Christian Art refers to the immense volume of art in many different forms which was commissioned by the Church or used Christian symbolism since the inception of Christianity.
The most fertile period of Christian art was the medieval era during which the Catholic Church assumed a formal and powerful position in European affairs.
Consequently, the Church came to be in a position to commission a large variety of art in the form of paintings, frescoes, murals, sculptures and manuscripts.
A sizable body of this art survives to this day, thanks largely to the continued existence of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the medieval period and later.
Early Christian Art
Given the fact that the birthplace of Christianity was the Roman Empire, early Christian art was directly influenced by classic Roman and Greek art.
The earliest form of art which used Christian themes included murals and frescoes, in the homes of the adherents of Christianity and later in the churches once Christianity was legalised in the early 4th century.
During this period, sculptural stone and ivory decorations were also used in churches to depict Biblical themes. It was also during this period that the Christian art got rid of the influence of Roman realism and drifted more towards religious idealism.
Christian Art in the Byzantine Empire
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire was the most powerful political entity in the whole of Europe.
It became a bastion of Christianity once Christianity was declared the official religion of the Empire.
From 5th century to its fall in the 15th century, the Byzantine Empire was home to a very rich and diverse range of Christian art, often patronized by the Eastern Orthodox Church or the Emperor himself.
Constantinople, the capital of the Empire, featured some of the most iconic pieces of Christian art of all times. The most popular form of Christian art in the Empire was mosaics which were used to adorn buildings, icons which were often used by believers at their homes and murals.
Some of the most iconic murals depicting Christian themes were painted during the golden period of the Empire, many of them surviving to this day in Ravenna and Constantinople.
Christian Art in Medieval Period
The medieval period saw the whole of Europe gradually convert to Christianity. This ushered in an era where different kingdoms and Empires in Europe started actively patronizing the Church and Christian art.
The result was a rich body of art related to Christianity. The most notable form of Christian art in the early medieval period comprised of illuminated manuscripts.
Monks in monasteries all over Europe would diligently pen down Bible and its commentaries in richly adorned, painted and bound volumes, laying the basis of illuminated manuscripts as a chief art form.
By the High Middle Ages, Christian art used a larger variety of mediums including metalwork art, elaborate sculptures used in ecclesiastical buildings and paintings used more advanced techniques.
The period of Gothic art during the 12th to 14th centuries transformed Christian art, leading to the use of realistic elements in Christian art