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History of Christian Art Through the Ages
Taken From "An Outline History of the Church by Centuries”  
(From the St. Peter to Pius XII) by Joseph McSorley).  
 
I. In the One Hundreds: The catacombs presented familiar forms of pagan decoration, features; as yet there existed no distinctively Christian art. Conspicuously peculiar portrayal of ideas was deliberately avoided during the time of persecution. 
II. In the Two Hundreds: Numerous examples of primitive Christian art discovered in the catacombs within the last one hundred years--assigned to the third, and in even some cases to the third, and even in some cases, to the second century-a large proportion are in the cemetery of St. Callistus, which includes, well preserved papal crypt. Symbols which appear are the anchor, the palm, the dove, the olive branch, and a praying female (orant), representing the soul of the deceased; the Good Shepherd carrying the lamb; the Fish; the Monogram of Christ; and representations of the Eucharist. One of the oldest paintings, in the Cemetery Priscilla shows the Virgin with the child on her lap and the Prophet Isaiah pointing to the Star above, her head. 
 
III. the Three Hundreds: Now free to carry on worship in public, the Christians began to erect churches--some of them rectangular basilicas, other round edifices, not unlike Roman tombs, and other octagonal buildings. The basilica of St. John Latreran, possibly an enlargement of the great hall of the palace of the Laterani family, was presented to the church about 311 by Constantine, to whose wife, Fausta, it had belonged. As the cathedral of Rome, it still carries its proud title, "Omnium Urbis Ecclesia rum Mater et Caput". 
 
In the Circus of Caligular, where martyrs had suffered under Nero, the church of St. Peter was raised over his tomb in 323. Constantine erected other basilicas outside the walls, built a church in Constantinople on the site of the future Santa Sophia, and also put up churches at Trye, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem.  
 
 
Frescoes and mosaics were much employed as a medium of religious instruction. Among the earliest Christian mosaics are those in the small Roman basilica of the Santa Pidentiana--classical figures of Christ and the Apostles portrayed against under an opalescent sky in which appear a jeweled cross and the symbols of the evangelists. 
 
IV. In the Four Hundreds: By this time there had developed a distinctive style that was employed to illustrate Christian ideas and doctrines in the new churches of the East and the West. Magnificent mosaics, especially those in Rome and Ravenna, made this a notable period in the history of art. Christian art had broken away from the old habit of caution and secrecy and use was made of the Cross in public worship.  
 
V. In the Five Hundreds: Churches, mosaics, diptychs, illuminated manuscripts, record important developments  
in Christian art--with Constantinople as center of the East and Ravenna as center of the West. In his capital, Justinian built the churches of St. Irene and of the Holy Apostles and Saint Sophia (Hagia Sophia). 
 
About this time appear realistic images of the Crucifixion, with the figure of Christ on the Cross replacing the more ancient symbolical representations--the lamb at the foot of the anchor and the dolphin twined around the trident, Beginning with the sixth century the crucificix is seen frequently in manuscripts and on monuments both private and public. The use of the crucifix (as distinguished from the cross) in public worship, however, was not yet general. 
 
VI. The Six Hundreds: The Arab conquests which checked the growth of Christian art in Asia, indirectly affected its character in the West. For, after the fall of Alexandria in 641, many of its artists took refuge in Mediterranean cities and helped to infuse a Greek strain into developing Latin culture. 
 
VII. The Seven Hundreds: In the early Middle Ages, the copying and illuminating of manuscripts took up the largest number of working hours in the cloister; and the masterpieces thus produced became the chief medium for the transmitting of styles and motifs from place to place in a period when artists traveled very little. 
 
Typical of Irish art at its best (and in the opinion of some, a sample of the finest craftsmanship known)is the celebrated Book of Kells, otherwise known as "The Great Gospel" of Columcille," which belongs to the early eight or late seventh century. This manuscript (now in Trinity College, Dublin) contains the four gospels, a fragment of Hebrew, and an ancient collection of cannons. Of equal,  
or almost equal beauty is the book known as the Lindisfarne Gospel ("St. Cuthbert's Gospels) written about the year 700, and containing the earliest copy of the Gospels in English (preserved in the British Museum). 
 
VIII. The Eight Hundreds:Both in the British Isles and on the Continent monks and nuns produced richly illuminated manuscripts. Much of this work was of the Celtic type. In the East artistic development was temporarily restarted by the Iconoclasts, who destroyed religious images and frescoes with whitewash. With the triumph of orthodoxy and devotional traditional, however, Byzantine art revived, to become even more vigorous than before. In Ireland, after burning of Iona by the Danes in 8-02, the monks made Kells their headquarters and formed there a celebrated center of the art and learning. 
 
IX. The Nine Hundreds: In the East Byzantine art opened a new Golden Age; and in the East Theophano, wife of Otto II, encouraged the activity of emigrant Greek artist. In Rome itself, culture was at low ebb; but in Lombardy and beyond the Alps, Romanesque churches were rising. Germany made ivory carving an important feature of religious art. Arab control of Egypt made the imprinting of parchment so difficult that many classical manuscripts were used as palimpsests and thus destroyed. 
 
X. The Ten Hundreds: New life stirred in the field of religious art; and here indirectly Cluny exercised wide influence. Ecclesiastical architecture reached a high level in Italy, Spain, Germany, Burgundy, Normandy, England; bell towers and cloisters multiplied; Venice began the period of the great mosaics; bronze work and enamel work developed in this period exists in Augsburg, Hildesheim, and Tegernsee. Workmen from Normandy built strikingly beautiful churches in England, exemplified by Durham Cathedral and (with modifications) by Winchester, Hereford, Ely, and Gloucester. In the East Byzantine art continued its luxuriant growth. 
 
XI. The Eleven Hundreds: This era of beginning in so many fields witnesses a quickening of artistic activity--due in part to the Crusades which facilitated intercourse between the East and West and let to the emigration of Greek artists into Italy. The decorating of St. Mark's began about this time, was carried on for almost three hundred years. In twelfth-century church of Sicily--Cefalu, the Cappella Palatina of Palermo, and the Cathedral of Monreale--we possess masterpieces of surpassing beauty. Frescoes, sometimes important, but of very unequal value, were produced in Italy under Benedictine leadership. North of the Alps Gothic churches, in order to reduce the amount of stonework needed, developed ribbed vaults and an opportunity for the artists in stained glass to display his love of allegory. Notable examples of twelfth-century glass are to be found at Chartes and in other French churches, as well as at Canterbury and York. 
 
XII. The Twelve Hundreds: The religious spirit of the time expressed itself in splendid Gothic edifices. In Notre Dame of Chartres (consecrated in 1260); medieval art "reached a height of achievement which has never been surpassed"; and the Cistercian tradition of building, introduced into England, proved to be one "one of the direct ancestors of the most beautiful Gothic." 
 
The renaissance in painting was led by Giotto whose story of St. Francis adorns the church of the Sain in Assisi. The new era in sculpture, which began with the work of the brothers of Pisano, produced celebrated pulpits at Pisa and Siena. Mosaics were used generously to ornament pulpits, episcopal thrones, candlesticks, and the columns of cloisters.  
 
 
XIII. The Thirteen Hundreds: The spirit of faith continued to express itself in various artistic forms--the carved screens of Toledo, the silverwork of Barcelona, the ivory and stained glass of France, the woodcarving and ironwork of Germany; and the Gothic decorations of England, especially in choir stalls and interior woodwork, reaches an extraordinary perfection. Noble churches arose in many  
places--Italian architecture turning away from the earlier Gothic style and English buildings favoring Perpendicular. The lavish flamboyant style appeared in France. 
 
Byzantine artists were still busily engaged in Eastern Europe; but the development of religious painting was to be a Western achievement. Italy was vibrant with art. In Venice, Milan and throughout Umbria, architects, painters, sculptors abounded. Florence, under the Medici was the greatest center of all. Two celebrated schools arose: the Florentine, embodying the spirit of Giotto and Fra Angelico; and the Sienese, following the Duccio and Lorenzetti. Under the leadership of the Van Eycks, the Flemish school made its influence felt throughout Europe. The minor arts reached their highest level in France, where miniatures unexcelled in Europe were produced at St. Denis and elsewhere. 
 
XIV. The Fourteen Hundreds: This century, "the Quattro cento," was enriched with the work of many masters rarely equaled in the ability to portray spiritual qualities; San Marco, Florence stand out as perhaps the highest expression of mystical art. In Rome the popes began the restoration of the Leoine City. Martin V rebuilt and decorated churches, awarding the Golden Rose annually to worthy artists on Laetare Sunday; Eugene IV brought Fra Angellico to the Vatican to decorate the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament; Nicholas V "the greatest Humanist" inaugurated a vast building program; Sixtus IV engaged the services of Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio, Melozzo da Forli, and other artists. 
 
XV. The Fifteen Hundreds: Artistic activity centered largely in Rome where the popes provided employment for many of the distinguished artists of the time. But the greatly gifted painters of the Cinque cento already showed a lowering of spiritual quality. Michelangelo has been described as "a truly religious soul who by sheer genius forced the dying Gothic content through the classic form"; Ghirlandaio and Leonardo da Vinci displayed a tendency to Worldliness; Raphael sometimes painted like a pagan; Perugino was charged with being at heart an atheist; Veronese was twice hailed before the Inquisition for the use of irreverent detail; Caravaggio (a pioneer in the field of naturalist art), striving for realism, used a drowned woman as a model for his "Death of the Blessed Virgin," now at the Louvre. Albrecht Durer (d. 1528), not wholly free from Italian influence, is nevertheless one of the best representatives of German religious art. 
 
XVI. The Sixteen Hundreds: In striking contrast with the Renaissance painters. the artist of this period recall the Quattrocentists in their fondness for the scenes of the Franciscan story, the episodes of the Gospels, and the legends of the saints--as may be noted in pictures painted in the Netherlands and in Spain, as well as in Italy. The new Baroque style, which produced some fine architecture, decoration, and sculpture, often degenerated into showiness and extravent straining after decorative effect --faults that led to a general condemnation of the entire style and prevented recognition of its undeniable merits. 
 
XVII. The Seventeen Hundreds: The rococo style, which appeared in France under Louis XV, spread to other European countries, notably Austria and Germany, and became especially popular in Italy; in Mexico it combined with the Aztec tradition--as may be seen in numerous churches. It died out when interest in classical art was revived by the study of archaeology.  

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