The design of Santa Costanza, just like Roman architecture, was circular in shape and this design borrows heavily from the mausoleums of the Roman era. In its design typical of Roman structures, a foyer portico leads into a round crypted ambulatory that encircles a central auditorium space. The ceiling vault of the ambulatory is bedecked with montages of geometric patterns and entwined vines on a pallid backdrop.
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Early Christian art moved away from the Classical art in the representation of sacred creatures. It is noteworthy to note that classical architecture borrowed heavily its representation of creatures from Greek and Roman mythologies, a feature that Early Christian architecture shifted away from. Christians viewed the representation of these creatures as a form of idolatry based on the teachings of Christianity. Classical architecture was basically practiced by pagans in Renaissance era Europe and consequently expressed motifs prevalent in the culture of that time. Christian architecture style demonstrates the inception of byzantine art style. Early Christian artists employed similar artistic media as Classical artists in the pagan culture. The media the artists employed included manuscript illuminations, mosaics, sculptures and fresco. Early Christian architecture used Romans forms and Roman styles whereas Classical styles borrowed heavily from Greek, Hellenistic and Roman architecture (Clark & Michael, 1985).
Majority of the painted or carved symbols of Christians were versions of Classical art except they incorporated Christian life interpretation. The works of art of conventionally pagan folklore were adjusted to represent the passage to the afterlife after death. Jesus was represented by the use of Good Shepherd images frescoes spread onto building walls, tombstones, and temple ceilings. Early Christian catacombs were fashioned in the Roman style, which used free, liquefied brushstrokes (Sear, 1989).
Early Christians took up the procedure of catacombs excavation from pagans and developed it on an enormous level into an immense and multi-leveled system of galleries. The catacombs provided solution to the dilemmas of entombment of a large society, with an always growing number of members. The quick and colossal development of several catacombs was because of the cult of the Christian martyrs that were buried these catacombs. Many Early Christians maintained on possessing tombs closest to the revered martyr graves, for the purpose of securing the martyrs’ intercession.
Catacombs are visited daily by many pilgrims globally owing to their significance. With their precious priceless array of inscriptions, paintings and sculptures etc, catacombs are regarded the genuine archives of prehistoric Church. Catacombs serve to chronicle the customs and usages of the church, the Early Church rites and doctrines, as it was appreciated, taught and observed in that epoch. Christians of this period never buried their lives and faith under the ground. Early Christians professed their faith in everyday life practice, however it their convictions in faith are greatly manifest in the catacombs. Catacombs reveal how Christians found their strength to support their faith in the face of persecutions and trials of that time; they worshiped God through the intercession of martyrs (Turner, 1996). Catacombs had spiritual significance with regards to sacramental spirituality, biblical spirituality and social spirituality. This aspect of spirituality is evident from the paintings, sculptures and epigraphs that go along with the catacombs.
The age of Justinian I from 527-565 brought about noteworthy transformations in the byzantine art. In his reign, he devoted most of his efforts in colossal building programs, which is captured in the Buildings by Procopius. Countless churches were repaired, reconstructed or built anew inside Constantinople; Hagia Sophia that had been vandalized by Nika riots being a prime example. Other churches rebuilt during the reign of Justinian included the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus and the Church of the Holy Apostles. Basilica of St. John and Monastery of St. Catherine are prime examples of fortifications built by Justinian I outside the capital (MacDonald, 1962).
Many churches in this epoch were constructed in provinces by local bishops in simulation of novel Constantinopolitan basis. The Basilica of San Vitale incorporates significant montages of Justinian and Theodora. Archeological findings reveal a massive amount of Early Byzantine mosaics believed to have been created in the Justinian era. Christian art thrived in the 4th Century, with the tradition of mosaic making being popularly upheld throughout to the 8th century. Examples of byzantine art works that still survive from this period include the Madaba Map, St. Catherine’s Monastery and the montages of Mount Nebo. The first fully-conserved copy of the Bible can be traced to the 6th Century most particularly Vienna Genesis. Other significant byzantine art are the Barberini ivory that portrays Justinian and Archangel Ivory. It is therefore obvious that Justinian played a significantly crucial role in the development of byzantine art (MacDonald, 1962).
Old Saint Peter’s Basilica holds great significance as it was built in celebration of Saint Peter and erected where his tomb was located. The building, whose erection commenced during the reign of Constantine I, survived from the 4th to the 16th Rome but is now replaced by Basilica of Saint Peter. The Old Saint Peter’s Basilica was built to mark a turning point in the ministry of the church during the 4th Century. During Constantine’s rule, Christians were allowed to freely follow their faith and penalties for openly professing to follow a religion were eliminated. A few centuries before Constantine’s rule, Christians who had openly professed their faith had been persecuted so the erection of Old Saint Peter’s Basilica was both a celebration of former martyrs and installation of an icon of freedom of religion.
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The church represented an icon of byzantine Christianity and a way of Constantine showing his financial and spiritual support for the clergy. The basilica greatly increased the church’s prestige and the decorations and statues were a testimony of this. It had exquisite furnishings and intricate chandeliers, and was a location for tombs of great Christians. The tombs were meant for popes and saints. Many Solomonic columns, taken from the Temple of Solomon by Constantine, were used in the basilica.
The church of Saint Panteleimon in Nerezi is an undersized Byzantine church that was built in the 12th century and is situated in a monastery compound. The church was built as a dedication to Saint Panteleimon. Built in the 1160s as an establishment of Constantine and Theodora’s son, the church had a spaced cruciform core, tri-apses and a four-faced narthex. The stone blocks used are irregular and the bricks are entrenched in wide mortar layers. The surrounding compound of the monastery is surrounded by concrete barrier walls. Built during a period of Constantine I’s reign, the church enjoyed good will from the emperor as Constantine I supported Christian calls for freedom of the church. Its walls show a fine example of Medieval paintings.
The Church of Christ in Chora was initially erected in the exterior of the Constantinople wall. It was built in the 5th century almost a century after the church of Saint Panteleimon had been built by Constantine. Whereas the church of Panteleimon was built for Alexius Comnenus by his parents, the Church of Christ in Chora was built by Alexius’ mother-in-law, Maria Dukaina. After damages to it, Chora church was rebuilt by Isaac Comnenus, the third son of Alexius. The church possesses fine frescos and mosaics, an attribute squarely owing to Theodore Metochites’ strong Byzantine statesmanship. The Chora church is vastly superior to the Church of St. Panteleimon both in design and furnishings. The Chora Church is the finest example of Palaeologian Renaissance.
Old St. Peters Basilica had five aisles, a broad middle nave and two undersized aisles on both sides that were dissected by twenty one marble columns. These marble columns were all remnants of spoils from previous buildings in the pagan epoch. The basilica was at least 110 meters in length and was constructed in the shape of a cross, had an interior timber roof that was gabled and stood at an excess of 30 meters in the middle (Hersey, 1993). An atrium was placed at the entrance and consisted of five doors that opened into the main body of the church. The atrium had Navicella mosaics that spread through the entire wall and above in the ceiling along the entrance pergola that was opposite the courtyard. The nave, ending on the arch, possessed St. Peter’s mosaics. The walls had eleven windows each, with frescoes of a variety of prominent Old and New Testament personalities. The exterior of the church was however not lavishly furnished.
Hagia Sophia represents a fine Byzantine architecture example. The interior of the structure is lavishly decorated with mosaics, and the pillars are marble. The Hagia Sophia is believed to have been one of the most aesthetically built buildings of its time and remains one of the greatest cathedrals running up to the 6th century. The nave of Hagia Sophia enclosed a middle dome of approximately 182 feet and 5 inches from the floor, held up in part by a pergola of forty arched windows (Hersey, 1993). The auditorium is held by four bowl-shaped three-sided pendentives, which help to change from round base of the auditorium to the four-sided base. The dome’s weight is passed onto the four huge piers in the corners.
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