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Through efforts of Roman emporers Constantine and Theodosius I the new religion of Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Theodosius was the last emporer to rule over a united empire. After his reign (ending in 395 AD) the western part of the empire fell to civil wars and invasions from the north. The eastern half, with Constantinople as its capital, continued to function cohesively as a Roman empire. This is the empire and time period that historians now refer to as Byzantine.
Early Christiantiy was seen as a Jewish sect, and shared many of its doctrines and tenants. Among those is the commandment that “thou shalt not make any graven images or any likeness of any thing, etc.” Early Christian art shows a sudden departure from naturalistic and real representations of nature, and a return to art forms that are focused almost completely on the “story.”
One of the most common stories represented in Early Christian and Byzantine art (especially church mosiacs) is that of the “Good Shepherd.”
Judaism had its synagogues, and Christiantiy continued this practice of teaching the people in mass. Ancient Greek and Roman temples were only suited for small numbers of priests and nobles visiting the idols of gods within. Romans, being adaptable and inventive, turned to the vast indoor spaces of the “basilica” as a fitting form for this new religious use. Early Christian and Byzantine churches show an interesting and thoughtful adaption of this ancient secular building form.
The church mosaics that decorate these new buildings show a culture of sincere religious devotion. They show a passionate love of the story of hope and forgiveness being spread by the evangelists of the Good Shepherd.
Several dynasties in China’s ancient history interested us because of their unique art forms and styles and the message these works of art gave us about their philosophy and culture.
From the Shang Dynasty we saw some strikingly beautiful and detailed bronze pieces related to burial ceremonies.
From Zhou and Qin Dynasties we uncovered two incredible and monumental mausoleums. Qin Shihuang Di was an important historical figure.
The Han Dynasty was a time of peace and prosperity, and we saw through their artwork a love of the new Confuscian philosophy. We also saw how the new art form of calligraphy brought languange and art together in a wonderful way. As an art form, it represented the perfect balance between Confuscianism and Daoism.
The Tang Dynasty revealed a swift and interesting change in art as the Silk Road brought about fluid trade and communication with asia’s Buddhist cultures.
Finally, the landscape paintings of the Song dynasty captivated our attention and demonstrated the perfect artistic representation of the Daoist philosophy.