For many centuries the religious motive held strong, and art was the servant of the Church. It taught the Bible truths, but it also embellished and adorned the interiors of
the churches. All the frescos, mosaics, and altar-pieces had a decorative motive in their coloring and setting. The church building was a house of refuge for the oppressed, and it was made attractive not only in its lines and proportions but in its ornamentation. Hence the two motives of the early work—religious teaching and decoration.
SUBJECTS AND TECHNICAL METHODS: There was no distinct Judaic or Cheistian type used in the very early art. The painters took their models directly from the Roman frescos and marbles. It was the classic figure and the classic costume, and those who produced the painting of the early period were the degenerate painters of the classic world. The figure was rather short and squat, coarse in the joints, hands, and feet, and almost expressionless in the face. Christian life at that time was passion-strung, but the faces in art do not show it, for the reason that the Roman frescos were the painter's model, not the people of the Christian community about him. There was nothing like a realistic presentation at this time. The type alone was given.
In the drawing it was not so good as that shown in the Roman and Pompeian frescos. There was a mechanism about its production, a copying by unskilled hands, a negligence or an ignorance of form that showed everywhere. The coloring, again, was a conventional scheme of flat tints_ in reddish-browns and bluish-greens, with heavy outline bands of brown. There was little perspective or background, and the figures in panels were separated, by vines, leaves, or other ornamental division lines. Some relief was given to the figure by the brown outlines. Light-and-shade was not well rendered, and composition was formal. The great part of this early work was done in fresco after the Roman formula, and was executed on the walls of the Catacombs. Other forms of art showed in the gilded glasses, in manuscript illumination, and, later, in the mosaics.
Technically the work begins to decline from the beginning in proportion as painting was removed from the knowledge of the ancient world. About the fifth century the figure grew heavy and stiff. A new type began to show itself. 'The Roman toga was exchanged for the long liturgical garment which hid the proportions of the body, the lines grew hard and dark, a golden nimbus appeared about the head, and the patriarchal in appearance came into art. The youthful Orphic face of Christ changed to a solemn visage, with large, round eyes, saint-like beard, and melancholy air. The classic qualities were fast disappearing.