Throughout its history, Christianity has come to dominate the globe culturally, politically, and artistically. It wouldn’t be a stretch, in fact, to say that it was the most important influence on the development Western Art. Beginning deep within the Greco-Roman tradition and going on to overtake the Western world, Christian figures, imagery, and themes have pervaded art relentlessly throughout time.
Looking at the specific works of art within the Christian tradition, one can gain an even further grasp on just how the art form developed. Far from a linear progression, Christian art continuously fluctuated between the devotional and the interpretational, the realistic and the symbolic, the secular and the intensely religious. Throughout time, however, some trends remained. Christian art was not a strictly functionary element of the faith. Artists inspired religious dogma, as was evident in the Renaissance. Artists developed a core canon of biblical stories, as was evident during the early days of Christianity. Artists even reshaped the message of faith in the secular 20th century, as is still evident in religious art today.
Studying, then, some of the core eras in Christian art, a beautiful history unfolds in front of the viewer. From the catacombs of ancient Rome, where persecuted Christians adorned their caskets with images of salvation and resurrection, to the grand walls of the Vatican Palace, where philosophers intermingled with prophets, Christian art is the most tangible and lasting snapshot of faith that modern followers have.
The study of Christian art, then, is the study of the conglomeration of external influences artists dealt with. It is the analysis of the internal changes in the Church that opened the doors for new artistic expression. It is a look into the interaction between faith and artist—an interaction that continues to be a crucial element of creative expression to this day.