Early Christian art and architecture
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Early Christian art and architecture is the art produced by Christians or under Christian patronage from about the year 100 to about the year 500. Prior to 100 there is no surviving art that can be called Christian with absolute certainty. After about 500 Christian art shows the beginnings of Byzantine artistic style.
Prior to 200 Christians may have been constrained by their position as a persecuted group from producing durable works of art. Since Christianity was largely a religion of lower classes in this period, the lack of surviving art may reflect a lack of funds for patronage. The Old Testament restrictions against the production of graven (an idol or fetish carved in wood or stone) images may also have constrained Christians from producing art. It is also possible that Christians purchased art using pagan iconography, but gave it Christian meanings. If this happened, "Christian" art would not be immediately recognizable as such.
Early Christians used the same artistic media as the surrounding pagan culture. These media included fresco, mosaics, sculpture, and manuscript illumination. Early Christian art not only used Roman forms, it also used Roman styles. Late classical style included a proportional portrayal of the human body and impressionistic presentation of space. Late classical style is seen in early Christian frescos, such as those in the catacombs of Rome.
Early Christians adapted Roman motifs and gave new meanings to what had been pagan symbols. Among the motifs adopted were the peacock, grapevines, and the good shepherd. Early Christians also developed their own iconography, for example such symbols as the fish (ikhthus), were not borrowed from pagan iconography.
After about the year 200 Christian art must be broken into two periods: before and after the Edict of Milan in 313.