Until the legalization of Christianity in 313, early Christian art was relatively scarce. It included fresco painting on the walls of some of the catacombs (burial sites outside the city walls), and "house-church" meeting places; a number of simple architectural designs for structures (martyrium) erected over the graves of martyrs; and a number of sarcophagi, carved with various emblems or reliefs of Jesus, Mary and other biblical figures. In these early times, when Christians were still being persecuted, most Christian Roman art remained (literally) part of an underground culture. What's more, Christianity (along with the imagery used to symbolize or illustrate it) was still evolving from a secret society (whose images were intelligible only to the initiated few) to a public organization (whose imagery was understood by all). Thus, to begin with, Christian painting and, in particular, early Christian sculpture used motifs from both Roman and Greek art: the image of "Christ in Majesty", for instance, derives from both Roman Imperial portraits and portrayals of the Greek God Zeus. It took centuries for Christian iconography to be standardized, and to harmonize with Biblical texts.
Since its beginnings during the first century of the Roman Empire, Christianity has spread around the world to become the principal religion, value-system, and social agenda of mankind: at least until the 20th century. Run first by Christ and the Apostles, it gradually gave birth to its own hierarchical organization, the Christian Church, which over time became the largest and most influential patron of the arts. Indeed, from the outset, the Christian Church used many different types of art in order to create an identity for itself, increase its power and thus attract worshippers. In the process it developed its own Christian iconography, relying heavily on architecture (cathedrals, churches, monasteries), sculpture (statues of the Holy Family, as well as prophets, apostles, saints), painting (altarpieces, church murals), decorative art (stained glass, mosaics) and illuminated manuscripts (Gospels, psalters). In fact, during the early 16th century, the Church commissioned so much Biblical art - using money raised through higher taxes, and the 'sale' of benefices and indulgences - that it led to widespread protests: protests that coalesced into the Reformation, and the division of the Church into Roman Catholic and Protestant. Even so, one can say that, in the West at least, the history of art is the history of Christian art.
The rapid rise of Arab power during the 7th century and the consequential economic difficulties suffered by the Byzantine Empire, led to a reappraisal of Arab culture and Islamic art. During the 8th century (726-787) and the 9th century (814-842), this culminated in two "Iconoclasms", when a ban was imposed on all figurative artworks. This went down very badly with Byzantine mosaicists. Many emigrated to Rome who were firmly opposed to Iconoclasm. Others, paradoxically, went to Arab cities where they produced some of the finest ever abstract mosaics. See, for instance, those in the Islamic Dome of the Rock (688-91, Jerusalem) and the Great Mosque (715, Damascus).
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that ALL Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. The Bible is a work of God that was written by human men that were inspired by God. What better source of inspiration than our Creator! Whether you are looking for motivation, encouragement, reassurance, or peace, the Bible should be the first resource you turn to! Scripture Art
Artists were commissioned more secular genres like portraits, landscape paintings and because of the revival of Neoplatonism, subjects from classical mythology. In Catholic countries, production continued, and increased during the Counter-Reformation, but Catholic art was brought under much tighter control by the church hierarchy than had been the case before. From the 18th century the number of religious works produced by leading artists declined sharply, though important commissions were still placed, and some artists continued to produce large bodies of religious art on their own initiative.
Spain is the only European state to have emerged from a religious struggle between Christianity and Islam (Muslim rule over most of the Iberian peninsula lasted 718-1492). Not surprisingly therefore, the school of Spanish Painting produced a form of Christian art which was consistent with the country's uncompromising devotion to the Catholic cause. Its greatest exponent was Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called El Greco. After training in Byzantine icon painting he worked in Venice before making his home in Spain. Here he created a series of ecstatic portraits of Christ and the Saints, whose intensity of expression appealed directly to the spiritual feelings of the spectator. These powerful holy paintings, with their elongated figures, distorted perspective and non-natural colour schemes made El Greco the father of Counter-Reformation art in Spain. His most famous Catholic paintings include: The Trinity (1577-9); The Disrobing of Christ (1579); The Burial of Count Orgaz (1586); Christ driving the Traders from the Temple (1600); the Resurrection (1600), and The Opening of the Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse (1608). Although they had none of Caravaggio's naturalism, these pictures were spiritual masterpieces, and thus wholly in line with the doctrinal requirements of the Vatican.