christians or under Christian patronage from the earliest period of Christianity to, depending on the definition used, sometime between 260 and 525. In practice, identifiably Christian art only survives from the 2nd century onwards. After 550 at the latest, Christian art is classified as Byzantine, or of some other regional type.It is hard to know when distinctly Christian art began. Prior to 100, Christians may have been constrained by their position as a persecuted group from producing durable works of art. Since Christianity was largely a religion of the lower classes in this period, the lack of surviving art may reflect a lack of funds for patronage, and simply small numbers of followers. The Old Testament restrictions against the production of graven (an idol or fetish carved in wood or stone) images (see also Idolatry and Christianity) may also have constrained Christians from producing art. Christians may have made or purchased art with pagan iconography, but given it Christian meanings, as they later did. If this happened, "Christian" art would not be immediately recognizable as such.
Early Christianity used the same artistic media as the surrounding pagan culture. These media included fresco, mosaics, sculpture, and manuscript illumination. Early Christian art not only used Roman forms, it also used Roman styles. Late classical style included a proportional portrayal of the human body and impressionistic presentation of space. Late classical style is seen in early Christian frescos, such as those in the Catacombs of Rome, which include most examples of the earliest Christian art.Early Christian art and architecture adapted Roman artistic motifs and gave new meanings to what had been pagan symbols. Among the motifs adopted were the peacock, grapevines, and the "Good Shepherd". Early Christians also developed their own iconography, for example, such symbols as the fish (ikhthus), were not borrowed from pagan iconography.
Early Christian art is generally divided into two periods by scholars: before and after either the Edict of Milan of 313, bringing the so-called Triumph of the Church under Constantine, or the First Council of Nicea in 325. The earlier period being called the Pre-Constantinian or Ante-Nicene Period and after being the period of the First seven Ecumenical Councils. The end of the period of early Christian art, which is typically defined by art historians as being in the 5th–7th centuries, is thus a good deal later than the end of the period of early Christianity as typically defined by theologians and church historians, which is more often considered to end under Constantine, around 313–325.Good Shepherd
The Good Shepherd (Greek: ποιμήν ο καλός, poimḗn o kalós) is an image used in the pericope of John 10:1-21, in which Jesus Christ is depicted as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. Similar imagery is used in Psalm 23. The Good Shepherd is also discussed in the other gospels, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the First Epistle of Peter and the Book of Revelation.Halo (religious iconography)
A halo (from Greek ἅλως, halōs; also known as a nimbus, aureole, glory, or gloriole) is a crown of light rays, circle or disk of light that surrounds a person in art. It has been used in the iconography of many religions to indicate holy or sacred figures, and has at various periods also been used in images of rulers or heroes. In the sacred art of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, among other religions, sacred persons may be depicted with a halo in the form of a circular glow, or flames in Asian art, around the head or around the whole body—this last one is often called a mandorla. Halos may be shown as almost any color or combination of colors, but are most often depicted as golden, yellow or white when representing light or red when representing flames.Ichthys
The ichthys or ichthus (), from the Greek ikhthýs (ἰχθύς 1st cent. AD Koine Greek [ikʰˈtʰys], "fish") is a symbol consisting of two intersecting arcs, the ends of the right side extending beyond the meeting point so as to resemble the profile of a fish. The symbol was adopted by early Christians as a secret symbol. It is now known colloquially as the "sign of the fish" or the "Jesus fish".Indochristian art
Indochristian art, or arte indocristiano, is a type of Latin American art that combines European colonial influences with Indigenous artistic styles and traditions.
During the Spanish colonization of the Americas, Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian monks extensively converted indigenous peoples to Christianity, introducing them to European arts and aesthetics. The arts of this period reflect a fusion of European and indigenous religious beliefs, aesthetics, and artistic traditions.
The term Indochristian art was coined by Constantino Reyes-Valerio, a scholar of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican culture and arts, in his book, Indochristian Art, Sculpture and Painting of 16th Century Mexico. Reyes-Valerio's work focused on the painting and sculpture of churches and monasteries in New Spain, but had broader implications for the analysis of art throughout Latin America.Islamic influences on Western art
Islamic influences on Western art refers to the influence of Islamic art, the artistic production in the Islamic world from the 8th to the 19th century, on Christian art. During this period, the frontier between Christendom and the Islamic world varied a lot resulting in some cases in exchanges of populations and of corresponding art practices and techniques. Furthermore, the two civilizations had regular relationships through diplomacy and trade that facilitated cultural exchanges. Islamic art covers a wide variety of media including calligraphy, illustrated manuscripts, textiles, ceramics, metalwork and glass, and refers to the art of Muslim countries in the Near East, Islamic Spain, and Northern Africa, though by no means always Muslim artists or craftsmen. Glass production, for example, remained a Jewish speciality throughout the period, and Christian art, as in Coptic Egypt continued, especially during the earlier centuries, keeping some contacts with Europe.
Islamic decorative arts were highly valued imports to Europe throughout the Middle Ages; largely because of unsuspected accidents of survival the majority of surviving examples are those that were in the possession of the church. In the early period textiles were especially important, used for church vestments, shrouds, hangings and clothing for the elite. Islamic pottery of everyday quality was still preferred to European wares. Because decoration was mostly ornamental, or small hunting scenes and the like, and inscriptions were not understood, Islamic objects did not offend Christian sensibilities.In the early centuries of Islam the most important points of contact between the Latin West and the Islamic world from an artistic point of view were Southern Italy and Sicily and the Iberian peninsula, which both held significant Muslim populations. Later the Italian maritime republics were important in trading artworks. In the Crusades Islamic art seems to have had relatively little influence even on the Crusader art of the Crusader kingdoms, though it may have stimulated the desire for Islamic imports among Crusaders returning to Europe.
Numerous techniques from Islamic art formed the basis of art in the Norman-Arab-Byzantine culture of Norman Sicily, much of which used Muslim artists and craftsmen working in the style of their own tradition. Techniques included inlays in mosaics or metals, ivory carving or porphyry, sculpture of hard stones, and bronze foundries. In Iberia the Mozarabic art and architecture of the Christian population living under Muslim rule remained very Christian in most ways, but showed Islamic influences in other respects; much what was described as this is now called Repoblación art and architecture. After the Reconquista Mudéjar styles produced by Muslim or Morisco artists now under Christian rule showed clear Islamic influence in many ways.Last Supper in Christian art
The Last Supper of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles has been a popular subject in Christian art, often as part of a cycle showing the Life of Christ. Depictions of the Last Supper in Christian art date back to early Christianity and can be seen in the Catacombs of Rome.The Last Supper was depicted both in the Eastern and Western Churches. By the Renaissance, it was a favorite subject in Italian art. It was also one of the few subjects to be continued in Lutheran altarpieces for a few decades after the Protestant Reformation.There are two major scenes shown in depictions of the Last Supper: the dramatic announcement of the betrayal of Jesus, and the institution of the Eucharist. After the meal the further scenes of Jesus washing the feet of his apostles and the farewell of Jesus to his disciples are also sometimes depicted.Mandorla
A mandorla is an aureola, or frame, usually in the shape of a vesica piscis, which surrounds the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary in traditional Christian art. It is distinguished from a halo in that it encircles the entire body, and not just the head. It is commonly used to frame the figure of Christ in Majesty in early medieval and Romanesque art, as well as Byzantine art of the same periods.Medieval art
The medieval art of the Western world covers a vast scope of time and place, over 1000 years of art in Europe, and at times the Middle East and North Africa. It includes major art movements and periods, national and regional art, genres, revivals, the artists' crafts, and the artists themselves.
Art historians attempt to classify medieval art into major periods and styles, often with some difficulty. A generally accepted scheme includes the later phases of Early Christian art, Migration Period art, Byzantine art, Insular art, Pre-Romanesque, Romanesque art, and Gothic art, as well as many other periods within these central styles. In addition each region, mostly during the period in the process of becoming nations or cultures, had its own distinct artistic style, such as Anglo-Saxon art or Viking art.
Medieval art was produced in many media, and works survive in large numbers in sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, metalwork and mosaics, all of which have had a higher survival rate than other media such as fresco wall-paintings, work in precious metals or textiles, including tapestry. Especially in the early part of the period, works in the so-called "minor arts" or decorative arts, such as metalwork, ivory carving, enamel and embroidery using precious metals, were probably more highly valued than paintings or monumental sculpture.Medieval art in Europe grew out of the artistic heritage of the Roman Empire and the iconographic traditions of the early Christian church. These sources were mixed with the vigorous "barbarian" artistic culture of Northern Europe to produce a remarkable artistic legacy. Indeed, the history of medieval art can be seen as the history of the interplay between the elements of classical, early Christian and "barbarian" art. Apart from the formal aspects of classicism, there was a continuous tradition of realistic depiction of objects that survived in Byzantine art throughout the period, while in the West it appears intermittently, combining and sometimes competing with new expressionist possibilities developed in Western Europe and the Northern legacy of energetic decorative elements. The period ended with the self-perceived Renaissance recovery of the skills and values of classical art, and the artistic legacy of the Middle Ages was then disparaged for some centuries. Since a revival of interest and understanding in the 19th century it has been seen as a period of enormous achievement that underlies the development of later Western art.Memento mori
Memento mori (Latin: "remember (that) you will die") is the medieval Latin Christian theory and practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. It is related to the ars moriendi ("The Art of Dying") and similar Western literature. Memento mori has been an important part of ascetic disciplines as a means of perfecting the character by cultivating detachment and other virtues, and by turning the attention towards the immortality of the soul and the afterlife.In art, memento mori are artistic or symbolic reminders of mortality. In the European Christian art context, "the expression [...] developed with the growth of Christianity, which emphasized Heaven, Hell, and salvation of the soul in the afterlife".Nazarene movement
The epithet Nazarene was adopted by a group of early 19th century German Romantic painters who aimed to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art. The name Nazarene came from a term of derision used against them for their affectation of a biblical manner of clothing and hair style.Pietà
A pietà (Italian pronunciation: [pjeˈta]; meaning "pity", "compassion") is a subject in Christian art depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, most often found in sculpture. As such, it is a particular form of the Lamentation of Christ, a scene from the Passion of Christ found in cycles of the Life of Christ. When Christ and the Virgin are surrounded by other figures from the New Testament, the subject is strictly called a lamentation in English, although pietà is often used for this as well, and is the normal term in Italian.Religious art
Religious art or sacred art is artistic imagery using religious inspiration and motifs and is often intended to uplift the mind to the spiritual. Sacred art involves the ritual and cultic practices and practical and operative aspects of the path of the spiritual realization within the artist's religious tradition.Vanitas
A vanitas is a symbolic work of art showing the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death, often contrasting symbols of wealth and symbols of ephemerality and death. Best-known are vanitas still lifes, a common genre in Netherlandish art of the 16th and 17th centuries; they have also been created at other times and in other media and genres.