Essay on Art Appreciation: How did the Early Christian style move away from its classical roots?

On a whole, Christian Church began using art long after the official recognition of Christianity. Initially, early Christian communities used the pagan motifs filling them with their own allegorical meaning or using symbols-cryptograms. Thus, Early Christian art first consisted of paintings in the catacombs, sarcophagi reliefs of ritual room decoration; architecture was also based on the late antique traditions (Lowden, 1997). However, further, the search for a new imagery relevant to Christian teaching, new ideas and values started; the architecture and iconography which later formed the basis of medieval art was developing.

Thus, for example, basing on the ancient Roman basilica, Early Christian architects emphasized not the power of architectural forms, but the vast space within a cathedral. Architectural details became more fragile; the desire to lighten forms and deprive them of materiality became characteristic of medieval art. The space of basilica was divided for the diverse needs of the flock, and at the same time it was more concise than the imperial one, as Christianity declared moderation. This trend led to a change of Roman architecture and its transformation from the architecture of dismembered masses to the architecture of organized and organically fused planes and volumes (Lowden, 1997).

In Early Christian art, the figures were still voluminous like in late antiquity, but, for example, in the Orans symbolizing the victory of the spirit over the flesh, flattened silhouette was increasingly emphasized, the drawing was sketched by an outline, the body disappeared beneath the tunic, the main focus was on the face and large eyes, while the figure lost the sense of corporality and tangibility (Lowden, 1997). Thus, from naïve, sincere, and prudent images timid in execution but full of quiver for the mystery of faith, Early Christian art moved to the tensed ecstatic images in which the form is subjected to dematerialization for the sake of strengthening the spirit. In addition, while the Greek in the Hellenistic period used mosaic mainly to decorate the floor, Early Christian art utilized mural mosaic which largely pushed out the previously existing methods of wall decoration (Lowden, 1997).

Thus, moving away from its classical roots, over time, Early Christian art obtained distinctive features and transformed into the Byzantine style.

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