Ralph Larmann

Art Department

University of Evansville

back to: Chapter 2

Chapter 3: Art and Religion


Judaism was the basis for the later religions Christianity and Islam.

It is a religion which has strong restrictions against the creation or veneration of visual images. The Second Commandment warns against creating and worshipping "graven images." Iconoclasm means that visual images are strongly discouraged and often forbidden. Iconophiles are those who strongly encourage the use of visual images.

-Jewish history is that of a nomadic people who have little need of durable art or architecture.
In times of stability when the culture was less nomadic, Jewish art and architecture was created. The Jews were a people who lived under occupation by outsiders for most of their history until the Romans sent them to the far reaches of the Roman Empire during the Diaspora. This was a reaction against some Jewish uprisings in 70 AD.

Two historic pieces of art and architecture are Solomon's (and Herod's) Temple and the Ark of the Covenant.

The 1st Century AD Hebrew theologian, Philo of Alexandria, saw God as being universal perfection, and as such, could not be represented in visual form which would be, by its nature, imperfect.

Funerary Inscription of Uzziah, King of Judah. Marks the place where King Uzziah's remains were moved to during the Roman period. He had died 800 years before this marker was put into place. The inscription reads, "Hither were brought/the bones of Uzziah/King of Judah/Do not open."

Gold-Glass Base. From the Roman catacombs. This was the base of a cup or bowl.

Head of Constantine
Late Roman sculpture
c. 300 AD

Basilica of Constantine
Late Roman architecture
c. 300 AD

Emperor Justinian and Attendants
tile mosaic
540-547 A.D.

Empress Theodora and Attendants
tile mosaic
540-547 A.D.

Hagia Sophia
537 A.D.


Christianity was a sect of Judaism. Because it is a messianic offshoot which believes that God came to earth in the guise of his Son, Jesus, there is a recognized visual form of God as Man. This allowed for images of "God" to be made in the likeness of Jesus. Visual forms became important in the development of the Christian Church.

Origen and Clement of Alexandria debated the issue of visual imagery in the Christian Church in the 3rd Century. Most of the resolutions which grew out of these debates regarded painting as being more appropriate for the Church. This was because painting was only an illusion of two-dimensional space and thus not a true representation of three-dimensional reality.

-Early Christian period-@ 33-400 AD. Constantine made it acceptable with the Edict of Milan 313 AD, which stated that Rome would tolerate all religions
-Byzantine period-@ 400-1300, when Roman leadership moved to East

-ichthus- fish symbol used by early Christians who worshipped in secret.
-a favorite theme was "Christ as the Good Shepherd" which was camouflaged as Hermes Criophorus, a Roman god image, in the early days during Christian persecution.
-catacombs-sacred burial areas where Romans would not pursue Christians
-Christians would draw the ichthus symbol near their meeting places in the catacombs so that others could find them.
-The Chi Rho was a symbol using the first two letters of Christ's name (in Greek). It became a symbol of Constantine's victory.

-used as public gathering places for large groups of Christians after the Edict of Milan.
-Made up of the following areas:

  • Apse-the sanctuary area where the altar was located
  • Transept-a section that crosses the main section
  • Nave-the central open area leading from the front door to the apse
  • Aisle-placed on the sides leading toward the front
  • Narthex-open area just before entering nave
  • Atrium-from the Roman house, it is a foyer or receiving area near the entrance

Churches from this era had the apse end of the church facing east so that it would be illuminated in the morning during the Mass (worship service)

Old St. Peter's-Rome, Early Christian basilica, 333-390
-large Early Christian basilica, not to be confused with a Roman basilica, which was used for non-religious purposes.


San Vitale-540-547 AD, Ravenna, Italy, brick facing
-centrally planned
-decorated with mosaics and marble
-gold was used in mosaics
-tiles slightly cocked to help illuminate interior

mosaics -were made up of small pieces of ceramic called tesserae

The Court of Justinian and the Court of Theodora-apse mosaics,
-the Holy Roman Emperor Justinian and his wife is placed at the center with attendants on either side.
-this was placed in the apse at the front of the worshippers
-made up of many tiny tiles

Hagia Sophia-Constantinople, 537 AD,
-large dome supported by buttresses
-pendentives used in corners, transitions between square and round
-minarets (Islamic prayer towers) were added later.

Page from the Book of Kells
illuminated manuscript
Late 8th -9th Century A.D.

-were a vital link in progression from the Roman to the Renaissance world.

Illuminated Manuscripts
-copied Biblical texts that were done in scriptoria in Celtic monasteries
-designs and icons arranged in a pattern
-done on vellum, a high quality calfskin parchment
-parchment is made from thin pieces of animal hide
-codex-manuscipt book

Carolingian Period (under King Charlemagne-Holy Roman Empire)
-monasteries were places where monks lived and worked
-Classical revival occurred during this period. This was a revival of ideas about science, art, music, mathematics, language, etc. Somewhat like Ancient Athens, Greece.

Plan of the Pilgrim Church of Ste. Foy at Conques
French Romanesque
architectural plan
1050-1120 A.D.

The Last Judgement
French Romanesque
relief sculpture in tympanum
1130 A.D., Conques, France


-stylistic name, not historical period
-it means: "like Roman architecture"
-because of the rise of feudalism there began to be some stability in the European governments and economies during the 11th C.
-most art from this time is church-centered because the only central "ruling" body was the Pope
-most people were illiterate
-used altarpieces done as triptychs
-reliquaries were found in pilgrimage churches

-Romanesque architects had to build large churches to accommodate pilgrims
-load-bearing walls
-small windows (not much light )
-sculptural additions (not naturalistic)

Sainte-Foy at Conques, in So. France, c. 1050-1120
-ambulatory so that monks could be undisturbed as pilgrims visited relics
-used radiating chapels as places to stop and pray while visiting
-used stone vaults, like Romans-helped acoustics for Gregorian chants
-used groin vaulting in side bays
-relief carvings in tympanum

-relief images were carved in portals (entry ways)
-at Sainte-Foy at Conques there is a large relief called the "Last Judgment"
-the capitals on columns had ornate carving
-sculptural jambs were used along the sides of entries, usually figures

Chartres Cathedral
French Gothic
1140-50 A.D.

French Gothic
relief sculpture door jambs
13th Century


-primarily an architectural term
-term originally used to denigrate the style by associating it with the Goths
-invented by Abbot Suger for use at the Church of Saint-Denis, north of Paris
-This church was the place that French kings were buried
-used harmonies and musical ratios

Saint-Denis (Notre Dame de Saint-Denis), begun 1137,
-first Gothic cathedral
-invented to use light and show an upward thrust
-the architecture was invented to influence and uplift the occupants
-used pointed arches-a variation on the vault which allowed for more upward motion, flying buttresses-exterior support structures which take the weight off the walls allowing for more windows, and stained glass windows-colored glass in mosaic style

Chartres Cathedral (Notre Dame de Chartres), 1134-1220, 40 miles SW of Paris
-large church which took approximately 100 years to build
-built on a high spot for great visibility
-number of sculptural reliefs on surface, becoming more naturalistic
-extreme height of interior, 3 stories
-uses a rose window over each entry
-Flying buttresses were used to open up window space

Amiens Cathedral, interior and Rheims sculptures

Notre Dame de Paris

Great Mosque at Cordoba
961-976 AD

Dome of the Rock
7th C. AD

-in 622 Muhammad fled to Medina which begins Islamic history.
-shares some of its history with and has similarities to Judaism
-relies completely on the words of the Koran
-There is traditionally no word for art in Bedouin history (mussawwir: fashioner)
-there are few mentions of images in Koran.

-Islam-"brotherhood of man" and equality before Allah
-Judaism, Christianity, & Buddhism are considered precursors to Islam
-Sculpture and figurative representation is forbidden (idolatry) -from Hadith
-much imagery is related to text: calligraphic imagery

arabesques: abstract designs

Mosques; from Masjid (place of worship)
-where Muslims go to kneel facing Mecca and pray (qibla wall with mihrab)
-Dome of the Rock in E. Jerusalem-place where Mohammed ascended into heaven

The Great Mosque, Cordoba
-system of double arches
-large interior space
-faces South, not toward Mecca (it symbolically faces Mecca) -interior dome

Taj Mahal
-was built as a memorial to a sultan's wife

Shiva Nataraja
11th-13th C.


Hindu Religion and Art
-Oldest continuous religious tradition (from 2500 BC)
-has a centrality of god which exposes itself through many manifestations
-this multiplicity of manifestations gives artwork an important role in Hindu Art
-Rigveda is the oldest known religious text.
-art rose to prominence in the Gupta Period (320-415 AD)

-yakshi (f)/yaksha (m) figures of sexual fertility and procreation -makara: part elephant/part crocodile used with Ganga to represent Ganges River
-Shiva Nataraja: this is the image of the Destoyer. Shiva, who is part of a triad of major manifestations, is depicted dancing. The dance is bringing about the destruction of the world. it acts as a reminder to make offerings to Shiva to placate him. Shiva is also an entity of procreation and fertility.

Religious architecture generally uses multiple walled sactuaries which house others until an inner core is reached. it is a metaphor for a mother's womb.

Painting tends to be flat and decorative, often portraying Krishna, the reincarnation of Vishnu.

Great Stupa at Sanchi
3rd C. BC

Buddhist Religion and Art
-Buddhism was started by Siddhartha Gautama in the 5th C. BC.
-He advocated following a "middle path" between excess and denial and believed that all suffering is the result of our personal desires. The way that he advocated was one of making the desires of the world less until one rose to a spiritual level called nirvana.

Stupas (hemispherical mounds of earth) appeared during the reign of King Ashoka (273-232 BC).
-stupas are places for meditation as one moves around the outside
-they act as symbols of the wheel (dharma chakra)
-Four toranas (or gateways) mark entrances into the Stupa

The Buddha is cannot be portrayed because he has achieved nirvana and is a spiritual form, but images that represent the many facets of the Buddha and Buddism are used.
-Buddhas are shown in a variety of positions, most often in meditation
-he is often shown with an ushnisha, a cranial bump which gives the capacity for greater knowledge

Travelers Amid Streams and Mountains
Fan Kuan
Chinese painting
11th C. AD

Guan Yin
Buddha figure
c. 11th C. AD
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


The philosophical differences and similarities of China to the Western World of the same time are reflected in their art. For example, in Renaissance Italy the Classical idea of the development and importance of the "entire" person led to artwork that was based on the individual. The focus was on a single person with landscape or architecture as background. Chinese philosophers, in contrast, felt that Man was only a small part of a larger universe unto which he was subject. The figure in art, consequently, was sublimated to a minor role in paintings which featured the landscape as subject. If man was introduced into such a composition, he was depicted as small and insignificant compared to his surroundings.

Chan Painting
-called Zen painting in Japan
-Used simplicity and discipline to achieve form

Yin and Yang
-describes a balance in nature between opposite forces.

literati painting-the literati were a group intellectual elites (much like artists in Renaissance Italy) who expressed their philosophical ideas through painting and calligraphy. Poets greatly influenced these artists of China.

"First we see the hills in the painting, then we see the painting in the hills," Li Li-Weng (one often receives a heightened awareness of nature through art)

Figural sculptural in China had been primarily concerned with the Bhuddism, especially the Bhudda as subject matter. These forms originally were depicted in India, then assimilated and slightly changed to fit into Chinese culture.

Next study guide: Chapter 4

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