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Catholic Art: A Look at Christian Art

By Maggie 17 December 2022
Reading works meditatively, relax 4 minuten with this article.
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In the second part of this blog series about Spiritual Art we take a peek at the history of Christian Art. Read on and learn all about the origins and characteristics of this art form.

lamb of god ravenna mosaic

Church and Art

Christianity emerged over the centuries out of the Jewish tradition. It began as a movement within the Jewish people and faith. Because of this, there was initially little difference between how Jews and Christians treated art, images, and decoration.

The belief that Jesus was God’s anointed one (Messiah in Hebrew, or Christ in Greek) is fundamental. The apostolic movement experienced Jesus’ presence in their worship, in the proclamation of divine forgiveness and renewal, and visibly present in the sacraments. According to apostolic Christians, his presence in and with the community was the sign of God’s kingdom on earth.

Origins of Christian Art

Since its inception, the Christian Church has been an important force in the creation of art. Biblical stories from the Old and New Testaments, ethical beliefs, the lives of saints, and Christian legends were all inspiration to artists. The artists of the medieval Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods made countless artworks exploring these themes. Artists also made altarpieces for churches and these are still an important part of Ecclesiastical art. In some branches of Christianity, like Catholicism, paintings of Jesus, Mary, or other saints are standard for almost every church and chapel. Some of  the most beautiful  or important ones are now in museum collections.

Early Christian Art

Scholars of Christian Art consider period from the 2nd century to about the beginning of the 6th century as “Early”. Roman art greatly influenced early Christian art which even borrowed from pagan Roman symbols and iconography. Statues, tombs, frescoes, utensils, and jewelry are the main types of early Christian art. After about 500 BCE, christian art became centered in Constantinople. This style of christian art is “Byzantine” and quickly became the most widespread form of Christian art of the period.

greek orthodox byzantine mosaic jesus

Frescoes in Tombs

An example of early Christian painting are the frescoes in tombs. The Christians at that time did not want their graves next to pagans and decorated their crypts and catacombs with Christian scenes to distinguish them. They believed in salvation in the afterlife and this belief was essential to Christian funerary art. Christ was often depicted as the Good Shepherd in frescoes.

Oldest Christian Tombstone

The oldest Christian tombstone in the Netherlands is located in the lapidarium of the eastern crypt of the Basilica of Saint Servatius in Maastricht. The fifth-century stone was found on the tomb of Amabilis ÔÇô a five-year-old girl ÔÇô and was later reused as spolium in the westwork of the church. Four other tombstones from the 5th and 6th centuries show that a Christian community was active here.

Christian Art for Everyone

Christian art is not just church art. The definition of Christian art is: ÔÇťall art that is made from a Christian beliefÔÇŁ. Any art related to belief in Christianity is legitimate: art for the church, fellow believers, unbelievers, the art world, or even for public spaces. In any case, there is one clear condition of Christian art, namely that the artist lives their personal faith.

Faith was an important source of inspiration for artists such as Max Beckmann, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Rouault, who all made various Christian art paintings. Some made more literal paintings of biblical figures, other more personal works, but it’s all still Christian art.

Check out Our Christian Statues

modern church interior crucifix and stained glass

Modern Christian Art

Today, Christian visual art has taken an autonomous position no longer dependent on church iconography. As a result, the theme has also become broader. Biblical motifs are still common, but themes that are related to personal religious experience are also  characteristic of modern Christian art. It is most important that the artist works from a personal Christian conviction. From this motivation they can seek his or her way in the art world from their Christian perspective.

Buy Christian Art Symbols at Spiru

You do not necessarily have to have a Christian faith if you want to have or carry a christian symbol in your home. They can also just be a beautiful representation of the good in the world. Just like you don’t have to be religious to contact an Archangel; you can do it through your Chakras or Angel Numbers.

Read More About Spiritual Art

Can’t get enough of the many different art forms? Check out our blog on Tibetan Art, or Hindu Symbols.

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