Early Christian Painting

EXAMPLES of the earliest Christian painting executed during this period may still be seen in the Catacombs of Rome. Those executed first are simply symbolic, as the monogram of Christ, fish, loaves of bread, the vine, etc. ; then figures of saints and of Christ appear, and afterward the representation of Bible scenes. All are very simple in composition and crude in technique.

The most important examples of early Christian painting (for they must have been wrought from paintings) are the mosaics of the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries found in the early Christian churches of Rome and other Italian cities, especially of Ravenna, also in churches of Constantinople. These form an important link between ancient and modern painting, as do also the manuscript illuminations which are chiefly the work of monks and were wrought in monasteries. These are now treasured in art museums and libraries, some of the most valuable being in the Vatican, Rome.


In the latter part of the thirteenth century began the great revival of art, in which modern Italian painting took precedence.

The causes of this wonderful revival are not very obvious. Probably it was due to the combination of many influences. Certain it is that from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century there occurred a series of great events which awoke new life everywhere, both in individual nations and gradually through-out the Christian world. The discovery of gunpowder, by rendering strongholds of tyrants untenable, put an end to much warfare and plunder and promoted peace, which, by giving leisure for thought, is a foster-mother to civilization and culture. The supreme authority of the church began to grow less ; science, literature, and philosophy began to engage the attention of men. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio lived and thought and wrote. The fall of Constantinople into the power of the Turkish empire turned westward a stream of Greek influence, and, lastly, the invention of printing bore from one nation to another thought and knowledge, which evoked emulation. Art felt the awakening ; the demand for painting grew steadily, and as people thought and studied they felt the restrictions, the sad limitations of the work that was being produced. They could see the untruthfulness to nature, the lack of life and expression in the Byzantine representations, and, in response to the demand, better paintings began to be produced.


The growth of painting in Italy is more truly an evolution than in any other country.

It began in the first slight endeavor to improve Greek Byzantine painting ; by the turning of a head, by the change from round, staring eyes to narrow, faintly expressive ones, by a little modification of drapery, by more truth in color, etc. Any change, however slight, gave evidence of life and beginning growth.

The earliest period, from about 1250 to 1400, is called the Gothic period; that from about 1400 to 1500, the Early Renaissance; that from about 1500 to 1600, the High Renaissance; and after that, the Decadence.

Italian painting during the Gothic period was wholly in the service of the church, and by far the greater part of existing examples are frescoes on the walls of churches. Everything was painted in fresco 1 or in tempera. The subjects are Bible scenes, and although occasionally a portrait was painted, yet it was always as a part of some religious picture. Everything at first was strongly Byzantine in character, but a steady growth toward the study of nature is seen during this period.

The Early Renaissance witnessed a new impulse of growth. Artists began to study nature and antique works of art. The human figure with all its vitality engaged their attention. The field of art visibly broadened. Although a large proportion of painting was still devoted to the church, some of it was secular. The subjects were Bible scenes, nature, the antique, history, portraits, and mythology. Fresco and tempera were the mediums used during the former half of this period ; oil painting was gradually introduced during the latter half.

The High Renaissance was the period which carried on to perfection all that which had hitherto been attempted. In it every law underlying pictorial representation had been mastered ; drawing, composition, color, all were perfect when rendered by the hands of the greatest masters of this period. The whole world of nature, of mythology, of imagination, of history, and of religion afforded subjects. Oil painting was practised generally.

During the period of Decadence, the high motives’ which had actuated Italian artists hitherto grew less powerful. There seemed to be no greater heights to climb. Religion had lost its supremacy. There was less intellectual activity, less desire for study and noble endeavor. Art had begun to be practised for art’s sake only, and nothing but degeneracy was possible.

CHIEF ITALIAN SCHOOLS. The chief Italian Schools of Painting are Florentine (or Tuscan), Siennese, Roman (or Umbrian), Padua n, Venetian, Ferrarese, Lombard, Bolognese, and School of the Naturalists.

List of most important Italian painters, grouped according to the periods to which they belong.

GOTHIC PERIOD (about 1250-1400).

FLORENTINE (OR TUSCAN) SCHOOL. Cimabue, Giotto, Taddeo Gaddi, Andrea da Firenze, Orcagna, Spinello Aretino, Fra Angelico, Andrea del Castagno, Uccello, Domenico Veneziano.

SIENNESE SCHOOL. Guido da Sienna, Duccio, Simone Martini, Memmi, Lorenzetti Brothers.


FLORENTINE (OR TUSCAN) SCHOOL. Masolino, Masaccio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Fra Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Ghirlandjo, Filippino Lippi, Cosimo Roselli, Piero di Cosimo, Pollajuoli Brothers, Luca Signorelli, Andrea Verrocchio, Lorenzi di Credi.

ROMAN (OR UMBRIAN) SCHOOL. Gentile da Fabriano, Pietro della Francesca, Melozzo da Forli, Perugino, Pinturricchio, Lo Shagna.

PADUAN SCHOOL. Francesco Squarcione, Andrea Mantegna, Bartolommeo Montagna.

VENETIAN SCHOOL. Vivarini Brothers, Carlo Crivelli, Jacopo Bellini, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, Antonella da Messina, Vittore Carpaccio, Cima da Conegliano, Alvise Vivarini.

FERRARESE SCHOOL. Cosimo Tura, Francesco Cossa, Lorenzo Costa, Francesco Bianchi.

LOMBARD SCHOOL. Vincenzo Foppa, Bramantino, Borgognone. BOLOGNESE SCHOOL. Francia. HIGH RENAISSANCE-PERIOD (about 1500-1600).

FLORENTINE (OR TUSCAN) SCHOOL. Leonardo da Vinci, Fra Bartolommeo, Albertinelli, Michael Angelo, Daniele da Volterra, Andrea del Sarto.


ROMAN (OR UMBRIAN) SCHOOL. Raphael, Giulio Romano.

VENETIAN SCHOOL. Giorgione, Sebastian del Piombo, Titian, Palma Vecchio, Lorenzo Lotto, Tintoretto, Paul Veronese.

FERRARESE SCHOOL. Dosso Dossi, Garofalo, Correggio, Parmigiano.

LOMBARD SCHOOL. Andrea Solario, Bernardino Luini, Gaudenzio Ferrari.


DECADENCE PERIOD (about 1600).

VENETIAN SCHOOL. Jacopo Palma (Il Giovine), Gian Battista Tiepolo, Pietro Longhi.

BOLOGNESE SCHOOL. The Carracci, Domenichino, Guido Reni, Francesco Albani, Guercino, Cristofano Allori, Carlo Dolci, Lanfranco, Schedone.

SCHOOL OF THE NATURALISTS. Caravaggio, Lo Spagnoletto, Salvator Rosa.