The purpose of this essay is to discuss how two different artists’ manipulation of the formal elements and the social context during time of creation play major roles in the ‘reading’ of an artwork. I have chosen to analyse an Early Christian depiction of Christ as the Good Shepherd and Christ the Pantokrator from the Byzantine era. The Early Christian era, according to History. spans from 330CE when Emperor Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and declared Christianity to be the official religion. Kleiner (2013:256) states the Byzantine era to span a millennium and where Byzantium refers to the Eastern Christian Roman Empire of this time, while Byzantine refers to everything regarding its territory, history and culture. Firstly, I will discuss the compositional design of each artwork and, secondly, I will contextualise each artwork and address the stylistic tendencies. Lastly I will be comparing and contrasting the artworks.
Christ as the Good Shepherd (See Addendum A Fig 1) is a mosaic which can be found at the entrance wall of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy and was created in is 425CE. The size of this mosaic is unknown. (Kleiner, 2013: 247). The focal point of the composition is the Christ figure who is in the centre in a seated position, holding a gold staff which is in the shape of a cross. The figure also has a matching gold halo. The cross shaped staff and halo are symbols of the figures divinity and suggests that he is Christ. Jesus Christ is seen wearing a gold and purple robe which according to Catholic Saints (2008), purple “togas” were worn by powerful Roman Emperors and royalty. The strong use of complementary colours, gold and blue further emphasize the importance of the Christ figure as he stands out against the neutral coloured sheep. Honour & Fleming (2009:303) note that the portrayal of rocks at the base of the composition provide a solid base, which can be said to add to the certainty of the new Christ figure. The staff forms a strong vertical line which firmly plants Christ as the focal point and ensures his stability. There are three sheep on either side of Christ all of whom are decorated and facing Christ creating a symmetrical composition. In the Khan Academy, San Vitale, Ravenna video, speakers Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker mention that the balanced arrangement of sheep show that Christ is leading his faith and taking care of his people. Christ is portrayed as a young man, without a beard, which shows that this is the beginning of Christianity at that time.
By analyzing the social, political, religious contexts and stylistic tendencies/characteristics the viewer gains interesting insights into Christ as the Good Shepherd. As per Dowley, during the 4th century before Emperor Constantine declared Christianity a state religion, Christianity was regarded as a secret religion. Worshipping of any form had to be done in secrecy, either in secret dwellings or catacombs. As per Kleiner, catacombs can be defined as “subterranean networks of rock-cut galleries and chambers designed as cemeteries for the burial of the dead” (2013: 1087). Kleiner states that during the 3rd and 4th centuries an increasing number of Romans started rejecting polytheism and began to favour monotheism (2011:308), because of this there were constant relations between church, emperor and pagan worshippers (Dowley, 1990:139). In order to distinguish between pagan tombs and Christian catacombs, which were used for underground worshipping, the chambers were adorned with frescoes of Christian imagery” (Stockton Distinctive Public College). Dowley explains that it was the defeat of Maxentius by Emperor Constantine at the battle of Milvian Bridge in 312CE that drove the church and state into a new age. It is believed that the victory was a response by the Christian God to a prayer made by Emperor Constantine for help (1990:139). Emperor Constantine then made...
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