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Unit 3 (1st half): c. 200 - 1750 CE

Early Europe and Colonial America

Images 48-72; 84

Main Ideas:

  • As different cultural and intellectual movements sprung throughout Europe, artists sought to depict God in their artworks in different ways

  • As different entities (such as the Catholic Church, French monarchy, Spanish monarchy in America, etc.) sought to expand their power, they commissioned artworks that glorified their power


Early European Art

  • Late Antique Europe: Often adapts pagan elements to Christianity (such as Roman basilica & columns, shepherds, etc.) to encourage Romans to convert to Christianity

  • Early Byzantine Europe: Uses art to emphasize the Orthodox Christian idea of finding God through internal spirituality and not through doctrine
  • Early Medieval Europe: Its artworks contain different motifs all strung together, representative of the different cultures in Western Europe after the fall of Rome (476 CE)
  • Umayyad: Its artwork contains grand mesmerizing imagery to encourage Spaniards to convert to Islam while proclaiming dominance over the Abbasids

Image 48: Catacomb of Priscilla



Catacomb of Priscilla


Rome, Italy


Late Antique Europe


c. 200 - 400 CE


Excavated tufa and fresco

  • Had lots of Biblical scenes → Sought to allow for the practice of Christianity in its early days when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians (until 313 CE)
    • A Wealthy Roman woman named Priscilla donated the land beneath her estate (which became this catacomb) for the burial of Christians

      • Christianity was just developing in this time, and Christians were persecuted in Rome until 313 CE​

    • There are many works of art that show the miracles of Christ and the martyrs of Christianity → Sought to encourage others to convert to Christianity by showing how brave and powerful Christians are

      • One room is the Greek Chapel, which is decorated with Old and New Testament Scenes as well as Jesus' miracles​

      • The Cubiculum of the Veiled Woman shows a woman in a position of prayer as her soul rises upward to heaven​

        • Symbolizes the Christian promise of salvation​

      • Christ as the Good Shepherd shows Christ surrounded by 3 goats

        • It symbolizes that Christ will care for his followers, just like a shepherd cares for his flock of goats​

        • Depicts Christ as a teacher rather than the holy son of God

    • The works of art were simple as they sought to adopt pagan elements and adapt them to Christianity

      • Christ as the Good Shepherd adopts a Greek idea involving portraying Christ as a shepherd​​

Image 49: Santa Sabina



Santa Sabina




Late Antique Europe


c. 422 - 432 CE


Brick and stone, wooden roof

  • Was an Early Christian Church in a former Roman basilica with a longitudinal (rectilinear) focus
    • Roman basilicas were grand and were used for governmental purposes​ → Christians reused those same buildings as they represented authority & power​

    • The interior architecture of the Church helps guide our focus to the front (the altar)

      • The nave arcade has weight-bearing columns (reused from pagan times), and they have arches between them, and looking across the columns guides our focus to the altar in the front of the church​

        • The inlaid stone patterns above the columns are decorated with chalices and bread plates: References to the eucharist​

      • The rectilinear focus allows for large numbers of people to enter the church to focus their worship on the altar

        • In contrast, Greek & Roman temples were much smaller and only had space to hold a cult statue​

    • The wooden doorway is carved with Old & New Testament Scenes

      • There are some scenes of Jesus's crucifixion, which is unique since most early Christian art focuses on Jesus's miracles in order to gauge more support for Christianity​

Image 50: Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well and Jacob Wrestling the Angel, from the Vienna Genesis



Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well and Jacob Wrestling the Angel, from the Vienna Genesis


Early Byzantine Europe


Early sixth century CE


Illuminated manuscript (tempera, gold, and silver on purple vellum)

  • Rebecca & Eliezer at the Well: Uses elements of classical art in an illustration of a scene from the Old Testament Book of Genesis
    • The Story: Abraham sent his servant Eliezer to look for a wife for Abraham's son Isaac → Eliezer took 10 camels with him and stopped at a well to give them water → Eliezer prayed that Isaac's future wife would assist him in watering the camels → Rebecca arrives as she thinks she is the wife for Isaac

    • Elements of Classical Art:

      • The colonnade (row of columns) on the bridge​

      • Leftmost figure is a reclining nude woman, representing sensuality and emotion

      • The castle at the top right ignores spatial consistency (because it's relatively small and has columns in inconsistent places)

  • Jacob Wrestling the Angel: Also uses elements of classical art in an illustration of a scene from the Old Testament Book of Genesis
    • The Story: Jacob (depicted in red and brown tunic in top center) wakes up and leads his wives and servants (who are on donkeys) across a bridge → Jacob (depicted in brown tunic in bottom center) then wrestles an angel to get a blessing → The Angel blesses him, so Jacob is renamed Israel, and he then walks off
    • Elements of Classical Art:
      • The bridge has Roman-style arches​ and a colonnade
      • The perspective of the bridge is skewed: The columns above the bridge on the far side appear taller than those on the near side

Image 51: San Vitale

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San Vitale


Ravenna, Italy


Early Byzantine Europe


c. 526 - 547 CE


Brick, marble, and stone veneer; mosaic

  • Centrally planned church → Emphasizes the orthodox Christian belief of finding God through internal spirituality and not through doctrine
    • Unlike Santa Sabina which is rectilinear (and has a focus on learning doctrine from the priest at the altar), this has one central octagonal space

      • The central space has a raised ceiling (clerestory) so that sunlight can come in, allowing people who stand there to feel a spiritual connection to God above them​

    • Ravenna was controlled by the Goths who didn't believe in orthodox Christianity (they instead believed Christ was subordinate to God and the Holy Trinity) → Emperor Justinian & Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire attempt to assert their own authority in Ravenna to promote the revival of Orthodox Christianity

      • Justinian's Mosaic:​

        • Justinian's purple robe and halo symbolize religious power​

        • He is surrounded by religious, political, and military leaders → Shows that he has religious, political, and military power

        • The person 3rd from right has an inscription above him saying that he's Bishop Maximus (Bishop of Ravenna) → Shows that he's subordinate to Justinian (as Justinian's in the center)

      • Theodora's Mosaic:

        • Complementary to Justinian's Mosaic (purple robe halo, golden background, etc.​

        • Surrounded by attendants of her Byzantine imperial court → Shows that the Byzantine imperial court's authority extends to Ravenna

Image 52: Hagia Sophia



Hagia Sophia


Constantinople (Istanbul)


Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus


c. 532 - 537 CE


Brick and ceramic elements with stone and mosaic veneer

  • Has a large dome, and it has complex & kaleidoscopic decorations on the walls, floors, and ceilings → Creates a feeling of heaven and spirituality
    • The large dome above the main hall represents a feeling of heaven when one stands underneath (similar to San Vitale)

      • The dome has small windows along its bottom, so when sunlight comes in, it appears that the dome is floating → Gives a feeling of heaven​

      • The dome is circular while its base is square → Pendentives (curved triangles) and piers (hidden beams) bear its weight

    • The floors and walls of the building have complex kaleidoscopic decorations → When people look at them, they are "lost in thought," resembling the same spiritual feeling people acquire in heaven

      • The paint and tiles are in random patterns, so they reflect and accentuate the sunlight in random ways​

    • The idea of finding God through spirituality and not though doctrine represents the ideals of Orthodox Christianity (like in San Vitale)

    • Once had many decorations but were mostly destroyed during the iconoclasm controversy (700s-800s CE)

      • The apse (behind the dome) has a mosaic of Virgin Mary and Jesus​

    • Meant to reinforce the power of the ruler

      • Located right next to Byzantine emperor's palace​

      • Ottoman sultan has his own lodge (elevated from the public) from where he worships

    • First an Orthodox Christian Church (under Byzantine Empire) then a Mosque (when Ottomans conquered Byzantines) in 1453

      • Thus, it represents a combination of cultures: Roman-style basilica, Christian imagery, Islamic calligraphy, Byzantine architecture​

Image 54: Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George



Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George


Early Byzantine Europe


Sixth or Early 7th Century CE


Encaustic on wood

  • Represents a sense of spirituality by showing a direct pathway from the people to God
    • The spatial ambiguity and imagery convey spiritualism

      • The heads look very flat, and the space is compressed ​→ Shows that the figures in the image are living in the spiritual realm, not the realm world

      • The figures have golden halos → Shows their spiritual status

    • As we look at the painting, we are directly connected to God through a pathway involving the figures present:

      • The first thing we see are the saints at the bottom left and bottom right of the image; They are looking directly at us to wait for our acknowledgement​

      • Then, the saints pass on our acknowledgement to Virgin Mary (in the center)

      • Then, Virgin Mary passes on our acknowledgement to the 2 angels above her

      • Then, the 2 angels are looking upward toward God and heaven, so they pass on our acknowledgement to God

      • Here is a detailed photo of the pathway (with arrows):

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Early Medieval Europe

Image 53: Merovingian Looped Fibulae



Merovingian Looped Fibulae


Early Medieval Europe


Mid Sixth Century CE


Silver gilt worked in filigree, with inlays of garnets and other stones

  • Each non-Roman culture in Western Europe had a fibulae (as a brooch for their military), but they added their own cultural twists to it; this culture added an eagle motif
    • Fibulae are brooches used by the militaries of Medieval European cultures, and they became popular when the Roman military used it​

      • They are often found in gravesites of fallen soldiers

      • They are roughly in the shape of a crossbow → Conveys their military importance​​​​

    • Manufactured with a technique called cloisonné: You first make a frame of metal wires (to outline the fibulae's jewelry), then you insert semiprecious stones in the frame

    • This culture (the Merovingian Dynasty) added an eagle motif to their fibulae

      • Each fibulae pictured has 7 eagles (those small beaded circles with a hole next to them are all mini eagles with a small beak)​

      • The eagle motif was initially a pagan symbol, but it was adapted to represent St. John → Shows how Early Christian cultures adapted pagan elements to Christianity (like Catacomb of Priscilla)

Image 55: Lindisfarne Gospels:
St. Matthew cross-carpet page;

St. Luke portrait page;
St. Luke incipit page



Lindisfarne Gospels:
St. Matthew cross-carpet page;
St. Luke portrait page;
St. Luke incipit page


Early Medieval (Hiberno-Saxon) Europe


c. 700 CE


Illuminated manuscript (ink, pigments, and gold on vellum)

  • St. Matthew Cross-Carpet Page: Has complex intertwined decorations → As devout monks look at that, they get lost thought, giving a feeling of spirituality/meditation
    • As people traveled throughout Europe, they mixed different ideas and cultural motifs to create that complex carpet design

    • Small animals and bird heads give the carpet a sense of movement → Further represents monks getting lost in thought and mesmerized upon looking at this (conveying spirituality)

    • Similar to kaleidoscopic decorations of Hagia Sophia (Image 52)

  • St. Luke Portrait Page: Represents a scholar pose
    • Represents a man lost in thought, inscribing something on a scroll
    • The purple robe is common among high-ranking educational and religious leaders
    • The flatness of the image as well as his halo signify his divine status
    • The blue-winged calf above him has a halo and holds a book → Represents the gospel (news from god)
    • Similar to Justinian's & Theodora's Mosaics in San Vitale (Image 51)
  • St. Luke Incipit Page: Has some swirling interlaced designs and texts to signal a commencement of prayer
    • Not as decorated as the Cross-Carpet page because this page is more to signal to the monk to start prayer, while the Cross-Carpet page is more to allow the monk to actually pray for a long time
    • The text signifies a start to prayer: "As many have taken it in hand to set forth in order

Image 56: Great Mosque