Early Jewish and Christian Art

        A mixture of Artwork, Architectures,  Paintings,                                        and  Sculptures 

Santa Costanza was an imperial mausoleum in Rome before it was later dedicated as a church. This structure dates from the 4th century AD and features some of the earliest surviving Christian art. The church itself was dedicated to Flavia Constantia Augusta, who was the daughter of Constantine I or Constantine “the Great”. Findings of the church showed accounts that Constantine built a funerary hall on the imperial estate at the request of Constantia, but later he built a baptistery on the site as well, in which both Constantia and Constantine's sister were baptized by Pope Sylvester. After Constantia died in 354, her body was brought back from Bithynia to be buried on the imperial estate in Rome. It was long thought she was buried in the mausoleum, but new data indicates the building was probably still unfinished at that time. So she was probably buried either in the baptistery or in the apse of the funerary hall. The round mausoleum of the church is still intact to this day, which holds a portion of the mosaics that interpreted pagan and Christian elements. It was said to be built somewhere near the 360s or 370s based on the combination of those elements. Despite its name, the mausoleum of Santa Costanza was probably dedicated to Constantia's younger sister Helena. The mausoleum became a church in the 13th century. Pope Alessandro IV took what were believed to be Constantia's remains from the main sarcophagus, placed them beneath a central altar, and consecrated the building in her honor on March 12, 1256. The Mausoleo di Santa Costanza has been periodically restored over the years, but it remains primarily a 4th-century structure. One major restoration took place in 1620 under Cardinal Veralli, during which the mosaics in the dome were sadly destroyed.
Santa Maria Maggiore stands on the site of a temple to the goddess Cybele. According to a 13th-century legend, the first church was built here by Pope Liberius , on the site of an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The legend has it that the Virgin appeared to Pope Liberius and the patrician Giovanni Patrizio on August 4, 352 or 358, instructing them to build a church on the Esquiline Hill. That night, the floor plan was outlined by a miraculous snowfall. Founded in the 4th century, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the five great ancient basilicas of Rome built by the emperor Constantine “the Great”. The development of the city has taken away the impact of Santa Maria Maggiore's commanding position on the summit of the Esquiline Hill, but the church is still considered by many to be the most beautiful church in Rome after St Peter's. The interior of the basilica preserves its majestic Early Christian form, which was standard in Rome in the 5th century. A tall, wide nave sits near the side aisles and a round apse sits at the end of the church. But what really takes the eye are mosaics depicting scenes from the Old Testament sitting on each side of the nave. The Athenian marble columns supporting the nave are the oldest parts of the church. However, the shafts were reworked and the old capitals and bases were replaced during a restoration of the 18th century. The floor of the church is paved in opus sectile mosaic, featuring the Borghese arms of an eagle and a dragon and the high altar of this Patriarchal basilica is a papal altar, which in fact was used only by the pope himself. Beneath the altar is a confessio with a kneeling statue of Pope Pius IX. Beneath this, St. Jerome , Doctor of the Church and author of the Latin translation of the Bible, is buried in the Bethlehem crypt. The crypt is built to resemble the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The Church of the Holy Wisdom, known as Hagia Sophia in Greek, is a former Byzantine church and former Ottoman mosque in Istanbul. It is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture, rich with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings. Hagia Sophia was rebuilt in her present form between 532 and 537 under the personal supervision of Emperor Justinian I. Justinian's basilica was both the culminating architectural achievement of Late Antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Its influence, both architecturally and liturgically, was widespread and enduring in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim worlds alike. Unfortunately, to this day nothing remains of the original Hagia Sophia, which was built on this site in the fourth century by Constantine the Great. Constantine, himself among other emperors was the fisrt Christian emperor known in history. The Hagia Sophia was one of several great churches he built in important cities throughout his empire. The architects of the church were Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, who were professors of geometry at the University of Constantinople. Their work was a technical triumph, even though the structure was severely damaged several times by earthquakes. The original dome collapsed several times, as it was rebuilt after 558 but it collapsed again in 563. Despite this violent setback, Hagia Sophia remained a functioning church until May 29, 1453, when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror entered triumphantly into the city of Constantinople. He was amazed at the beauty of the Hagia Sophia that he took it upon himself and immediately converted it into his imperial mosque. All interior surfaces are sheathed with polychrome marble, green and white with purple porphyry, and gold mosaics.
This painting was painted sometime between the dates of 1878-1879, by Maurycy Gottlieb. He started this painting in Rome, before he returned back to Poland. Gottlieb was “the spiritual father of Jewish painting in Central Europe” and had many brilliant works of art. (Google Art Project) He grew up in a Jewish home, in the city of Drohobycz. This picture was painted with oil on a canvas. This painting showed Christ preaching in the synagogues at Capernaum, surrounded by his followers. This painting was depicted through the reading of the Bible, it says “And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the Sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught”. (Mark 1:21, KJV Bible) Although this is a great painting, the painting was never fully finished. The artist had died a few months after, at the age of 23, painting it. This painting also showed the combination of Judaism and Christianity. We see that it relates to Judaism, because of the traditional clothes that he and everyone else is wearing in the painting. Also by how he looks like an orthodox Jew in the synagogue. (Google Art Project) Christianity is also portrayed in this painting, by the artist putting a halo around Jesus’s head. (Google Art Project)  
This painting dates between c. 1434-1436, and was painted by Jan van Eyck. This painting was also painted by using oil on canvas, and could be from the Netherlands. “Yet religious symbolism speaks from every detail, expounding the significance of the Annunciation, and the relationship of the Old Testament to the New. The structure of the church can be interpreted symbolically; the dark upper story, with its single, stained–glass window of Jehovah, may refer to the former era of the Old Testament, while the lower part of the building, already illuminated by the "Light of the World" and dominated by transparent, triple windows symbolizing the Trinity, may refer to the Era of Grace of the New Testament. The idea of passing from old to new is further manifested in the transition from the Romanesque round–arched windows of the upper story to the early Gothic pointed arches of the lower zone, and also in the depictions on the floor tiles: David beheading Goliath and Samson destroying the Philistine temple are both Old Testament events in the salvation of the Jewish people which prefigure the salvation of humankind through the coming of Christ.” (National Gallery of Art, The Annunciation)
The scroll dates back to the mid-eighteenth century, and has no known artist. The artist used ink, gouache, and gold and silver paint, and hand wrote it on parchment. “The scroll is divided into nineteen columns of text surrounded by illustrations. At the top of every other column is a familiar allegorical figure alongside a biblical verse; at the bottom of the columns are scenes from the Book of Esther. Each set of these three elements emphasizes a different moral virtue. Thus, at the top of the first column is a figure identified with moderation and victory over the evil inclination, alongside the verse: "If you find honey, eat only what you need" (Prov 25:16), while at the bottom of the text is a depiction of Ahasuerus's banquet. The design of the allegorical figures was influenced by Cesare Ripa's allegorical book, published in Rome in 1593 – a book that was highly popular among both Christian and Jewish artists.” (Google Art Project)
The sarcophagus of Junius Bassus is a prominent example of the early Christian art that was completed in 395 CE. This sarcophagus was specifically made for Junius and was made from marble, however the artist is unknown. Junius hid the fact that he was a Christian most likely because of the fact that he held a high political status and most of the public officials during that time were pagans as were most Romans in general. Many art historians that have studied his sarcophagus believe that this might be why he waited until he was on his deathbed to get baptized. The majority of his sarcophagus is either destroyed or eroded however; one side does remain intact and it is easy to see that it is highly Christian. This side contains scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. While this was not new in art, he did this at a time where Christianity was very controversial. When you look at this sarcophagus you will notice that the images were carefully arranged, so much so that like images were placed opposite of each other. One example is the sacrifice of Isaac in the upper left panel which can be directly related to the sacrifice of Daniel which is found in the lower right panel. If you connect these images it creates an “X” or a cross, which was very symbolic for Christians as it represents the Chi – Rho. The Chi – Rho is a symbol of Christ and is a definite sign of faith. During this time Constantine thought that by using the Chi – Rho in battle using this symbol to show his faith that maybe God would help them to win. By Junius’s sarcophagus he can show his strong faith for an eternity, which was very important to him and was a very bold move for him to make due to his political status.
The sarcophagus from Astorga was imported from the Cathedral of Astorga in Rome and is another fine example of the early Christian art. The Sarcophagus from Astorga was found in the town of San Justo Vega, and then taken to the Cathedral of Astorga. It was made from white marble somewhere in between the years of 305 and 315 and the artist is unknown. It was not until the year 910 that the mortal remains of the Asturian King Alfonso III the great were places in this sarcophagus. Just like many other sarcophagus this also depicts scenes from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. From right to left the sarcophagus scenes start with the resurrection of Lazarus. Next is the arrest of Saint Peter, the miracle of the spring, where Saint Peter is in prison and causes the water to well up so that he can baptize two soldiers. Followed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden where the first sin happened. The sarcophagus continues with the feeding of the five thousand with the loaves of bread and fish that multiplied to feed everyone. Lastly we have the sacrifice of Isaac
The Ivory plaque with Nativity Scenes was made in Aachen in the year 800 AD and the artist remains unknown. This plague was acquired from Germany and is a smaller piece measuring 168 mm in length, and 64.5 mm in width and is 6 mm in thickness. The Ivory plaque with Nativity Scenes uses the artistic trends of the Carolingian Renaissance period. The plaque was either half of a diptych or the outer wing of a five-part hinged carving that may have formed the cover for an illuminated gospel. The Ivory Plaque with Nativity Scenes is one piece that is actually made up of three pieces. This includes, The Annunciation, Nativity, and the Adoration of the Magi In the Annunciation Mary lies to one side, gazing across to the manger where a large ox and ass watch over the baby Jesus. The carving is less like plastic and more linear, which incorporates expressive hand gestures like those of the Virgin in the Annunciation scene. The Adoration of the Magi has the three wise men presenting their gifts to the baby Jesus however what strikes me most in this is that baby Jesus does not look like a baby; rather He looks like He is a few years old.
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