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Christian art consists of all visual artworks produced in an attempt to illustrate and portray in tangible form the teachings of Christianity. This includes sculpture, painting, mosaics, metalwork, embroidery, and architecture. Christian art has played a leading role in history and development of Western Art since at least the fourth Century.
The principal subject matter of Christian art has been the life and times of Jesus Christ, along with those of his disciples, the saints, and the events of the Old Testament. These artworks are created to depict the imagery of the different beliefs and traditions in the world and what it looks like. In the ancient period of 3000BC-500AD, The earliest identifiable Christian art consists of a few 2nd Century wall and ceiling paintings in the Roman catacombs (underground burial chambers), which continued to be decorated in a sketchy style derived from Roman impressionism throughout the 4th century. They provide an important record of some aspects of the development of Christian subject matter. Early Christian art has survived dating back near the origins of Christianity. Early Christian symbols include the dove, the fish, the lamb, the cross, symbolic representation of the Four Evangelists, and the Good Shepherd. It is in the Catacombs of Rome that recognizable representations of Christian figures first appear in the largest group and show the evolution of the depiction of Jesus, a process not complete until the 6th Century, since when the conventional appearance of Jesus in art has remained remarkably consistent.
During the Middle Ages, Byzantine art arose in the 6th Century. The Medieval times has its share of famous art styles, two of the most significant being Byzantine and Gothic. The Byzantine ear of art was one of the Western world’s longest and most unique. It was best known for being much more colourful, diverse and emotional than previous styles of art. Gothic art earned its intricate style from the philosophy that Saint Thomas Aquinas taught in his university: that every single object in the universe has a part in God’s plan. Medieval religious art flourished until the period of Byzantine Iconoclasm. The religious artworks most frequently found in medieval times were that of depictions of Biblical stories and holy figures, such as Jesus, Mary or saints.
Byzantine Iconoclasm, meaning the destruction of icons, criticized artists for portraying Christian figures as pagan idols. Iconoclasts went on to confiscate or ruin any artworks in medieval churches that depicted any persons such as saints, angels and so on. They found these to be sacrilegious and against the Commandments. The Iconoclasts, however, had nothing against non-religious art. Wanting to avoid controversy and create art peacefully, artists slowly began to move away from Christian subjects and on to secular ones. The Renaissance was a period in the art from the 14th to the 17th Century which created a cultural bridge between the Middle Ages and modern history. The most famous style of the Renaissance is Mannerism. The term means art that depicts its subjects in a graceful and light manner. High Renaissance art flourished for approximately 35 years, from the early 1490s to 1527, when Rome was sacked by imperial troops, revolves around three towering figures: Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo (1475-1564), and Raphael (1483-1520).
The brief High Renaissance (1490-1520) of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael transformed Catholic art more fundamentally, breaking with the old iconography that was thoroughly integrated with the theological conventions for original compositions that reflected both artistic imperatives, and the influence of Renaissance humanism. The Age of Enlightenment brought about a new appreciation of art, leading non-religious nobles to commission for more non-religious paintings. In the 18th Century, the Western philosophical movement called the Enlightenment further obscured searches for the essence of Christianity. The Enlightenment proclaimed optimistic views of human reach and perfectibility that challenged formerly essential Christian views of human limits.
The Enlightenment urged a view of human autonomy and of the use of reason in a search for truth. But, in the view of Enlightenment thinkers, reason did not need to be responsive to supernatural revelation, as contained in the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, reason questioned the integrity of those scriptures themselves through methods of historical and literary criticism. No longer should one rely on the world of priests who passed on notions of essential Christianity.
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