This chapter examines the development of a distinctive early Christian genre: the icon. It does so by taking a relatively unknown, but important, example of a devotional panel in a U.S. collection with a (now) anonymous warrior saint trampling a demon while on horseback. This icon permits a methodological rumination on the means by which we come to think we know the historical meaning of such an object: our art historical premises, our photographic and museological knowledge of objects, and our own assumption about what constitutes a real “subject” in the past and in the present. This chapter attempts a kind of archaeology, an examination of strata in the icon, but really an anarchéologie of the icon, by which archaeology is problematized, undermined, in order to reveal the ways in which our culture has produced its histories.
Kevin Conti and William Walker
This chapter explores the performance of light and shadows in two ancestral Pueblo rock art sites in southeast Utah. These sites possess anthropomorphic rock faces and modified features to create both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic images that we argue derive from mythological traditions of Pueblo peoples. Specifically, light/shadow patterns at these sites produce and interact with Bear and War Twin imagery on prominent dates of the solar calendar. Traditionally such imagery would be approached through rock art studies in terms of motifs and symbolic interpretations. The celestial component would be addressed by archaeoastronomers. Using object agency theory, we seek to contextualize these data as places where people communicated with their Bear and War Twin deities.
Alexandra Chavarría Arnau
The archaeology of early Christian churches has made important advancements in recent decades in Italy thanks to a large number of new excavations and scientific meetings, as well as the development of the project CARE (Corpus Architecturae Religiosae Europeae (IV–X saec.)), in which most Italian specialists are involved. This chapter suggests new lines of research, thus contributing to a revised historiography of the archaeology of early Christian churches in Italy between the fourth century and the end of the sixth century. It surveys some of the ecclesiastical complexes that have been reanalyzed in recent decades or recently discovered through archaeological excavations.
The art of the catacombs was born in Rome between the second and third centuries and is manifested especially in the pictorial decorations of the cubicula and other hypogeal environments. The extremely simplified artistic typology echoes the Second Pompeian style through the use of red and green lines that run across the walls and the faces of the monuments. Initially this grid contained neutral figures selected from the pagan repertoire; later those images were replaced by Christian scenes inspired by biblical and salvific imagery. The art of the catacombs also includes funerary sculpture, particularly sarcophagi, and the so-called minor arts, such as gilded glass, ivory dolls, and mosaic tesserae. The catacombal decorations ended at the beginning of the fifth century, when funerary use ceased in these subterranean cemeteries.
In the famous projects of ancient Egyptian architecture, sunlight had always a special role. An expert use of light and shadows helped in creating halls filled with sacredness in many temples; but most of all the Sun was the visible face of Ra, the Sun God. As a consequence, religious and funerary architectural projects were connected with the sun rays on special days of the year through astronomical alignments. The chapter focuses on a few key examples—the Akhet hierophanies at Giza and Amarna, and the winter solstice alignment at Karnak—showing the potentialities of modern archaeoastronomy in understanding key aspects of ancient Egyptian monuments and religion.
This chapter examines X-ray art in western Arnhem Land in northern Australia, considering how relatively contemporary artists used it to enrich the meaning of their work. After discussing early research on the meanings of X-ray and developing interpretations of art of the ancestors, the chapter explores the use of X-ray representation in rock art in western Arnhem Land, then analyzes the use of art in ceremony, focusing on Mardayin and Lorrkon, as well as the production of bark paintings made for sale through commercial outlets. It shows that understanding X-ray imagery helps to create intellectual connections between many areas of experience of the world. The chapter looks at the first creators, Yingarna and Ngalyod the rainbow serpents, and their role in promoting creative uses of X-ray infill and concludes that art helps initiates understand the powers of Djang not only as corporeal entities but also in more metaphysical terms.
Based on recent archaeological excavations, this chapter presents an overview of the Christianization of Gaul through buildings and topography. Over the last few decades, our knowledge of the organization of episcopal complexes in cities and funerary areas has been significantly advanced despite the small number of artifacts, many of which are poorly dated. The study of Christianization in the countryside is a more recent development, even though many Roman villas reused by churches in the Early Middle Ages have been excavated. New research shows the greater complexity of the situation, including settlement forms beyond villas and a variety of churches such as episcopal relays, funerary churches, and monasteries.
Charles Anthony Stewart
Churches have been the subject of archaeological examination since the sixteenth century. As the most monumental expression of Christianity, they represent complex religious and societal ideologies, rooted in Jewish concepts of the synagogue and messianic kingship. The institution of the church was initially viewed as both a physical local body and a global spiritual kingdom, and these notions eventually became symbolized by architecture. In Christianity’s first three centuries, a variety of buildings could accommodate Christian congregations. During the emperor Constantine’s reign, the basilica became the most prestigious form of church and, by the end of the seventh century, was commonplace in Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. Churches were not just assemblages of various materials; they also housed burials, shrines, artifacts, and artistic programs. Archaeology examines how and when churches were designed, constructed, and changed, and how they contributed to the wider society.
Karen C. Britt
This chapter provides an introduction to early Christian mosaics that emphasizes the important role played by archaeology in improving our understanding of their geographical and architectural contexts. After a short discussion of the position of early Christian mosaics in the history of the medium, a brief review of the most productive methodologies used in research on mosaics is undertaken, followed by a survey of mosaic technology that includes the workshops and artists involved in mosaic production. In the rest of the chapter, a selection of mosaics in churches, martyria, chapels, and Christian mausolea located in various parts of the Mediterranean world is examined. The evidence from archaeology demonstrates that although early Christian mosaics share universal themes, the diversity reflected in their iconography and the presence of secondary themes rooted in local traditions necessitate a regional approach to their interpretation.
The Mysteries of Eleusis in ancient Greece were the foremost sect of the mystery religions that dominated the eastern Mediterranean sphere for almost 2,000 years. The staying power of the Eleusinian rite stemmed from its convincing presentation of an otherworldly drama about the goddesses Demeter and Persephone. Initiates endured a harrowing experience in darkness that somehow evoked death, before seeing beatific visions, the climax of which was the appearance of the goddess manifest as light. How was the apparition of the goddess conjured? This study surveys extant epigraphical and archaeological information to formulate a research question: could the anaktoron have acted as a box of light, a fire illuminating figurines and projecting their images out into the darkened telesterion? A set of experiments was performed that confirmed the operational feasibility of an ‘Eleusinian Projector’. The appearance of the goddess as light can be explained physically as well as mythologically.
This chapter explores the handling of natural light in the classical Greek temple and the Byzantine church. It discusses concepts of orientation as related to their respective functions and aims and the planning of lighting. It addresses light’s influence on the shaping of formal components in the Greek temple, such as the peristyle, fluting, and echinus of the Doric column. It attempts to establish relationships between the temple and the church layout in both plan and section, on the basis of light considerations connecting these observations to the widespread scientific interest of the period in the nature and behaviour of light. It discusses Byzantine church lighting planning, focusing on the church of Hagia Sophia of Istanbul, in an attempt to provide a perspective of relevant concepts in philosophy and theology, and to understand the development of the aesthetics of light and space within it.
Mikkel Bille and Tim Flohr Sørensen
This chapter explores the uses and perception of light in religious architecture. Often characterized as an ambiguous materiality—neither concrete and tangible nor distinctly immaterial—light seems to offer itself readily as both matter and metaphor for the divine. We argue in this chapter that this is precisely what happens in contemporary Danish churches, yet not without conflicts between the ideal of immaterial divinity and the need for tangible religious practices. We trace a number of luminous as well as numinous qualities to medieval church architecture, still in use today, and show that despite architectural continuities, modernist churches capture and cherish light in a number of ways that emphasize mainly its immaterial aspects. Architectonic discourse is seen as challenged by light practices in the churches, where light lends itself as an instrument for bridging the ontological positions of matter and spirit.
Maria Sardi and Ioannis Motsianos
The symbolic role of lighting in both Islam and Christianity is best mirrored in religious buildings, where light plays an integral role in the spiritual relation between the believers and religion. Differences in terms of the architectural structure demand different lighting devices in mosques and churches. The same can be said about the rituals and the essence of each religion. Apart from the noticeable differences a comparative study between Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches and their contemporaneous mosques reveal that common features in illumination practices do exist, often manifesting cultural exchanges between the two religions. This study aims to highlight these exchanges by presenting in parallel the furnishing of lighting and the lighting devices used in Islamic and Christian religious buildings up to the 16th century while following their evolution and setting them in a broad historical and cultural context. To the same aim the symbolic role of the Light in Orthodox Christianity and Islam will be comparatively discussed.
David L. Eastman
Martyria served as spatial focal points for numerous practices associated with the early Christian cult of the saints. However, the archaeological study of these martyr shrines is limited by the lack of evidence prior to the fourth century, forcing scholars in many cases to rely on textual evidence for their reconstructions of spaces. This chapter studies the earliest evidence for martyr shrines in Smyrna and Rome, which is textual, in order to establish primitive Christian practices surrounding martyria. It then examines the archaeological evidence from martyria in Rome and Philippi of the fourth century or later. These sites demonstrate the continuing expansion of martyria as cultic centers. The chapter concludes with a caveat concerning the popularity of small, even private, shrines that are invisible to the archaeological record.
Bissera V. Pentcheva
Focusing on the glitter of gold in a fourteenth-century Byzantine cross—today inserted in the famous reliquary of Cardinal Bessarion, Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia—this chapter uncovers the important role phenomenology plays in the study of the spiritual operations of medieval art. The analysis draws on the inscriptions written on the cross in order to explore how gold’s sparkle functions as a vision of Paradise nourished by the Byzantine liturgy. This renewed engagement with the ephemerality of coruscation challenges the current neo-materialist turn in the humanities invested in semiotics, and argues by contrast that medieval matter is a medium of the spirit, whose descent and in-dwelling unfolds as a sensually saturated event and experience. Glitter, this chapter contends, enacts an optical manifestation—temporal and kinaesthetic—of divine ‘nearness’.
The shamanistic or neuropsychological model for interpreting rock arts generally, and hunter-gatherer rock arts in particular, emerged in South African rock art research. It has since been applied more widely, notably in efforts to explain the origins of art. The model has evolved over three decades, adapting to critiques and incorporating new ideas and theoretical advances. This chapter is concerned with its development, from its structural-semiotic origins to an account that attempts to incorporate history, diversity and the temporality of human action. The model’s adequacy as an account of visual production and whether it has escaped from the generalizations of grand theorizing are also considered.
Aiming at a better understanding of ways through which the ancient Greek religious experience was shaped, this chapter investigates the role and use of darkness in religious belief and practice. The orientation and certain architectural features of Greek temples, Dionysiac and Mystery cults, divination, rites of passage, magic, and other nocturnal rituals are examined here in an investigation of the interplay between light, darkness, and shadow and the aims fulfilled by such associations. It transpires that darkness was a decisive element in the religious experience, one that intensified the emotional condition of the participants, whilst shaping the ritual experience and memory of the event.
Troels Myrup Kristensen
This chapter reviews the archaeological evidence for different forms of Christian use and reception of statues in the period between the third and the seventh centuries. Previous scholarship has primarily been based on the heavily biased Christian literary tradition (notably hagiographies), whereas archaeology in recent years has begun to uncover a whole range of complex ways in which Christians negotiated the sculptural landscape of Late Antiquity. This landscape consisted of both new and old statues set up in temples, public buildings, and private residences. In turn, the chapter addresses newly erected statues, “residual” statues, the practices of marking crosses and carving Christian inscriptions on the heads and bodies of pagan statues, the destruction of statues, and the recycling of statues.
This chapter focuses on the visual language of early Christian reliquaries produced to contain fragments of sacred saints, sites, and events. It aims to describe and contextualize the representative as well as exceptional cases produced in various places, made of assorted materials, and decorated with diverse and elaborated decorative programs. The chapter illustrates nuances and approaches that were in use throughout the period. Moreover, it shows that the visual rhetoric—that is, the frame, composition, and selection of motifs and scenes—is capable of implying something about the dynamics of the inanimate object and the type of memory it contains. This allows us to discover clues about the visual preferences of the faithful, whether they were exalted bishops or simple pilgrims seeking heaven on earth.