Introduction | Architecture | Painting and Mosaic Work | Sculpture | Conclusion | Bibliography

Painting and Mosaic Work

Ancient Roman painting and mosaic work would be used to decorate large walls of buildings, both publicly and in homes. One method of decorating is fresco. This is a technique where paint is applied directly onto wet plaster. Generally, these paints would be earth tones, however sometimes a vivid red called cinnabar was used. An example of this is found at Pompeii in the Villa of the Mysteries. This villa contained brilliant red frescoes depicting rites which happened there.
Villa of the MysteriesOften, paintings would imitate a material which could otherwise be used for a wall, like marble, or a scene to create the illusion of a window or opening. This allowed rooms to seem spacious. Roman catacombs also contained many frescoes. However, as Christian culture became more dominant, catacombs became less common and people were buried more frequently in cemeteries. The Roman culture, which had accurate images of the dead fell out of favour, and symbolic paintings resurfaced.

From late classical Roman times, through the Byzantine era and continuing today, an important kind of religious art has been icons. Coming from the Greek word for image, these works of art came in various sizes and materials: mosaic, ivory, enamel, gold, or painted wood. The Savior, a very well-preserved icon from the 6th centuryIcons are extremely religious, and are used as an image to look at while praying, as help to direct prayers. However, this has often come into question as to whether or not this goes against the word of the Bible. These critics are known as iconoclasts. Despite the position of icon artist being honorable, few artists are known. This may be due in part to the fact that many icons were thought to have not been made by human hands; instead they were thought to have come into being through some kind of divine act.
In the Byzantine empire, sculpture in the round disappeared as works moved away from realism and became far more symbolic and spiritual. Though the images are extremely beautiful, their style differs from previous art. Paint is not blended, and backgrounds are not worldly. The images have a feeling of floating in space, or being set in heaven. As setting seems fairly unimportant, scale of buildings and people become warped. As in Egyptian art, people are scaled in accordance with importance. Thus, Christ is always shown as the largest figure. Icons also have a set of 'rules'. They are clear and bright, so that they can be interpreted from a distance. Power is shown by depicting a frontal, full-length figure with a serious expression. Emotion is shown with fluttering fabrics. Hand positions and objects held also have special importance, often to do with Christ. Emperors are shown wearing red shoes and purple robes.



Andrei Rublev
restored paint
medieval Russia
112cm x 141cm

Tretaikov Gallery, Moscow

Subject: This icon depicts the Holy Trinity in the form of three angels who visited Abraham. The Holy Trinity is the Christian belief of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the three parts of God contained in one being. A chalice sits at the middle of the table, being blessed by Jesus.

The Artist's Work: Rublev shows (from left to right) God as the Father, God as the Son, and God as the Holy Spirit. They are gathered around a table. As is the style of icons, very little blending is evident. Lines are linear, and one can imagine that as a new work, it would have been extremely clear. Realism is not rampant in this piece. Though the figures are recognizable as people, they look surreal. They flow and bend in a way that makes them look beautiful, but far from natural. The Son, Jesus Christ, is shown with his hand in a position of blessing, and all three are shown with halos around their heads and wings. As usual, very little importance is placed on the background. It contains a hill, a tree, and a house but there is little feeling of depth, scale, or meaning to it. This is because the figures are supposed to 'stand alone', as they are not part of this earth; they are, instead, part of something more.

Reaction: Like most icons, I really liked this piece upon first seeing it. I suppose it reminds me of being a child in a church, and spending the sermon looking around at the paintings on the walls. The serene faces draw me in, and I find myself circling between The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost... I am never particularly tempted to observe the background. Upon reading more into this art form, and this piece in particular, I noticed a few extra things. Each figure is carrying a walking stick, which is obviously greatly symbolic since these figures have wings. The way their bodies are positioned also seems almost inclusive, like we are welcome at their table. The figures are also fairly androgynous... another representation of God as all-inclusive.