The virgin dwelt for twenty-four years after the ascension in her house beside Mount Zion. One day the angel Gabriel came, and reverently saluted her, and told her that after three days she should depart from the flesh and reign with him forever. He gave her also a palm-branch from paradise, which he commanded should be borne before her bier. And the palm-branch was green in the stem, but its leaves were like the morning star. Then the apostles were miraculously summoned to be with her when she should die. And toward nightfall on the third day, Jesus came down with his hosts of saints and angels, and they ranged themselves before Mary's couch, and sweet hymns were heard at intervals till the middle of the night. Then Jesus called her softly twice, that she should come to him and she answered that she was ready joyfully to yield her spirit. And thus her spirit quitted the body and flew into the arms of her son; and she neither suffered pain nor her body corruption. And straightway there surrounded her garlands of flowers; roses which are the blessed company of martyrs, and lilies of the valley which are the bands of angels, confessors, and virgins. Thus reads an ancient Christian legend—Lindsay's Christian Art
Grouped about midway between the later classic era and the renaissance is the art of what have been termed the early Christian and Byzantine periods, the limits of which cannot be clearly defined, though it may be stated in general terms that it appears in certain rude forms during the first century, that it culminated in the reign of Justinian. it was not as before the and though still in existence as late as the thirteenth century, chief and at times the only form of art. The first specimens of Christian architecture differed but little from the Roman; for the converts to the new religion, though filled with zeal and enthusiasm, could give no expression to their sentiments in material shapes, and many cycles were required for the transition from Greek and Italian compositions to those which were purely Christian. Moreover, neither the founder of the new faith nor the apostles of his choosing left rituals or rules of church government to be observed by their followers; they must frame their own regulations; must worship as seemed to them best, so it be in purity of heart; must meet wherever they were permitted to assemble themselves together, in their dwellings, their catacombs, or beneath the vaulted mansions of the sky which were soon to be their inheritance.
In strange contrast with Roman mausolea, whence sculptured urns are still being disinterred at every new excavation, were the catacombs of the early Christians, resembling rather the pits and galleries of a mine, with narrow, labyrinthine passages that could not be entered without stooping, and were barely wide enough for men to pass in single file. On either side were small apertures for the reception of the dead, closed up with the slabs inscribed with their names and often adorned with some artistic device. For the dignitaries of the church larger sepulchers were provided, and the walls were decorated in symbolic forms of pictorial art. Here and there were loftier and more spacious chambers, with vaulted roofs and also adorned with mural paintings as symbols of the faith, but dark and gloomy as the grave. Such were the earliest of Christian temples, where in the distress of evil days the persecuted followers of the Nazarene met secretly by night to inter their martyrs and to appeal unto him who had promised to bear their sins for the strength and steadfastness which would enable them to endure their sufferings.
It was not until the reign of Constantine, when from the obscurity of their catacombs the Christians came forth into the sunlight of imperial favor, that churches were built in Rome or converted from other uses. While a few Roman temples, as the Pantheon, were prepared for Christian worship, they did not fulfill the requirements, for the entire congregation was accustomed to gather in communion around the altar, there to celebrate the love feast. Externally their own sanctuaries were of the simplest, oblong in shape, with brick-faced walls of concrete and windows of translucent alabaster. Within were pillars of sculptured marble or columns from the classic fanes of the Capitol. Later came the basilicas, where the entire body of the faithful could meet, not only for the ceremonies but for the business affairs of the church.
Toward the end of the fourth century Ausonius writes to the emperor Gratian, his patron and former pupil: “The basilicas, once full of business, are now full of prayers for your majesty’s preservation.” Thus it appears that these structures had already been converted into sanctuaries, for which indeed they were so well adapted that they might have been built for the purpose. The naves and aisles were spacious enough for congregations larger than were ever gathered in medieval cathedrals, while walled galleries secured for women the privacy which at this time the sex demanded. For the clergy there was the transept or apse; for the bishop the curule chair, and for presbyters the seats of the judges, while on the spot where had stood a pagan shrine was erected the altar of the Eucharist, its mysteries shielded from obtrusive gaze by a curtained screen.
Notwithstanding their superstitions and their extreme enthusiasm, the early Christians were by no means lacking in common sense. Their architects were not slow to observe the suitability of Roman basilicas to Christian needs, while amid the great variety of other buildings there were many which would serve as models for halls of worship. It is rather in the adaptation of old forms than in the invention of new ones that their artificers excelled. Opposite the nave where the congregation was seated, the bishop sat enthroned among rows of priests in the vaulted and dimly lighted apse, whose floor was paved in mosaic and whose walls and roof were adorned with figures of Christ, of the disciples, the martyrs, and saints. On a canopied altar, above which was a triumphal arch resting on massive columns, sacrifice was offered in the presence of all on the most sacred spot in the sanctuary. The upper walls of the nave, broken by the broad arched windows which afforded a lateral light, were supported by rows of pillars which divided it from the aisles. In the larger buildings there were separate entrances both for nave and aisles, and attached to them a portico, with colonnade, fountain, and wide open space, all who entered being led by parallel lines of columns toward the spot where the rites of the church were being celebrated beneath the solemn effigies of the Messiah.
In later forms the general design of the basilica was never entirely lost sight of, if sometimes altered and extended almost with beyond recognition, a transept or other transverse structure, side apses, being introduced into the ground plan, and an upper story built above the aisles and continued over the portico. As adjuncts there were also circular or polygonal buildings which served as baptisteries or chapels, the two being later combined in one, though at first neither baptismal, marriage, nor funeral services were performed in the basilicas. Among the earliest specimens is the mausoleum of Constantia daughter of Constantine, now the church, of Saint Constanza in front of the Porta Pia. It is of the ancient Doric order and the last one of its kind. From the central space, surmounted by a lofty dome, a low gallery is separated by a circle of double columns, connected by arches and coupled by a common entablature. Of similar design, but of smaller size, is the church of Saint Stefano Rotondo, and among baptisteries the finest now in existence is that of the Lateran, an octangular edifice with imposing columniation, an upper row of pillars giving an air of lightness to this elegant fifth century composition.
As to the forms of art and architecture represented in these new creations there can be no difference of opinion. Their antique columns and richly ornamented entablatures point, in common with other details to the art of the Graeco-Roman period which, though now in its decadence, and even technically degraded, still supplied the richest of materials for the Christian artificer fell into decay. As the temples and palaces of the imperial age gradually, the finest of columnar and other decorations were found amid these splendid and costly ruins which furnished for the embellishment of earlier basilicas an inexhaustible source of wealth. Those of later date were of inferior and often of heterogeneous design; nor can it be said that in either there was much evidence of taste. Side by side in the same arcade or portico were columns of various sizes and styles, the simple and massive Doric shaft being found in juxtaposition with the graceful Ionic or the slender and florid Corinthian. Pillars were cut down to the required length, and those which were already too short were lengthened by loftier pedestals or crowned with loftier capitals. In truth it appeared as if ancient architecture had sunk into chaos amid some barbaric age; yet only in this fashion could Christian ideals fulfill their aim, leaving the dead past to bury its dead, grouping the remains of the antique into new and anomalous combinations, and selecting from them only what was best suited to the new conditions. But if in architecture and sculpture they were content with the crumbs that fell from the table of the antique, it was not so with their painting, which though modeled on classic forms, soon became individual in spirit and signification.
Among the earliest of basilicas, and one of the finest in design and decoration, was the present church of San Paolo, erected during the reign of Theodosius, and restored with modern features after its destruction by fire early in the present century. A nave of magnificent proportions, flanked with the stately granite columns which separate it from double aisles with similar columniation, opens into a transept with grand triumphal arch, giving further emphasis to the spacious apse more than 80 feet in width. In front an atrium and encircling colonnade completed the composition, the interior walls being adorned with paintings, and the transept, arch, and apse with splendid mosaics. The modernized church of Santa Maria Maggiore was also a Roman basilica of smaller but still majestic proportions. To an earlier age belongs the original church of St. Peter, founded, as is said, by Constantine on the ruins of Nero's circus, where the apostle ended his career with a martyr’s death, and in the fifteenth century destroyed to make room for the greatest of Christian temples. Though built of brick, with plain arched windows and little of exterior decoration, internally it was one of the most imposing of basilicas, its transept, nave, and aisles divided by Corinthian pillars, and in the central curve of its apse the pontifical chair, screened by columns of Parian marble from the temple of Solomon, or so, at least, it was claimed. Among other basilicas, more than a score in number, and extending from the fourth to the twelfth century, were that of Santa Sabina on the Aventine mount, with rich antique columniation, and the church of San Clemente retaining much of its original form—the atrium in front of the entrance, the choir and pulpits, the canopied altar supported by pillars, and behind it the throne of the bishop, with semicircular rows of seats surrounding the apse on either side.
When, early in the fifth century, Ravenna was selected by Honorius as the capital of the western empire, the building of splendid monuments was undertaken, and by later rulers continued; for as the seat of Byzantine exarchs, Ravenna also became a seat of Byzantian art.
Still in this historic, but now obscure and almost deserted city, its ecclesiastical architecture is of transcendent interest, the admixture of Byzantine and early Christian designs, the latter mainly in colonnades and mosaics, affording some of the most remarkable examples of the period under consideration. The exterior plan is by no means attractive: for, says a writer on this subject, “the outside of a Ravennese basilica is merely a plain, unadorned pile of brick, and if there be any artistic grouping or outline about it, it is in the campanile which a later age has added. But if thus unattractive without, the churches of Ravenna are all glorious within. The eye dwells with genuine delight on the long unbroken rows of pillars and arches, their marble shafts, their floriated capitals, sometimes the work of Christian craftsmen, sometimes the spoils of heathendom pressed into the service of the sanctuary. Their plan allows a wide field for void spaces; but these spaces are filled with wonderful mosaic paintings which look down upon us as fresh as they were more than a dozen centuries ago.”
Of the ancient five-aisled cathedral of Ravenna, now entirely modernized, there remains only the adjacent baptistery, decorated in the fifth and sixth centuries with mosaics of the apostles, and still almost intact. The mausoleum of Galla Placidia, sister of Honorius, containing also the tombs of three emperors,—her husband, brother, and son—is in the form of a Latin cross, surmounted by a cupola encircled with semi-domes on which are depicted scriptural figures and scenes. Above the nave of the church of San Apollinare Nuovo are beautiful specimens of mosaic art representing processions of virgins and martyrs approaching the Savior, who in one group is attended by magi and in another enthroned in glory and guarded by ministering angels. The minster of Aix-la-Chapelle was modeled, as is said, by Charlemagne after the basilica of San Vitale one of the most remarkable of Christian monuments and noted also for its life-size mosaic portraits of Justinian and Theodora surrounded with courtiers, guards, and priests. Of San Apollinare in Classe, or Classis—the former port of Ravenna—the decorations, though impaired by damp, are on a magnificent scale, especially the stately Corinthian columns of marble and the triumphal arch and apse, where is a large jeweled cross symbolic of the transfiguration, Moses, and Elias appearing in clouds on either side.
In many lands whose Christian rites were borrowed from Rome, and even in the where there did remoter districts of Italy, not exist, as in the ruins of Roman temples, palaces, and amphitheaters, quarries of architectural materials basilicas and churches were built in rude imitation of those of the imperial city. Such there were as far north as Britain, as far south as the verge of the Libyan desert, and however divergent in form, the diversity increasing with distance of time and place, there were in all the general modes of treatment common to Italian and early Christian architecture. Hence were gradually developed the Romanesque and Gothic styles, not from previously existing orders among the nations themselves, but as clearly deduced from the Roman as was the Roman from the Greek and the Greek from the Egyptian and Persian. Yet there was an important modification of Roman art arising from contact with the east, and this was commonly known as the Byzantine.
The ancient church of Saint Mark in Venice was one of the earliest and strongest specimens of purely Byzantine architecture, though in its present shape, constructed as it is from the spoils of many other buildings both sacred and secular, it forms of itself a museum of sculptural and architectural remains, extending from the age of Constantine to the later renaissance. In a grass covered field planted with rows of trees, where is now the square of San Marco, was erected early in Venetian annals the Christian sanctuary dedicated to Saint Theodore, then the patron saint of Venice, on the spot now occupied by one of the grandest temples of the medieval ages. Near it was a small ducal palace built for the first of the doges, together with a private chapel, the ashes of Saint Mark, thenceforth the tutelar spirit, being placed in its confessio. Presently the latter became the chief but not the cathedral church of Venice, until late in the tenth century both chapel and palace were destroyed by fire.
While it is true that the transition in architectural forms was not completed until the age of Constantine, long before that date, long before Christianity had received in Rome the stamp of official sanction churches had arisen under the influence of the new civilization. Some were of the early Christian order, some of the Byzantine, and others an admixture of both, since for the origin of Byzantine architecture we must not look to Byzantium, examples in Syria and elsewhere in Asia Minor pointing to an era not far removed from that of the destruction of Jerusalem. Grouped near the edge of the Syrian Desert and in the neighborhood of Antioch are the remains of basilicas deserted, as were other buildings, just as they stood when Islam became mistress of the Orient. In Algeria, Egypt, and Nubia are also the ruins of ancient sanctuaries, while the so-called White convent, on the border of the Libyan Desert, a fortified and mysterious structure, resembling rather a pagan temple, was unquestionably a Christian edifice of the early and troublous times. Of Byzantine pattern was the many-aisled and galleried basilica which Constantine erected above the holy sepulcher at Jerusalem, as also was the still existing church which his mother Helena built at Bethlehem in honor of the virgin.
When from Rome to the city founded on the Bosphorus by a roving band of Megarians, early in the seventh century, Constantine removed the seat of imperial power, it was already a place of repute, albeit of evil repute. Though Christianity had gained here a feeble foothold, the inhabitants were less noted for godliness than for licentiousness and immorality, their vices surpassing even those of the modern Turks. They were not only a dissolute but a lazy and effeminate people, passing their time in carousing at taverns or loitering around the streets. In peace, say the historians of the time, they trembled at the voice of their own demagogues; in war they quaked at the sound of a trumpet, and only through the savor of extemporized cook-shops, distributed among the ramparts, could they be induced to man the walls. Such was ancient Byzantium as Constantine found it, occupying only the easternmost of the seven hills where stand upon two continents the more populous quarters of the metropolis by the Golden Horn.
It was the aim of Constantine to build on these seven hills a new capital, with temples and palaces as splendid as those of the imperial city, borrowing for this purpose all that was best worth preserving in the faded art of an empire already tottering to its fall. While partially successful, erecting magnificent churches and mansions, with walls that required the labor of 40,000 Goths to make safe the abodes of the orthodox, it was not until a century later that Byzantium became the counterpart of Rome. Though after its many wars, conflagrations, and earthquakes, the relics of the Byzantine age are by no means plentiful in modern Constantinople, there are sufficient remains to recall its past, especially in the neighborhood of the hippodrome, where was the center of civic life and too often of civic tumult. Among them are the ruins of palaces and pillars—a few of the latter still almost intact—which are associated many historic names, from Marcus Aurelius Claudius to Eudoxia and Chrysostom. The tombs of the great are almost at every corner and court, and of Christian sanctuaries there is much to remind us; yet the ancient capital of the west has long been under ground, and he who walks through the thoroughfares of the Ottoman metropolis passes through the streets of a city which has for substructure a city of the dead.
The landward walls of Byzantium, extending in four lines across the promontory which they enclose, are the work of many hands and many epochs, emperors from the reign of Theodosius almost until the Mohammedan conquest adding to its fortifications. At intervals on the two inner lines are castles extending in unbroken series from hill to valley, and at either end of all the lines is a citadel, the marble towers by the Golden Gate remaining almost as they were in the fifth century, though others belong to a more recent period. The ramparts were constructed with a special view to the protection of palaces and churches, the Leontine wall, built by Leo the Armenian, forming a bulwark which yielded only to the heaviest artillery. In truth such protection was needed; for the entire history of Constantinople is but a history of its sieges, until the last of the Constantines laid down his life in defense of the capital which the first one had founded.
Constantinople was a city of palaces and temples, the imperial edifice, or rather group of edifices, enclosed with spacious gardens that extended from the hippodrome to the shore of the sea, occupying the site where now stands the mosque of Ahmed. In structural forms it differed but little from the mansions of the emperors already described in connection with Roman architecture. From the church of Saint Sofia, the grandest monument of Byzantine art, it was separated by the public square known as the Augusteum, whose statuary, including a silver image of Eudoxia, belonged rather to Italian than to Byzantine sculpture. During the twelfth century or church Blachermae became the imperial quarter, where were the palace of that name and the Agia Theotokos, of the Virgin Mary, a finished specimen of the later Byzantine period. Visible from the Golden Horn is the church of the Savior, now the mosque of Kahirch, near the southern extremity of Constantine’s wall. In this, the most ancient of ecclesiastical edifices, enriched with mosaic decorations and still beautiful even in its decay, were the remains of martyrs who suffered under the persecution of Decius.
To the reign of Justinian belongs the church of Saint Sofia, reared on the site of the temple which Constantine erected in honor of "Divine Wisdom," later occupied by others of that name. Its architects were Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus, under whose orders was an army of workmen with scores of master builders. Externally it is of the plainest, with walls of common brick and dome of pumice-stone and Rhodian brick, no wood being used except for the doors; since fires were frequent, and for the building of this structure $5,000,000 had been withdrawn from a treasury by no means well supplied with funds. The dome, more than 100 feet in diameter and 180 in height, with adjacent semi-domes, is shallow in form, resembling rather the segment of an arch, and rising from an entablature supported by the four grand arches which rest on massive columns enclosing a quadrangular space. The apses at either end, whose vaulted arches continued the lines of the domical treatment, gave to the extremities of the nave an oval shape, as in Roman basilicas. A portico covered the entire front, where was an atrium surrounded with colonnades; at the back were side apses used as chapels, and lengthwise were low side aisles whose projecting counterposts formed a number of subordinate spaces, the galleries above being reserved for female worshipers.
If the external design of this famous sanctuary was lacking in symmetry of proportion, the interior, lined with many-colored marbles and stored with the art spoils of Hellenic and oriental cities, of Athens, Ephesus, and Cyzicus, of Baalbek and Heliopolis, surpassed in magnificence all Byzantine temples. The dome, the vaulted roofs and apses were covered with golden mosaics interwoven like figured tapestries and set in ornamental frames, the reflected light filling the courts and aisles with a brightness and splendor as of the new Jerusalem, while the manifold varieties of structural form added to the striking effect of a composition as bold as it was ingenious. Converted into a mosque after the Turkish conquest, and with many later but minor alterations, the building was restored about the middle of the present century, when the weight of the dome threatened the supporting walls with destruction.
In addition to those already mentioned, of the five hundred temples of worship in Constantinople at the opening of the thirteenth century, a few are still in existence, either in the form of churches or church mosques. Among them is the Kutchuk Aya Sofia, whose lower story was the original model of the sanctuary above described. Erected for Justinian, the greatest of the eastern emperors, though a barbarian by birth, it was dedicated to the martyrs of his native province of Illyricum, and here, as is said, the Messiah appeared among his followers. In the basilica of Saint John of the Studium was the monastery of the Acoemiti, or watchers, together with a school of Christian poets. Many of the mosques are merely adaptations of churches, their towering minarets, casting at night a warm and radiant glow far over the waters of the Bosphorus, forming a striking contrast with the somber structures of the Byzantine era.
The reign of Justinian, extending over nearly two-score years and ending in 565, was, as I have said, the culminating period of Byzantine art and architecture. While by no means a brilliant epoch, it was mainly during this age that the former glories of Rome were in a measure revived on the shores of the Bosphorus, where lingered for centuries the civilization of the ancient world. In the transition from the simple design of the basilica to more varied and complicated structures, and especially in the domical compositions that formed the point of architectural emphasis, there was a boldness and sometimes a grandeur which gave evidence of technical knowledge and skill. Marbles of various colors were freely used for walls and columns, for friezes, cornices, and rails, with brilliant mosaics for floors and vaulted ceilings. Yet there was a rigidity and often a clumsiness in the imitation of Hellenic models without the plastic freedom of the Greeks, as appears, for example, in the capitals of Corinthian pillars whose foliation lies flat on the surface, with heavy, projecting volutes and squat, though richly decorated impost. With all its splendor, there was a coldness in Byzantine art as in Byzantine life, gradually stiffening into petrifaction; for in the spirit of Christianity there was nothing national, and after the sixth century we search in vain for the expression of a new movement or even a new idea.
The rich and sensuous statuary of the Greek and Graeco-Roman periods was but faintly imitated by the Christians, and with fear and trembling lest they should relapse into the idolatrous forms forbidden to those who would worship God in spirit and in truth.
Yet they had no new methods of their own to substitute for the antique, which they were only too glad to copy, so far as such imitation was permissible. But however inferior as compared with classic models, it is probable that early Christian sculptures were the best of the age; for, as we have seen, in the reign of Constantine Roman art had sunk to the lowest point of degradation of which art is capable. While there are no indications of superior technical knowledge and skill, their faith had inspired a certain rude vigor which at least contrasted favorably with the expiring efforts of pagan sculptors. Nevertheless it was rather in painting, where there was little danger of repeating heathen conceptions, that the early Christian era found its deepest and freest expression.
It is worthy of note that the sculptures and paintings of this period, however primitive, were for the most part lightsome and joyous in theme, their artificers giving more attention to choice of subject than to artistic qualities. They cared not to reproduce the scenes of persecution which they had suffered, seldom dwelling on the martyrdom of those who had been as brands for the burning or as a prey to wild beasts, seldom referring even to the martyrdom of their lord. To them the earth was but an abiding place, and if it contained no spot where they could meet together, except in the catacombs, even there all was bright and peaceful, suggesting only the eternal peace that was to come; so that their church was never so strong as when its only temple was in this "submerged tenth” of imperial Rome.
Marble sarcophagi afford the finest specimens of sculpture, many of them richly decorated in imitation of pagan mausolea but with scriptural topics. The subjects are from both the testaments, as the sacrifice of Isaac, the ascension of Elijah, Job and Christ his sufferings, Daniel and the lions, Jonah and the whale, appearing in his miracles, his sermon on the mount, and his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Though of the founder of Christianity, no statue has been preserved, he often appears in reliefs, the figure of a shepherd being the favorite form, while in the catacombs of Saint Calixtus he is painted as Orpheus playing on the lyre; for as to the great musician, all nature was obedient to Christ. Mythology is freely represented in the art of the early Christians, who did not hesitate to appropriate any tradition or motive to which they might give an interpretation consistent with their faith. The cross was the symbol of redemption, the palm of eternal peace, the lamb, the vine, and other emblems being plentiful on the walls of tombs on vessels and implements. The Lateran and Vatican museums are rich in sepulchral decorations, among the most remarkable specimens being the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, found in the crypt of the ancient basilica of St. Peter, and that of the daughter of Constantine, covered with vines and with figures gathering and crushing the grapes. In a sarcophagus beneath the pulpit of San Ambrogio in Milan are medallion portraits of its occupants, on one side of which is represented the adoration of the three kings, and on the other the youths who refused to worship the idol of Nebuchadnezzar, while below Christ is addressing his apostles.
To the fifth century belong the ivory reliefs on the chair of St. Peter, still contained in his basilica but among its most strictly guarded treasures. Of sixth century workmanship is the throne of Bishop Maximianus in the Ravenna cathedral, carved in front with figures of John Baptist and the four evangelists, saints and other figures on ivory plaques showing a strange admixture of forms, but always distinctly Byzantine and with the stiffness of figure and gloom of feature inseparable, as it would seem, from Byzantine art. On the bindings of manuscript copies of the gospels are some beautiful reliefs, though largely in imitation of the diptychs of the later consular period. Statues are rare at this epoch, except for those of the emperors, which were in the feeblest style of Roman art, the most important work being the seated bronze figure of Saint Peter now, in the nave of his cathedral, a dignified composition both as to features and drapery. Of similar style, though modernized in part, is the marble statue of Saint Hippolytus in the Lateran museum; in the Christian museum of the Vatican are marble statuettes of the Good Shepherd, a constantly recurring figure usually represented as youthful, slender, elastic, and bearing on his shoulders the rescued lamb, the idea being probably borrowed from the Hermes of the Greeks, carrying a calf on his shoulder. And so he appears in other forms, modeled after the type established in the paintings of the catacombs, immortally young, suggestive always of peace, and with arm extended as in benediction on the world; for the stern features and emaciated form of the later Christ are found only in the decadence of Byzantine art.
To sculpture, as to architecture, a new impulse was given during the reign of Justinian, Ravenna threatening for a time to supersede Byzantium as the home of art. Especially did the former excel in its low reliefs of plants and birds executed on the marble slabs of which altars, screens, and pulpits were fashioned. Yet while Byzantine art extended throughout the west, its seat remained at the city of Constantine, even in its most degraded period. It was for metal work that her sculptors were most famous, and to the extensive use of gold and silver in plastic art is largely due the scarcity of existing specimens, their commercial value being the cause of their destruction. Not only were the precious metals lavishly employed for church and other decoration, but even as surface ornaments for statues and reliefs, however injurious to artistic simplicity of effect. One of the most striking specimens is a series of eighth century reliefs executed on the wall of a church at Friuli, near Trieste, lines of female saints carrying jeweled crosses and crowns. Of similar workmanship, especially as to drapery and pose, are the figures of Theodora and her attendants in the church of San Vitale at Ravenna.
A barrier to the development of art was the dominating influence of the Eastern Church which succeeded that of the early Christians, forbidding, as it did, the portrayal of beauty or comeliness even in Christ himself; for it were impious to carve or paint him with the noble features and figure of the pagan gods. The saints, moreover, must be represented with a certain cast of features, in certain attitudes and disposition of drapery, even the colors being strictly prescribed, and from these rules no deviation was permitted. Hence it was that no progress could be made in art, unless we may class under that head the fashioning of altars and crucifixes, of censers and reliquaries in gold and gilt, enameled, filigreed, and studded with precious stones.
Nor were conditions improved during the corruption of the church which Charlemagne strove to repress, seeking to make his empire the center of the faith and adopting Byzantine art methods, as appears in the court chapel which later became the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle. With the spirit of Christianity vanished the spirit of Christian art; the world was drifting into darkness, and being in the world and of the world, the church shared in its depravity, though at this era fulminating its most awesome denunciations. Instead of the peace to come, as in the church of the catacombs, the wrath to come was now the absorbing topic of mankind.
From a savior and peace-maker Christ was transformed into an avenging deity, and only through penance and penitence could be reached the promised mansions in the skies. Pleasing forms in marble, ivory, and gold, gave place to ghastly crucifixes and ghastly saints, devils in stone inflicting or suffering torments, while over church doors were sculptured the second advent and the last judgment, which the year 1000 was to witness.
But the year 1000 passed away, and still the Lord tarried, as yet he does, though times without end his coming has been confidently predicted. Meanwhile was felt the influence of the crusades and of medieval chivalry, gradually penetrating through the dark ages, its light growing ever stronger and clearer until the dawn of the renaissance. Nevertheless, for many centuries after the seat of government was removed from Rome to Byzantium, sculpture was almost a lost art, not only in Italy and the eastern empire, but throughout Europe. By the early Christians, as we have seen, and by the earlier Byzantines works of merit were occasionally executed under the inspiration of a new and living faith. As for the rest it may be said that with rare exceptions, as in the productions of Niccola Pisano and the Comacine masters, the phantom of Byzantine art, and especially the art of the monastic system dominated the entire world. In its sculptural forms there is nothing that need further detain us, for such was its stiffness and monotony that any given statue or relief might have been produced in one country as well as in another, since there were few but monkish artists to design and few but monkish artificers to execute.
As with sculpture, so with painting, Roman catacombs were the cradle of Christian art, though neither in these burial places nor in the earlier chapels and basilicas are there any but decorative forms. Except as to theme, there was little difference between Christian and pagan depictions, the former being modeled after the antique both as to coloring and design. In common with those selected for sculpture, the subjects were almost entirely scriptural, yet not without an admixture of heathen mythology, Old Testament scenes being especially plentiful in the catacombs of Rome and Naples. While the lives of Christ, of the apostles and martyrs, are freely represented, there is nothing to remind us of their sufferings, symbolic painting being most in favor, as in the sister art. Says one who has written well on this period: "Not a thought of bitterness or revenge expressed itself in sculpture or painting during three centuries; not a single instance has been recorded of the tortures or martyrdoms which have furnished such endless food for the pencil in later ages. Even the sufferings of Christ are merely alluded to by the cross borne lightly in his hand as a scepter of power rather than a rod of affliction; the agony, the crown of thorns, the nails, the spear seem all forgotten in the fullness of joy brought by his resurrection. This is the theme; Christ's resurrection and that of the church in his person, on which, in their peculiar language, the artists of the catacombs seem never weary of expatiating.”
In the fifth century allegorical figures had given place to personal representations, especially those of Christ and the virgin, the oldest of existing portraits being discovered in the catacombs, and the best in that of San Ponziano, where probably the earlier type of countenance was established. The features of the Messiah are of oval shape, encircled with waving locks of brown hair parted in the middle; eyes lustrous but thoughtful and serene in expression; lips perfectly chiseled, and silken beard in hue resembling the hair. The right hand is held aloft as in warning or entreaty and in the left is the book of life.
Compare this with the letter which Lentulus, an officer under Pilate, addressed to the Roman senate, one that, even though it be a forgery, doubtless embodies the conceptions of the age: "A man of stately figure, dignified in appearance, with a countenance inspiring veneration, and which those who look upon may love as well as fear. The hair rather, dark and glossy, falls down in curls over the shoulders, and is parted in the midst after the manner of the Nazarenes. The forehead is smooth and remarkably serene; the face without line or spot, and agreeably ruddy. The eyes are grayish-blue and full of light; the nose and mouth are faultless, and the beard the color of the hair, not long but divided." Among other portraits is one said to have been taken from an intaglio executed by order of Tiberius. As further evidence at least of the existence of the Messiah, there are the writings of Tacitus, who merely remarks, however, that "there was a man called Christ, who was crucified for stirring up sedition in Judea.”
In the year 431 the council of Ephesus prescribes the modes for artistic representations of the virgin, whose appearance is thus in substance described in the Historia Ecclesiastica of Niccphorus, a monk connected with the church of Saint Sofia, and thus having access to documents no longer extant. She was of middle height, though many assert that she was somewhat tall of stature. Her features were oval and her complexion pale; hair light, eyes of piercing aspect, with olive-colored pupils. The brows were arched and dark, the nose rather long, and the lips wore a placid smile when speaking. She spoke little, and her speech was never troubled, but courteous, grave, and tranquil. Her attire was without ornament, and in her deportment an air of dignity was combined with all the graces of womanhood. One of the most ancient figures of the Madonna, now in the catacombs of Santa Priscilla, shows her in seated posture, with the child in her arms a light veil on the head, and opposite her, a dignitary of the church pointing to a star above the group. To Saint Luke have been attributed many portraits of the virgin, a chamber in the church of Santa Maria on the Corso being claimed as his original studio. But there is no evidence that the evangelist was also an artist, the works ascribed to him being probably from the hand of Luca, a medieval monk and one of the first to set the fashion of painting the virgin with tawny hue of skin.
Of Saint Paul there was at least one portrait, or portrait bust, belonging to the second century, Chrysostom claiming its ownership though leaving no description. He is usually portrayed, however, as slight of stature, clad in white mantle, beneath which is a chiton of blue, carrying in one hand a sword and in the other a roll of his epistles. The features are expressive; the forehead lofty, nose aquiline, and eyes sparkling with the fire of enthusiasm. The baldness of Saint Peter, as he has come down to us, is attributed to the shaving of his head by the Gentiles in token of derision, while the thick, curling beard is frosted with the touch of time. The physiognomy is somewhat coarse, but manly, intelligent, and denoting strength of will. In one hand is the silver key of bondage and in the other the golden key of absolution.
Mosaics were freely used in early Christian and Byzantine art, for here was a medium well adapted to the stiffness and also to the preservation of both, existing specimens dating back to the fourth century, as in the vaulted chapel of Santa Constanza in Rome. The subjects are mainly such as have already been described, and in their treatment there is little worthy of note, except for transition of style. In Ravenna churches are the finest works, and especially in the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, where the hart, typical of a soul that is thirsting for redemption, appears among the usual figures of the Good Shepherd and his flock. In the baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte, Christ is standing in the water, the river Jordan appearing as a god, and on a background of blue are the apostles in colossal effigy.
On the triumphal arch of the church of San Paolo in Rome, recently restored, are some of the most valuable of fifth century mosaics, rescued from a basilica during its destruction by fire. The central figure is a large medallion bust of Christ, austere of aspect, with the evangelists symbolized above, and on bended knee, on either side, the white-robed elders of the Apocalypse. It is an impressive composition, though the forms are outlined with the usual stiffness and constraint. A better work, and of sixth century execution, is contained in the apse of the ancient church of San Cosmo e Damiano, near the palace of Augustus. Christ is coming in the clouds of glory golden-tinted by the setting sun, his right hand extended in invitation, and in his left a roll wherein are inscribed the names of his elect. In the features and attitude are well expressed the majesty and dignity of the divine; but the effect is not improved by the arrangement of the mantle, which is thrown over the left arm after the fashion of the antique, resembling somewhat a Roman orator addressing the senate or pleading in the forum. In the foreground are saints, in company with whom is Pope Felix IV, and on the frieze below the symbolic and ever recurring lambs or sheep, of which one tires somewhat in these early Christian paintings. The scene is laid on a blue ground, and it is partly the change to a ground of gold, with golden and other decorations in keeping with the luxury and wealth of the eastern capital that marks the transition to the art of the Byzantine period.
As with architecture and sculpture, so with pictorial art, the culminating era was in the reign of Justinian, after whose reign the craft of the Byzantines, remodeled under eastern influences and superseding the moribund schools of Italy, made itself felt throughout the Christian world. Yet it was not without a struggle, a long and bitter struggle, that art retained its hold as a power in the church; for the decoration of temples and the splendor of their services gave rise to the charge of idol-worship and worked into a frenzy the fanaticism of iconoclasts. After many deliberations, first as to whether sacred subjects should be represented at all, and then as to methods of treatment, it was decided by the council of Constantinople, held near the close of the seventh century, that Christ must appear in human and not in symbolic form. To this period belong the earliest paintings of the crucifixion, which presently became universal. At first we have the youthful figure of the early Christian age standing calmly erect on the cross, but robed, and no longer in shepherds garb. This, however, soon gives place to the downcast head, the form and features distorted with agony that have since become all too familiar, though here is none of the beauty of the divine. In addition to the suffering Savior there are also suffering saints, whose spirituality is expressed by austerity of feature and meagerness of frame. Tall, thin figures as befits a countenance filled with stiffen into rigidity, gloom and sadness; the head, narrow in profile, is gray- haired and bearded, and the eyes gaze forth with spectral stare from contracted and frowning brows. It is only in the drapery that art appears in its lighter vein, and even this is overloaded with golden and bejeweled embroideries; for while there was a certain splendor in the Byzantine school, it was a barbaric splendor, gaudy decorations, such as would dazzle the beholder, being used as a cloak for artistic ignorance and incapacity.
Neither in the early Christian nor in the Byzantine school is there anything worthy of mention apart from ecclesiastical art; for historic paintings were feeble and few, while landscape and genre were almost unknown. In both a favorite subject was Christ triumphant, appearing amid the clouds as judge of the earth, surrounded with angels, apostles, and saints, with the Madonna at his side, and in Byzantine depiction often in proximity with the emperor and his suite in the splendid costumes of the court. Of this an example in sixth century workmanship has been preserved in the church of San Vitale at Ravenna, where beneath Christ enthroned on the vaulted roof of the apse, appear on the wall of the tribune the emperor Justinian and the empress Theodora in magnificent attire, walking in procession among hieratic and secular dignitaries. To later eras belong the mosaics of San Apollinaire in Classe, of San Teodoro, Santa Agnese, and the chapel of Scala Santa in Rome, of San Ambrogio in Milan and of San Marco in Venice. In all of them there is a sameness, both as to motif and execution, though with occasional varieties of treatment. The Venetian mosaics at Saint Mark's, for instance, cover a wide range of subjects and styles, their execution dating from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries. Here is the famous picture of the Ascension, where Christ is rising above the sundered gates of hell, holding in one hand the banner of victory, with the other supporting the form of Adam, and with the apostles in prayer on either side.
In the church of Saint Sofia are some remarkable specimens of sixth century mosaics, though many of the best figures have disappeared, among them that of Christ enthroned on the dome as judge of the world. From beneath the coat of whitewash with which Mohammedan orthodoxy had covered them were brought to light during a recent restoration the forms of cherubim, of prophets, martyrs, and bishops, with a representation of the tongue of Pentecost, as it appeared unto man. On a panel of the main portal Christ is seated on a richly decorated throne, on either side of which are medallions of the virgin and of the archangel Michael, while at the foot is an emperor, supposed to be Justinian, in kneeling attitude and gorgeous attire. The drapery stands forth well on the golden ground; but the figures are rigid, the features lacking in expression, and the entire composition in feeble imitation of the antique.
But if at this period there was a want of plasticity corresponding with the rigorous precepts and formulas of the church, there were not wanting artists capable of nobler conceptions, and especially does this appear in the miniature paintings of the later Byzantine school, where is often a delicacy of touch for which we search in vain in larger works. Of these not a few have been preserved on parchments, illuminated manuscripts, and in various other forms. In the Vatican library, for example, is a roll, more than thirty feet in length, with watercolor miniatures of scenes from the life of Joshua. Here also, among other treasures, are illuminated copies of Virgil and Terence, studied after the antique, but in an earlier and ruder form of art. Elsewhere, as in the libraries of Milan, of Pans, and of the British museum are similar productions, while in the Florentine monastery of San Marco, now a national museum, are fifteenth century missals, gospels, and prayer books in the style but not of the age of the later Byzantine.
In conclusion it may be said that the art of the period which we have passed in review, extending as it did from the first to the thirteenth century, while producing new features and ideals under the impulse of a purer and more enlightened faith, gradually sank into antique formalism and ended almost in petrifaction. The nations belonging to the ancient cycles of civilization had exhausted themselves, and from them no fresh life could be evolved even by the enthusiastic votaries of the new religion. They could rear, as types for future ages, basilicas and churches suitable for worship and decorated with sculptured and painted figures all more or less faulty in design and execution; but they could go no further. If to this it be added that they reproduced in forms however rude the faded glories of the classic age, preparing the way for the rich and varied creations that were to be developed therefrom, these are the chief and perhaps the only merits of early Christian and Byzantine art.
At Rome and Naples the catacombs of the Christians are most numerous, the earliest inscriptions that have been discovered belonging to the second century and the greatest number to the fourth and fifth centuries.
The fountains or tanks in the atria of Christian basilicas were placed there that worshippers might wash their hands before entering the body of the church, whence probably originated the custom of dipping the fingers in holy water, now common to all catholic countries.
Most of the early Christian churches in Africa were of small proportions, though often with several aisles divided by rows of columns. Among the most interesting was the one at Djemla in Algeria, a simple rectangular edifice, its nave terminating in a choir with pillars widely spaced, while the floor was covered with mosaics of such purely classical style as points to a very early period in the Christian era. Another Algerian church at Announa was modeled after the temple of Mars Ultor at Rome, except for its wider intercolumniation. At Ilbrim, in Nubia is one of the first known instances of a church building whose apse formed a portion and not a prolongation of the main body of the edifice, though in later forms, and especially in the east, internal apses were much in favor. In the third century basilica of Saint Reparatus at Orleansville,—the Castellum Tingitanum of the Romans—are two internal apses, the second one being probably added as the mausoleum of the bishop of that name.
A feature in the Constantinople of the imperial age was its enormous cisterns sufficient, it is said, to furnish water to 1,000,000 men for several months. All the palaces and most of the monasteries were provided with these receptacles in case of siege; for Constantinople was often the mark but seldom the prize of invading hosts, Huns, Persians, Arabs, Russians, and Turks being driven from the walls before its capture by Mohammed in 1453.
The appellation of New Rome, formerly applied to Constantinople, is now used only in church documents. Islamboul, or Stamboul, formerly Islambol, or the city of Islam, as the Turks named it, is supposed to be a corruption of the Greek, cis tan polin, the Ottomans also adopting the crescent and star which from time immemorial was the emblem of the city and is still found on Byzantine coins and statuary.
For his church of Saint Sofia, where now stands the mosque of that name, Constantine ordered a number of silver statues which have been thus described by one of his biographers: "The Savior seated weighed 120 pounds; the twelve apostles 90 pounds each, and there were four angels, each of 120 pounds, with eyes formed of precious stones. Through a life-size golden lamb, around which were silver hinds, water issued from a font, John Baptist in silver standing guard over the group, which was probably of Roman workmanship and can hardly be classed as Christian art."
In the British museum is one of the finest specimens of fourth century carvings showing the figure of an archangel executed on the leaf of an ivory diptych. As was common with Christian sculpture, the features are faulty, the drapery displaying the best workmanship. A beautiful ivory in the South Kensington museum represents a priestess in flowing robes sprinkling incense on a burning altar.
On an ivory tablet in the sacristy of the cathedral at Salerno is portrayed the death of Ananias with Sapphira standing in front of the apostle whom she is attempting to deceive, the hand of God appearing above as a token of divine judgment. Ivory boxes adorned with reliefs were frequently used as receptacles for the host, and of these there are many specimens in churches and museums.