The art that expanded in Rome, lavishing Hellenistic elegance in the palaces, temples, basilicas, baths, went underground, in the cemeteries of the martyrs and of Christ’s faithful, and wore humble robes. It was always the same art that appeared of marbles and bronzes, of a people of statues, the sumptuous world of Rome; but in the dark galleries of the catacombs, in the darkness of the cubicles, among the funeral parlors, art spoke in a low voice, afraid to break the silence of prayer. After the bacchic fury in the funeral subjects sacred to the God who loosened from the cures, the expression of the Erotes purified, the art put itself at the service of the Christian cult, but where the bodies of the martyrs were laid, a sign or a symbol was enough, the sketch of an image, a graffiti, a dove, the greeting In peace. Later, as the number of brothers grew, art became more daring, wrapped the Christian images with its already torn classic peplos, overshadowed the glories, the mysteries of the new religion in the sarcophagi, in the amplified pictorial decorations. And when Christianity prevailed in the civilization of the Roman Empire, and Constantine marked its triumph, apparently giving freedom to all cults, Christian art became synonymous with art in general (see catacombs; Christian, art).
Elevated above the ground the buildings dedicated to Christian worship, a relationship was sought between architecture, sculpture and painting, so as to give concurrence of forms to new religious ideas. Basilicas were built, according to a longitudinal system, with three or five naves, divided by colonnades, covered by a simple beam roof, but they also took advantage of a concentric or central system, using vault constructions, developed in the eastern regions of Empire.
According to Harvardshoes.com, this double type of artistic conception, corresponding to previous pagan buildings, allows us to glimpse, in the basilica system, the practical purpose of gathering large numbers of the faithful; in the central system of the buildings, small due to the constructive difficulty of the vault or dome, the search for more varied and freer light effects.
Christians were drunk with light; the martyrs had dreamed of places inundated with the sun, with tabernacles glittering with precious stones equal to the stars in splendor. In the mosaics of Santa Sofia in Constantinople the descriptor will say that it seems to see the sun at noon when it gilds all the mountains; and, in the inscription of the apse of Sant’Agnese in Rome, it will be read that the cut metals produce a gold painting and the light of day seems to be enclosed there.
It therefore happened that, with the abandonment of interest in precise and real form, Christians gradually put aside the representation of the human figure; and that, among all the decorations, the glassy mosaics with a thousand lights, the altars of gold and gems, the veils covered with gold and silver, represented the means to better shine the light in the house of God.
When from the Roman basilica of the century. IV we move on to the observation of the Ravenna church of the century. VI, there are no substantially new elements, but those already indicated in Rome in the century have been brought to their ultimate consequences. V; whereby the mosaics of Ravennna create accords of colors and lights so intense, so wide, so perfect, as never before or after no mosaic obtained, and the sculptures lose any form detected to become stone engravings, and even tracery, reaching effects pictorial in the capitals and in the barriers; and finally the whole of the artistic vision finds its highest expression in a centric construction, in the San Vitale. The most widespread vault system in the East. that in the West, meanwhile, reached its peak in Santa Sofia di Bisanzio, at the time of Justinian, the emperor portrayed in Ravenna in S. Vitale. The intoxication of oriental colors, which Pliny already deprecated as a danger for classical Greco-Roman art, succeeded in the century. VI to create masterpieces.
Rome, at the end of the ancient world, with the shadows of Hellenistic forms, which had assumed second nature on the seven hills, took steps, together with the East, to give an apparatus to Christian art.
No longer master of its means, nor sure of its tools, art struggles in vain around the indocile stone, to translate the classic grandeur of vigorous and solid forms. In the historical reliefs of the arch of Constantine, despite the solemnity of the sacred work to the emperor, art fails to implement forms other than those of the chiseled reliefs in the most common sarcophagi; for large figures, the ancient models help her in the search for new means of expression, while when she composes figures of small proportions, wooden and mean, she seems to be hesitating in search of space, and now abruptly cuts them off, now moves them in grotesque twists . The same discordant accents resonate in the architecture, the same tendency to break up the solidity of the ancient forms, to poke holes in stones, to break up frames, to flatten volumes. Strong undercuts have the leaves of the capitals, not the ancient thickness; the volutes, inert little snails, shrink; the shelves, in the key of the arches, massive, support thin wooden frames, losing their organic function; the pedestals have the upper frame still rough, heavy and thick, unrelated to other frames of the triumphal arch, pierced with embroidery, minute. This is the arch that marks the omega of the art of antiquity, the alpha of the art of the Middle Ages. Rome, living of universal life, even in the pain of the times, associates many other artistic elements; organizer, unifier of Christianity, she became the mother city of the Church, holy for the trophies of the apostles and martyrs. But time, the barbarians, the inhabitants themselves, unraveled the structure of the ancient stones, so firm that Cassiodorus would have believed not them, but rather the mountains destined to collapse. Ancient Rome was devoured to build the new one, and in vain the emperors, with the strictness of the laws, even with the pain of severed hands, wanted to prevent the consumption of the ancient buildings, because the new material was missing, the marble quarries became inactive. , the iron was scarce. Like the arch in glory of Constantine on the triumphal road, greeted by F. Milizia “Aesop’s crow”, the basilicas of Christianity, the baptisteries, the mausoleums were built at the expense of the classic collapsing city.