Early Christian art continued to use the symbolic language prevalent
at the time, but unlike the art of the classical world, this language
was enlisted to serve the new faith as an instrument for the dissemination
of knowledge. The new symbolic language created by Christianity
was based on traditions that originated in the Ancient Near East
and on expressions from the popular artistic lexicon. Thus scenes
from the classical repertoire as well as biblical themes from Jewish
art made their way simultaneously into the new imagery. At time,
the scenes preserved their original forms and were only interpreted
as having Christian meaning; in other cases, new and altogether
different compositions were created.
The Holy Land may have been an important religious center, but
from an artistic perspective, it was rather provincial in comparison
to the major centers of Christian art, Rome and Constantinople.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the large religious buildings
of the land were magnificently adorned. The tiny, schematic scenes
that decorate some of the surviving everyday objects may indeed
be just a hint of the former splendor.
The few copies of Scripture and illuminated manuscripts that have
been preserved attest to the treasures stored in the libraries of
the large monasteries. An additional (and clearly Christian) visual
expression of that time was the icon. Icons are scenes painted on
wood, mainly depicting saints and other holy figures, which in many
cases became objects of cultic worship in their own right.
Within the broad circle of Hellenistic cultural influence, still
felt in this region, syncretism was prevalent, which led to the
creation of new artistic streams and the mixture of styles and formulae
from different cultures and languages. Identical daily objects were
created by the same craftmen for customers of all faiths. A fine
illustration of this are the amulets of that time, such as those
bearing the image of the Holy Rider.
Pottery stamp depicting Mary and Jesus with two angels
The infant Jesus holds a book with a cross on the cover.
Surrounding the scene is a Greek inscription, part of which is missing:
"Blessing of Our Lady, Mother of God, Mary."
This object was used for stamping bread or tokens.
Deir Dusawi, east of Gaza, 6th century
Israel Antiquities Authority, 70-5196
Drawing: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem / by Pnina Arad
the Days of Jesus |In
the Early Church |Pilgrimage
& Symbols |Monasticism
in the Holy Land