Late Antiquity / Early Christian
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Late Antiquity / Early Christian. The Shift From ‘Realism’ to ‘Religion’. After the Fall of the Western (Roman Empire), the style of art changed dramatically. Creating ideals and proportions took a backseat to teaching the narratives and symbolism of Christianity.

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Late Antiquity / Early Christian

The Shift From ‘Realism’ to ‘Religion’

After the Fall of the Western (Roman Empire), the style of art changed dramatically. Creating ideals and proportions took a backseat to teaching the narratives and symbolism of Christianity.

The Parts of the Christian Churches

The terminology of the churches is used throughout the AP Test. Know all of the terms associated with this presentation.

Central Plan vs. Basilica Plan

Originally, there were two basic types of Christian Church plans. Knowing these plans (and why they were designed as such) should aid you in learning how the needs of Christianity affected these layouts.

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Late Antiquity / Early Christian

330 - Constantine moved his capital to Byzantium and renamed it CONSTANTINOPLE. Most pieces of Jewish Art were destroyed, and the Jewish people often faced special taxes, restrictions and even persecution.

395- The Roman Empire split permanently by Emperor Theodosius I into two parts:


The EASTERN EMPIRE (Byzantine)

410 - Rome is sacked by the Visigoths.

476 - Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman emperor, is deposed by the German Odoacer.

527 - Justinian becomes Eastern Roman emperor. Constantinople covers eight square miles (Manhattan covers twenty-two square miles) with at least 500,000 inhabitants.

532­37- Justinian builds the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

726 - Byzantine Emperor Leo III orders all icons in the Byzantine Empire destroyed.

Quick Timeline

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Late Antiquity / Early Christian


Figures are references to Mythology or Government


Stories and references to Christ

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Late Antiquity / Early Christian

Jewish synagogues contained almost no representational sculpture because Jewish law forbade praying to images or idols. Decorative paintings and mosaics were displayed on walls to denote religious concepts.

Synagogue Floor, from Maon, Jerusalem. c 530.

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Early Christian

Throughout Art History, The Life of Jesus Christ is broken down into three major categories:

The events surrounding Christ’s conception, birth, infancy and childhood.

Keys events include the calling of the twelve apostles, performing miracles and giving sermons.

The events which include Christ’s arrest, trial, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.




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Early Christian

The term ‘Early Christian’ refers to the preserved works of the first five centuries CE. For the first THREE centuries after Christ’s death, Roman authorities banned Christianity and often persecuted Christians. During this period, Christians concealed their religious practices by digging tunnels outside of Rome. Known as catacombs, these tunnels were underground passageways where early Christians could worship and bury their dead. The catacombs extended up to 90 miles and as deep as five levels.

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Early Christian

Roman Christians sometimes decorated their catacomb walls with frescoes depicting the life and teachings of Jesus.

The Catacomb of Priscilla contains a particularly revealing fresco that may date to the 4th century. Here, Christ is depicted as a Good Shepherd, which refers to a passage from the Gospel of John in which Christ said, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

The Good Shepherd Fresco, Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, c 320-340 CE. EARLY CHRISTIAN

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Early Christian

Christ’s physical form is based on Greco-Roman models. He is youthful, clean shaven and clothed in a modest classical tunic. Christ even stands in a classical contrapposto pose and physically resembles a young Apollo.

The Good Shepherd Fresco, Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome,

c 320-340 CE.


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Early Christian

Like their pagan contemporaries, wealthy Christians preferred to be buried in marble sarcophagi. The richly carved Sarcophagus of Junius Bassius was made for an important Roman official who converted to Christianity before his death in 359.

This tends to be an important piece as it combines Christian themes with Classical architectural and figural elements.

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus,c 359.EARLY CHRISTIAN

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Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus,c 359. EARLY CHRISTIAN

Two registers, 10 panels of OLD and NEW Testament scenes…Christ is depicted in center with Roman themes.

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Early Christian

Sarcophagus with philosopher, Rome, Italy, ca 270. EARLY CHRISTIAN

Jesus is represented by two figures on the right, the small child being baptized and the Shepherd to his left.

The future ministry of Jesus is represented by the turned head of the young boy to the Shepherd and by the placement of his hand on one of the sheep.

This is Jesus as a child receiving a baptism in the River Jordan even though he was baptized at age thirty.

Baptism was significant in the early centuries of Christianity because so many adults were converted to the new faith in this manner.

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Early Christian

Suicide of Judas and Crucifixion of Christ,

plaque from a casket, ivory, ca 420

Ivory Carving

The narrative on the box begins with Pilate washing his hands, Jesus carrying the cross on the road to Calvary, and the denial of Peter, all compressed into a single panel.

The plaque that is illustrated here is the next in the sequence and shows, at the left, Judas hanging from a tree with his open bag of silver dumped on the ground beneath his feet. the Crucifixion is at the right. The Virgin Mary and Joseph are to the left of the cross.

On the other side Longinus thrusts his spear into the side of the "King of the Jews."

The two remaining panels show two Marys and two soldiers at the open doors of a tomb with an empty coffin and the doubting Thomas touching the wound of the risen Christ.

The figure of Christ does not appear to be in pain because he is displayed on the cross, rather than hung from it, as though he has conquered death and does not suffer.

The contrast of Jesus whose body remains strong on the cross contrasts with the body of his betrayer, Judas, hanging from a tree with a limp body and a snapped neck. Visually and symbolically, this image was meant to show Jesus as a strong leader and not prone to pain or complete death.

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Early Christian

Old St. Peter’s in Rome, completed by Constantine I around 324 AD. EARLY CHRISTIAN

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Early Christian


See Santa Sabina, p.170.


Side Aisles





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Early Christian

Santa Costanza, Rome, 350 AD.


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Early Christian


See Hagia Sophia, p.174.


Side Aisles




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Late Antiquity / Early Christian

Santa Sabina,Rome, c422-432 AD EARLY CHRISTIAN

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Late Antiquity / Early Christian

Santa Sabina,Rome, c422-432 AD EARLY CHRISTIAN

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Late Antiquity / Early Christian

Santa Sabina,Rome, c422-432 AD EARLY CHRISTIAN

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Late Antiquity / Early Christian

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia,Ravenna, c425-26 AD EARLY CHRISTIAN

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Late Antiquity / Early Christian

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia,Ravenna, c425-26 AD EARLY CHRISTIAN

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Late Antiquity / Early Christian

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia,Ravenna, c425-26 AD EARLY CHRISTIAN

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Late Antiquity / Early Christian

Map showing collapse of Western Empire and Justinian’s reign

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Byzantine Art

When Emperor Justinian decide to build a church in Constantinople (the greatest city in the world for 400 years), he wanted to make it as grand as his empire.

He assigned the task to two mathematicians, Anthemius and Isidorus. They created theHagia Sophia(“Holy Wisdom”)

Nearly 3 football fields long, and the dome is 180 in diameter! This architectural feat was accomplished with the use of pendentives.

Hagia Sophia,532-537.Istanbul, Turkey. BYZANTINE

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Byzantine Art

Hagia Sophia,532-537, Istanbul, Turkey. BYZANTINE

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Byzantine Art

Large, decorated pendentivesinside the Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia,532-537Istanbul, Turkey. BYZANTINE

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Byzantine Art

Byzantine Basics: Three F’s and a G

Although the artist includes some shading, figures appear flat, lacking volume that was common with Classical Art.

Figures appear to hover over the ground. Note the pointed 45-degree angle of the feet.

Unlike the realistic overlapping seen in most Classical art, Byzantine figures are usually turned toward the viewer.

Byzantine Art shows very little interest in a background. Byzantine art focuses more on conveying Christian teachings and depicting important figures than on representing the natural world.





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Mausoleum of Galla Placidia,Ravenna, c425-26 AD


Emperor Justinian and his Attendants,

Church of San Vitale, c547.


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Early Christian

San Vitale

Commissioned by Bishop Ecclesius when Italy was still under Ostrogothic rule, but only completed after Justinian’s conquest of Ravenna.

Octagonal-shaped building with exedrae that extend out from the building.

Most notably is the interior…

Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, c547.

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Byzantine Art

Church of San Vitale,Ravenna, c547. BYZANTINE

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Byzantine Art

Close-Up of Apse of Church of San Vitale,Ravenna, c547. BYZANTINE

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Byzantine Art

Emperor Justinian and his Attendants, Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, c547.

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Byzantine Art

Empress Theodora and her Attendants, Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, c547.

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Byzantine Art

The Barberini Ivory illustrates how early Byzantine art borrowed from symbols of Classical art. The figure, identified as Justinian, rides victoriously similar to the Marcus Aurelius Equestrian statue, with conquered enemies making offerings in the bottom panel.

Although the figures are not proportional as they would be in Classical art, the piece connects the conquests of Justinian with the peace of Christ.

Barberini Ivory, 6th Century. BYZANTINE

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Byzantine Art

Icons were items used as vehicles for prayer to God. Among some of the finest were images of Virgin Mary, known as Theotokos (bearer of God). She was also known as the Seat of Wisdom, often holding a baby Jesus in her lap.

During theiconoclasmof the 8th century, most icons like this were destroyed, but a few like this in Mount Sinai, Egypt, survived.

This picture is painted with encaustic, which is a pigment with melted wax.

Virgin and Child Between the SaintsIcon, Late 6th Century. BYZANTINE

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Byzantine Art

After about a hundred years of the Iconoclasm, worshippers began to make diptychs and triptychs to be used as private devotion and for prayers. Hinges allowed them to be folded for transport.

The Harbaville Triptych is a good example of such a piece. Made of ivory, It contains an enthroned Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.

Harbaville Triptych, 10th Century CE. BYZANTINE

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Byzantine Art

Miracle of the loaves and fishes,Mosaic from the top register of the nave wall (above the clerestory windows) or St’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, c504. Early Christian

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Early Christian

Rebecca at the Well, from the Book of Genesis, Gold and Tempera on Purple-Dyed Vellum. Early 6th Centruy