AP Art History

AP Art History

Early Christian, Jewish, and Byzantine Art

INTRODUCTION:  The Edict of Milan issued by Constantine the Great in 313 AD provided religious toleration for Christians. In 325 AD Christianity became the official religion of the empire. In 380 AD, Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the sole religion of the empire. The creation of Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Empire, not only divided Rome politically, but religiously as well. Soon the Western Empire was recognized as the seat of Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Empire the seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Early Christian and Byzantine - According to Jansen's History of Art "Byzantine art designates not only the art of the Eastern Roman Empire but a specific quality of style as well. Early Christian does not designate a specific style, it refers, rather, to any work of art produced by or for Christians during the time prior to the splitting off of the Orthodox Church."

Early Christian Art

Painting - Earliest examples consist of wall paintings found within the catacombs. The paintings conveyed religious messages most common with the core of Christianity, the miracle of the Incarnation and the promise of Salvation.

Architecture - The recognition of Christianity by Constantine resulted in the construction of great churches. The basilica built in Rome over the site of the tomb of St. Peter, became the model for future basilicas. Central plan churches, such as the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, combined many of the elements of the basilica with the elements of the ancient tholos.


A major building program instituted in 333 AD by Constantine was the construction of a basilica over the burial site of St. Peter. The general architectural elements used in the construction of Old St. Peter's Basilica became the standard elements of all future basilicas.

Plan of Old St. Peter's

Central Plan Churches

Introduction-The central plan building was first used by Christians as tombs, baptismal centers, or as shrines to martyrs. The plan was based upon the cruciform or cross shaped design. The intersection of the two arms of the cross was covered by a vaulted dome similar to that used by the ancient tholos. The exteriors were very plain. The emphasis on decoration was saved for the interior, where rich colorful mosaics cover the walls and ceilings.

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
, Ravenna, c425-26 AD

Mosaics - The large all surfaces on the interior of the newly built churches were left to the artists for decoration. Great pictorial cycles were designed by master craftsmen. Brilliantly colored tesserae created mosaics that advertised the new religion as well instructed the worshippers in the basic doctrines of the faith.
  • Good Shepherd, lunette over west entrance, Galla Placidia
  • Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, lunette over eastern bay, Galla Placidia
  • Saint Apollinaris, First Bishop of Ravenna, apse of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo
  • Byzantine Art

    Introduction-There were no clear cut lines between Early Christian and early Byzantine art until the 5th century. By then, certain stylistic differences were evident. True Byzantine art stylistically began 500 AD and lasted until 730 AD. It included the reign of Justinian to the Iconoclasm

    Architecture - The most important structure from the Golden Age of Byzantine Art was the construction of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople by Emperor Justinian. Justinian hired two well known architects for the project, Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus. In addition to Hagia Sophia, the construction of San Vitale and Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, in Ravenna, Italy illustrate the resurrection of the Western Empire under Justinian's rule.

  • Hagia Sophia,  Istanbul, 532-537 AD
  • San Vitale,  Ravenna, 526-547 AD
  • Sant'Apollinare Nuovo,  Ravenna, 533-549 AD
  • Mosaics
  • Saint Apollinaris, First Bishop of Ravenna, apse of Saint' Apollinare Nuovo
  • The Second Coming (Christ Between Angels and Saints), apse of San Vitale
  • Justinian and His Attendants, north wall of apse, San Vitale
  • Theodora and Her Attendants, south wall of apse, San Vitale
  • Icons and Manuscript Illumination
  • Virgin and Child With Saints, c75-50 BCE
  • Vladimir Madonna, late second or early first century BCE
  • Old Testament Trinity, 13-9 BCE
  • The Crucifixion, 13-9 BCE
  • The Ascension, 13-9 BCE