Art is the embodiment of aesthetic feeling in human productions. The Fine Arts-or the different methods of this embodiment-are classified into two grand divisions: (1) those that reach the soul through the channel of the eye, termed the formative arts (in German, the bildende Kiinste); and (2) those that reach the soul through the channel of the ear (termed in German the redende Kiinste, but for which we have no appropriate word in English). To the former belong architecture, sculpture, painting, engraving, etc.; to the latter, music, poetry, and oratory. The applied arts are those in which the ornamentation is applied to productions that are not, in their primary purpose, works of art. In all nations, and in all ages of the world, the emotions of the human soul have sought expression in esthetic or artistic forms. Especially has this been the case with the highest emotions of the heart-the religious. In return, the propagators of all religions have availed themselves of aesthetic forms and modes of presenting their doctrines and creeds to the consciences and hearts of men; some employing all the fine arts, others only a part of them. Thus has been developed religious art, both pagan and sacred. Sacred art, or that of revealed religion, divides itself into (1) Jewish and (2) Christian.
I. Jewish. — Under the Old-Testament covenant, the arts of architecture, music, poetry, dancing (and, to a limited degree, sculpture and the applied arts), were used in the worship of God. For SEE ARCHITECTURE, SEE MUSIC, and SEE POETRY, see the separate articles, as in this article we treat of art mostly in its restricted, popular signification, embracing only the formative arts of painting and sculpture. That the second commandment was not intended to prohibit the making of all artistic representations, as is often supposed, but that it referred to the making and worshipping of idols, is shown by the fact that Moses himself had images of cherubim made for the service of the tabernacle, and that in the Temple of Solomon the cherubim retained their place over the mercy-seat, and the molten sea rested upon twelve oxen, and the base of the sea was adorned with figures of cherubim, oxen, and lions, while carvings of cherubim, palms, and flowers covered many of the doors, pillars, and walls of the interior of the temple. The golden candlestick was also adorned with knops of flowers, and the garments of the priests were richly embroidered. In short, no pains were spared to make the temple glorious, not only by its rich and gorgeous construction, but also by its truly aesthetic character. SEE ART, JEWISH (below).
1. First Period (1st to 4th centuries). -The earliest Christians made use, in their service, of only the arts of music, poetry, and oratory. In the second and third centuries they availed themselves of painting and sculpture in their retired places of worship and burial in the catacombs. As the societies increased in numbers and wealth, and, by the cessation of persecution, were permitted to build churches above-ground, and more especially on Christianity being declared the religion of the state, architecture was used, and soon, in its most impressive forms, gave dignity and attractiveness to the house of God. The first period of Christian, as of all other arts, was one of symbolism. The letters X p and A w were placed on the tombs and the vessels of the sanctuary. Then appeared the mystical word ἰχθύς, afterward represented by a fish carved and painted. SEE ICHTHUS. Christ was introduced as the Good Shepherd, etc. SEE CHRIST, IMAGES OF. The parables of the New Testament were introduced with parallel scenes or subjects from the Old Testament, evincing a deep feeling for scriptural types and allegory. Plants and animals were used symbolically, and symbols of Christian doctrine and life were drawn from the pagan mythology of the Greeks and Romans. A study of the doctrine, customs, and spirit of the early church, as shown in its monuments of art, is a most useful complement to the study of the writings of its great minds. SEE ARCHAEOLOGY. The composition and execution of the paintings and sculptures in the catacombs are far superior to those of the immediately succeeding ages; but the artists lived among the finest works of Greek and Roman art, and drew from them their technical knowledge. At the same time, they were inspired by the deep emotions of the new Christian faith.
2. Second Period (4th to 12th centuries).-As church edifices were erected, the arts that had sprung up in the catacombs were transplanted to the stately house of God, and, though subordinate to the architecture, were developed into styles consistent with their monumental character and use, but not without remonstrance from some of the synods. SEE ICONOCLAST. Mosaic painting gradually supplanted the fresco style, and in the Byzantine churches was applied with all the splendor of the Oriental fancy. The Greek Church permitted no sculpture in its edifices of worship, but it developed a style of painting marked, in its best periods, by the dignity of its composition, the grandeur of the outlines, and the expressiveness of its figures and the brilliancy of its colors. Later, the composition of the mystic cycluses of painting that adorned the walls of the churches, and even of the altar-pieces, was prescribed by the theologians; the colors to be used had their symbolical doctrinal significance, and were also prescribed. This led to the stiffness of drawing, and the deadness of all art-feeling, that marks the Byzantine school after the eighth century.
In the Western Church painting and sculpture rapidly sank to a most degraded technical condition. Among the most important works of the period are the mosaic paintings of Ravenna and Rome, and the bronze doors of Amalfi and Verona. Both in its technical knowledge, and in the rules of its composition, the Byzantine school influenced the arts, not only of Italy, but of all Europe, especially that of South France.
3. Third Period (12th to 16th centuries)-- The extraordinary activity of the twelfth century in Europe extended to every department of life, and gave a great impulse to the fine arts, as a means in the hands of the church to teach its doctrines. The purest religious feeling still animated the artists, who, for piety of life, were often reckoned superior to many of the priests or other persons in holy orders. Indeed the artists often were themselves of the holy orders. Gradually (first in Tuscany) the sombre color, the formal composition and stiffness of figure of the decadent Byzantine style, gave way to better drawing, freer treatment, and brilliant coloring. In short, Christian art, for religious character and technical merits, reached its highest climax under such artists as Cimabue, Giotto, Oreagna, and Fra Angelico. In Italy fresco painting kept its predominance in the church edifice, and largely modified the architecture. In other parts of Europe, especially during the Gothic period, sculpture gained a large predominance over painting, and was confined mostly to adorning the windows with biblical scenes and subjects. The progress in sculpture was perhaps more tardy than that of painting. Its first works of excellence were carvings in ivory on vessels of the sanctuary (often of complicate composition). The doors, doorways, columns, pulpits, altars, and baptismal fonts were covered with bronze or marble works, often of great merit. Giotto and the Pisanos (13th century) marked the first great epoch of progress in sculpture, and introduced a perfection of composition and execution hardly excelled in later times, and never surpassed for religious spirit.
During the Gothic period of architecture schools of sculpture grew up in most countries of Europe, and sculpture was profusely distributed in every part of the church edifice, especially in the exterior.
4. Fourth Period (16th to 19th centuries).-The introduction of the use of oil in painting, the invention of chiaroscuro, the growing devotion of the age to classicism, the decadence of Christian life in the church, all contributed to change the character of Christian art. What was gained in technical knowledge was lost in inspiration. After the sublime compositions of the massive genius of Michael Angelo in the Sistine Chapel and the Transfiguration by Raphael, religious art fell from its pure character of the preceding century into a depth of sensuousness and extravagance. For the next century, what then existed that was noble in art was to be sought mostly north of the Alps. During the eighteenth century an almost entire blank marks the history of religious art.
5. Fifth Period (19th century). — At the beginning of this century art had sunk (like the society of-the age) to the lowest sensuousness, and was separated almost entirely from its divine mission. Overbeck, Cornelius, and Schnorr, in Germany, tried to stem the tide, and return art to the mission it filled from the second to the fifteenth centuries. Their labors were seconded later by such artists as Ary Scheffer and Flandrin in France, and Holman Hunt, and Millais in England. The Cyclus of Revelation, now being prepared by Cornelius at Berlin, is perhaps the most complete work of Christian art ever undertaken. Sculpture has not been imbued as much as painting with the religious feeling of its earlier history.
6. Protestant Art. — The Roman Church has always availed itself of all the fine arts in its worship. The Protestant Church in Germany, while cutting away every work of Roman tendency, has always retained a free use of the arts of painting and sculpture, which were rejected by the Reformers in England and Holland as inherently Popish in nature and tendency, and as opposed to the second commandment. America has inherited this feeling from the two countries (Holland and England) from which she was colonized. The art of engraving, however, is freely used in both countries to illustrate religious books and periodicals, and even the Bible itself, though the same work would give offence if painted upon the walls of a church. In the Church of England there is a strong tendency to return to the use of sculpture and painting in filling up the walls of the cathedral and other churches.
7. The history of religious art has recently been studied with great zeal. In the Roman Church generally the opinion prevails that a return to the art of the Middle Ages, and that alone, can bring back the olden age of art. Art associations are especially numerous in France and Germany, the literature on religious art is becoming very extensive, and periodicals exclusively devoted to it have been established in both countries. The Protestant churches of Germany are generally in favor of making a more extended use of art for religious purposes than has been the case heretofore. The church diet of Elberfeld, in 1851, discussed the question of Protestant Art Unions, and in 1853 several evangelical societies were established. In 1858, a paper (Christliches Kunstblatt) devoted to the cultivation of religious art from a Protestant point of view was established by Schnaase, the author of the Lest "History of Plastic Art," in connection with Schnorr von Karolsfeld, the director of the art-gallery in Dresden, and Griineisen, court preacher at Stuttgart.
8. Literature. — The best work on the history of Christian art, though not extending over the entire field, is Schnaase, Geschichte der bildndnden Kinste (Dusseldorf, 1844-66). Other works: Kugler, Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte (Stuttgart, 3d. ed. 1855; English translation [partial] in Bohn's library, Historical Manual of Sculpt., Paint., Arch., anc. and mod., Lend. 1852); Kinkel, Geschichte der bildendon Kiinste bei don Christlichen Vilkern (Bonn, 1845); Lord Lindsay, Sketches of the History of Christian Art (Lond. 1847, 3 vols. 8vo); Geschichte der Malerei (Berlin, 1847, translated into English); Luibke, Kunstgeschichte (Stuttgart, 1864); Geschichte der Plastik (Leipzig, 1863); Piper, Mythologie und Symbolik der Christichen K nst (Weimar, 1851-66); Mrs. Jameson, Legends of Christian Art, etc. (Bost. 1866); Wornum, Epochs of Painting (London, 1865); Jarves, Art Studies (N. Y. 1861).