An Introduction to Early Christian Art
Even a few decades ago many scholars believed that the primitive artists of the early Christian ages had no prior traditions when depicting the miracles of Christ or the scenes from the New Testament. The figures known to scholars were mostly blocky, frontal and not proportionate. Their gestures looked very weird.
Today all of these generalizations have been discarded by art historians and critics and Christian art from the period between the second and the fourth centuries shows an astounding variety of forms, approaches and subject matters.
Christian artists were extremely talented and could depict whatever they chose. The abstract look that they were going with was very deliberate. The idea behind it was to focus on God and get away from earthy feelings, emotions, and sensations. This approach introduces one of the most profound changes in the entire history of art. The dramatic difference between the new style and the old style was calculated and intentional.
The new Christian spirituality believed in the expression through the use of flat, incorporeal style that wanted to portray the spirit and not the flesh. A quick look at the statues surrounding the arch of Constantine proves that. The first Christian emperor looks like a flattened cookie cutout.
In the times of Constantine, there was also a profound change in the artistic material. In the Greek and Roman times, sculpture was very popular. In the Christian times, it began to quickly fade away because it was considered to have too much flesh in it. In the Roman times, mosaics were primarily used to decorate the floors. In the Christian times, artists started to use them as a new form of wall paintings. There were two reasons for it. First, the mosaic can be much more colorful than a simple painting. Second, the colors were very appropriate to depicting Christ as the light of the world.