Early Christian 14-01-2004 Handout and Slides

Early Christian 14-01-2004 Handout and Slides


Dr Cecily Hennessy

Classical Tradition

Early Christian and Early Byzantine

This lecture will look at material from the third to the sixth century. During this period the centre of the Roman empire shifted from Rome to Constantinople in the east, and Christianit emerged as the dominant religion, becoming legalised in 311 / 12. Early artists developed ways to depict the new narratives and concepts of Christianity, often borrowing from Judaic and Pagan heritage in terms of function, iconography, and style. We will focus on an early church in Dura Europos, on the edge of the Christianised world, and on the catacombs in Rome, which show firs attempts at developing a visual vocabulary. S. Costanza in Rome (pre 354), the Mauseoleum of Galla Placidia (424-30) in Ravenna, and S. Maria Maggiore (432-440) in Rome can be used to explore the changes in Christian decorative programmes as church doctrine became formulated. We will also look at S. Vitale (540-548) in Ravenna with its fine mosaics of sacred and secular rulers. We will also be looking at portable objects: metalwork, ivories, manuscripts and finally at panel paintings, and asking questions about the origins and function of Christianised art, particularly in its relation to the classical tradition.

Dura Europos

Slide 1: Dura Europos

The Dura-Europos Synagogue

In 256 CE the Dura-Europos synagogue was filled in to housetop level with an earthen embankment intended to stave off a Persian invasion. The city ‘s defenders may have destroyed the synagogue in the short term, yet they preserved its beautiful wall – paintings for posterity by protecting them from rain and sunlight.

The synagogue, discovered in 1932, consists of a Forecourt and House of Assembly measuring 14 x 8.7 m (please see the plan of the synagogue). The ornate Torah shrine in the western wall faces Jerusalem. Kraeling estimates that the synagogue ‘s benches could seat 65 people. The presence of the wall – paintings on Jewish themes and the Torah shrine help in identifying the building as a synagogue.

Synagogue, early 3 Century, Damascus, National Museum, detail: the Idol of Dagon destroyed and the ark being led away

Slide 2: Dura Europa mural

Slide 3: Dura Europa Christian Church

Dura Europos, Christian building, early 3 Century, Yale, University Art Gallery, detail: Good



Catacomb, passageway,

Slide 4: Cubiculum Leonis

, Commodilla catacomb, late 4 Century

Slide 5: Arcosolium of cubiculum

C, 320, Via Latina catacomb; Jonah sarcophagus, last quarter 3

Slide 6: Priscilla catacomb

, late 3, Good Shepherd, Story of Jonah

Rome Via Latina Catacomb Samson and the Lion c350-400. jpg

Slide 7: Via Latina catacomb(image not found), Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides; Daniel in the Lions’ Den


Slide 8: Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

, 359, Vatican, detail: Christ ‘s entry into Jerusalem 4 – 6th C hristian buildings and their decoration

Slide 9: S. Costanza(image not found), probably pre 354, Rome, interior, ambulatory ceiling mosaics; sarcophagus

Rome S Costanza Ambulatory vault mosaics pressing wine detail c350.jpg

Rome S Costanza Ambulatory vault mosaics pressing wine more detail c350.jpg

Rome S Costanza Ambulatory.jpg

Rome S Costanza c350.jpg

S. Maria Maggiore, 432 – 440, Rome, interior; Triumphal arch mosaics: Christ’s Nativity

Rome S Maria Maggiore Adoration of the Magi Triumphal Arch mosaics. jpg

Rome S Maria Maggiore looking east 432-40. jpg

Slide 10: Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

, plan, 424 – 30, Ravenna, exterior, interior with S. Lawrence and vault

Slide 11: S. Vitale

, finished 548, Ravenna, plan, interior view, presbytery mosaics, apse, Christ between archangels, S. Vitale and Bishop Ecclesius, Court of Justinian, Court of Theodora

Ravenna S Vitale exterior.jpg

Ravenna S Vitale Justinian Bishop Maximian clergy courtiers soldiers.jpg

Ravenna S Vitale Justinian with courtier detail.jpg

Ravenna S Vitale looking east.jpg

Ravenna S Vitale plan.jpg

Ravenna S Vitale Theodora and her Court.jpg

Metalwork, Ivory and Manuscripts

Slide 12: Projecta casket

, Esquiline Treasure, 4 th C., British Museum

Slide 13: Apotheosis ivory

, from a diptych, Rome, ca 400, British Museum

Slide 14: Barberini ivory

, 6 century, Louvre

Slide 15: Sinope Gospels

, Christ healing a blind man, folio 29 r, 6 C, Biblioth'que Nationale.

Slide 16: Vienna Genesis

Slide 17: Vienna Genesis Temptation of Joseph 500-600

Rebecca at the well, page 13, 6 C, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna.


Virgin and child, saints and angels, 6 C.,

Slide 18: St Catherine’s, Sinai

Useful Dates

Constantine the Great: 272 / 3-337

Edict of Toleration: Christianity legalised: 311 / 12

Dedication of Constantinople: 330

Christianity becomes official Roman religion: 392

Council of Ephesus: 431

Traditional end of the western Roman empire: 476

Justinian I: 527 – 565

Suggested Reading List:

For introductory material on the art and architecture of Early

Christianity and Byzantium, with bibliographies for further reading (all available in paperback):

Cormack, R., Byzantine Art (Oxford, 2000).

Lowden, J., Early Christian and Byzantine Art (London, 1997).

Mathews, T., Byzantium. From Antiquity to the Renaissance (New York / London, 1998).

Lyn Rodley, Byzantine Art andArchitecture (1994)

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