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“Picturing the Bible” explores the vast tradition of Christian art at its very beginnings in the third century A.D., just as Christianity was emerging from its outlawed, clandestine status to become the state religion of the Roman Empire.

”Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art” (Kimbell Art Museum) by Jeffrey Spier, Herbert L Kessler, Professor Steven Fine, Mary Charles-Murray, Professor Johannes Deckers, and Professor Robin Margaret Jensen.

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Hardcover with dustjacket.  Publisher: Kimbell Art Museum (2007).  Pages:328.  Size:  12½ x 9½ x 1¼ inches; 4¾ pounds.      “Picturing the Bible” explores the vast tradition of Christian art at its very beginnings in the third century A.D., just as Christianity was emerging from its outlawed, clandestine status to become the state religion of the Roman Empire. What images did these Christians use to express their faith openly? Were they the first believers to part with Mosaic Law by creating “graven images”? What Jewish and pagan sources, if any, did they look to for inspiration? When did they begin to depict the life of Jesus? This beautifully illustrated book takes up such questions, revealing the story of how Christian art began through insights from recent discoveries.
Leading experts explore topics ranging from Jewish art in the Greco-Roman period and the influence of Constantine, to the development of church decoration and the meaning of illustrated Bibles. Throughout we see the distinctive pictorial selection of Early Christians, who at first depicted Old Testament figures—Abraham and Isaac, Jonah, and Daniel—and did not invent new images until over a century later. The special meanings attached to old images and new ones like the fish, anchor, and Good Shepherd all come to life in these pages.
The essays are complemented by extensive new archaeological research on a range of more than one hundred objects, drawn from major museums of America and Europe. Frescoes, marble sculpture and sarcophagi, silver vessels and reliquaries, carved ivories, decorated crosses, and illuminated Bibles are illustrated in new color photographs, allowing the reader an unprecedented encounter with Early Christian art.
CONDITION:  NEW. MASSIVE new hardcover with dustjacket. Kimbell Art Museum (2007) 328 pages. Unblemished except for mild edgewear to the top edges of the dustjacket. No tears or chips, just  rubbing and creasing to the top 1/4 inch of both the front and back sides of the dustjacket. Otherwise pristine save for the fact that the spine of  the dustjacket might be ever-so-slightly light-faded (from sitting unsold for years on the bookseller''s shelf). Inside the pages are clean, crisp, unmarked, unmutilated, tightly bound, unambiguously unread. Condition is entirely consistent with new stock from a open-stock bookstore environment (such as Barnes & Noble or B. Dalton) wherein new books might show minor signs of shelfwear, consequence of simply being shelved and re-shelved.

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Picturing the Bible explores the origins and emergence of Christian art from its very beginnings in the third century A.D., when Christianity was an outlawed, clandestine faith, through the fourth and fifth centuries, which saw it rise to become the state religion of the Roman Empire. What images did the early Christians use to express their faith? Were they the first believers to part with Mosaic law by creating "graven images"? What Jewish and pagan sources did they look to for inspiration, and what new meanings did they invest these subjects with? When did they begin to depict the life of Jesus? This illustrated book addresses these and other questions both through new discoveries and a reassessment of older evidence." "The essays are complemented by extensive new research on more than one hundred objects, drawn from major museums of America, Europe, and the Middle East. Frescoes, marble sculpture and sarcophagi, silver vessels and reliquaries, carved ivories, decorated crosses, and illuminated Bibles are all illustrated in new color photographs, providing an unprecedented introduction to the earliest Christian art.

Explores the vast tradition of Christian art at its very beginnings in the third century AD, just as Christianity was emerging from its outlawed, clandestine status to become the state religion of the Roman Empire. 

REVIEW:  Jeffrey Spier is adjunct professor of classics at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Herbert L. Kessler is professor of the history of art at Johns Hopkins University. Steven Fine is Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University. Robin M. Jensen is Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Worship and Art at Vanderbilt University. Johannes G. Deckers is professor at the Institute for Byzantine Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich. Mary Charles-Murray is professor of theology at the University of Oxford.


Director''s Foreword by Timothy Potts.
Acknowledgments by Jeffrey Spier.
Earliest Christian Art: From Personal Salvation to Imperial Power by Jeffrey Spier.
Jewish Art and Biblical Exegesis in the Greco-Roman World by Steven Fine.
Emergence of Christian Art by Mary Charles-Murray.
Early Christian Images and Exegesis by Robin M. Jensen.
Constantine the Great and Early Christian Art by Johannes G. Deckers.
Bright Gardens of Paradise by Herbert L. Kessler.
Word Made Flesh in Early Decorated Bibles by Herbert L. Kessler.
Catalogue: The Emergence of Christian Art.
1. Exegesis and the Earliest Christian Images.
2. Jewish Symbols.
3. Path to Salvation: Christian Empire.
4. Life, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ.
5. Crucifixion.
6. Cross.
7. Apostolic Succession and Traditio Legis.
8. Complex Exegesis.
9. Illustrated Bibles.
10. Religious Images as Imperial Messages.

REVIEW:  The Kimbell Art Museum presented "Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art", a landmark exhibition (and acocmpanying full-color, book-length catalogue) of the earliest works of art illustrating the Old and New Testaments, from November 18, 2007, to March 30, 2008. Developed and organized by the Kimbell (its exclusive venue), and guest-curated by Dr. Jeffrey Spier of the University of Arizona, this highly important exhibition drew upon recent research and new discoveries to tell the story of how the earliest Christians first gave visual expression to their religious beliefs.

A spectacular display of many of the greatest treasures of early Christianity from around the world, Picturing the Bible included major loans from the Vatican, the Bargello and the Laurentian Library in Florence, the British Museum, the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and a number of other international institutions. A landmark event both for scholarship on the Early Christian era and for the broader appreciation of this crucial period in world history, this exhibition was the first major review of third- to sixth-century Christian art since The Age of Spirituality at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1977. There have been many important advances in scholarship since then, as well as a considerable number of new archaeological discoveries, all of which this exhibition fully reassessed.

Commented Timothy Potts, director of the Kimbell Art Museum: “The origins of Christianity have been a very active area of research in recent years from a variety of perspectives—historical, theological, and artistic. But there has never been an exhibition that brings this new evidence together, allowing visitors to see in the works of art themselves how and why a distinctively Christian visual artistic culture emerged. In Picturing the Bible we see how the early Christians drew upon pagan and Old Testament motifs to express their new faith; we witness the interplay between the earliest artistic representations of biblical themes and the doctrinal debates among early Church Fathers over the correct interpretation of scripture; and in the process come face to face with many of the finest and most treasured images that have survived from the tumultuous centuries when Christianity emerged from persecution to become the state religion of the Roman Empire. Assembling so many of the most important masterpieces of early Christian art has been a major challenge—especially the fragile early Bibles, ivories, and gold glass—and presents a spectacle of early Christian life that is unlikely to be repeated in our lifetime.”

No Christian images are known to date before the beginning of the third century A.D., and it seems unlikely that the small Christian community created distinctive works of art illustrating or expressing their beliefs before that date. By the early third century, however, Christians had begun to borrow Old Testament motifs that were regarded as having special Christian significance, such as images of Abraham and Isaac, Jonah, and Daniel, as well as symbolic images, including the Good Shepherd and the fish, the latter an allusion to Jesus (ichthys, “fish” in Greek, being an acrostic for “Jesus Christ, son of God, savior”). Although very rare in the third century, pictorial scenes from the life of Jesus were evidently being developed, and by the fourth century, extensive illustrations of the New Testament were being created in a variety of media, including catacomb paintings, mosaics, sarcophagi, ivories, and no doubt Bibles, although none survives till the following century. By the sixth century, many of these early, innovative images had been replaced by conventional depictions of the life and miracles of Jesus.

Picturing the Bible brought together a wide range of material in an attempt to help clarify the questions of how Christians in the Greco-Roman period illustrated their religious beliefs, including frescoes, marble sculpture and sarcophagi, silver vessels and reliquaries, carved ivories, engraved gold glass, bronze sculpture, seals in semiprecious stones, illustrated Bibles, and decorated crosses.

Among the highly important treasures in the exhibition were several that have never or rarely been lent before, such as the spectacular, gem-encrusted gold cross presented by the emperor Justin II to Pope John III in the late sixth century, on loan from the Treasury of Saint Peter’s in Vatican City. This cross functioned as a reliquary, containing a piece of the True Cross. Another important reliquary came from the Museo Diocesano of Milan. An extremely rare silver reliquary, the “Capsella” of San Nazaro was discovered in 1578, when Saint Carlo Borromeo, the archbishop of Milan, ordered the exploration of the area beneath the high altar of the church of San Nazaro (the fourth-century Basilica Apostolorum). One of the largest silver reliquaries of the Early Christian period, this box from San Nazaro combines sacred Christian imagery from the Old and New Testaments with imperial iconography. The Roman chiton and short, fringed hair worn by Christ while teaching, and the scene of the enthroned Virgin holding the Christ Child, recall the classicizing tradition of the imperial court.

Also crafted in silver are two plates depicting scenes from the life of David, which were on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Part of a series of nine plates, these fine silver objects were discovered in a hoard in Cyprus in 1902. Decorated in relief, the Byzantine fashion of the figures and the five official stamps on the underside of each plate, applied to only the highest quality Byzantine silver, reveal the plates’ origins and date them securely to the reign of Emperor Heraclius (r. 610–41). Most likely they were intended as imperial gifts.

Carved sculpture, both in stone and in ivory, also formed an integral part of the exhibition. From the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence was the ivory diptych of Adam Naming the Animals and the Miracles of St. Paul, one of the masterpieces of their collection. Imposing sarcophagi with scenes of the life and ministry of Christ as well as depictions of Daniel, Jonah, and other figures of both the Old and New Testaments on loan from the Vatican Museums, Trier, Arles, and Algeria were also part of the exhibition.

Illustrated manuscripts were among the rarest and most treasured objects in the exhibition. Only a handful of illustrated Bibles from the sixth century have survived, and an unprecedented three of these were included in the exhibition. The Rabbula Gospels, on loan from the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, were inscribed by a monk named Rabbula in a Syrian monastery, who in 586 A.D. recorded the moment when he had finished the manuscript. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France lent an illustrated folio—only five of which are extant—from the fragmentary Greek Sinope Gospels, the entire text of which is written in gold on purple-dyed vellum. On loan from the British Library were several fragments of the Cotton Genesis, a Greek manuscript probably produced in Egypt. Although the manuscript was tragically reduced to fragments in 1731 during a fire in the Cotton Library, several fragments survived.

An honorary international scientific community, made up of scholars, clergy, and museum officials, was assembled to consult on Picturing the Bible, including: Sir John Boardman, Emeritus Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology, Oxford University; Professor Francesco Buranelli, Director General of the Vatican Museums, Vatican City; Professor Johannes G. Deckers, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich; Professor Robin Margaret Jensen, Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Nashville; Professor Herbert L. Kessler, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; Mr. Neil MacGregor, Director, The British Museum, London; Dr. Timothy Potts, Director, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; Professor Gemma Sena Chiesa, Università degli Studi, Milan; and the Most Reverend Kevin W. Vann, Roman Catholic Bishop of Fort Worth.

The exhibition catalogue, published in association with Yale University Press, New Haven and London, was written by guest curator Jeffrey Spier and features essays by Herbert Kessler, Robin Jensen, Steven Fine, Johannes Deckers, and Sister Mary Charles-Murray.


This gorgeous and hefty volume looks like a coffee table book, but it''s a book to savor page by page for both its scholarly texts and spectacular images (263 color and 40 black and white). The book was published in conjunction with an exhibition by the same name that was conceived and organized by Jeffrey Spier for the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. The exhibit drew upon the collaboration of lenders from nine countries and forty-one private and museum collections.

In the first half of the book six scholars write one chapter each on various aspects of the earliest Christian art through the fifth and sixth centuries. Spier explains how the early Jesus movement first expressed itself in visual forms. Art and architecture flourished in classical Greece and Rome, of course, but "the Christians were slow to express their religious beliefs pictorially, and no churches, decorated tombs, nor indeed Christian works of art of any kind datable before the third century are known." This might have been because the earliest Christians were a persecuted and illicit sect comprised largely of people from lower socio-economic classes. They also inherited Judaism''s ambivalence toward art rooted in the prohibition against graven images in Exodus 20:4.

Around the year 200, "purely Christian images began to appear." The forty catacombs in and around Rome, along with the discovery of a house church at Dura Europos in Syria dated to 240 AD, show how the earliest Christian art was not merely decorative but intentionally devotional; its purpose was not "objective beauty" but an "expression of faith." In the first decades of the third century, genuine Christian art appears on seal rings, tombs, clay lamps, engraved gems, and in one instance a marble statuette. A hundred years after that, Christian art adorns belt buckles and Bible covers, plates and coins, intricate mosaics and ornate crosses (see Spier, pp. 1-23). Christian art under Constantine changed radically as images became "imperialized."

The earliest Christian writers didn''t say much about art and images, and Spier believes that their hostility toward visual representations has been exaggerated. Most of early Christian art drew upon well-known Bible texts like Noah, Daniel in the lion''s den, Moses, Jonah, Adam and Eve, and Abraham. In perhaps the earliest textual reference to Christian art, Clement of Alexandria (150-215) writes that Christians could also borrow pagan symbols as long as they were appropriate. Swords and bows would be inappropriate, he said, because they signaled war and violence, but a dove was suitable, said Clement, "since we follow peace." The volume stops chronologically short of the iconographic controversy.

The last half of the book is a catalogue of color photographs (pp 171-287) which, in effect, place the exhibit into your own hands. Christians identify themselves as people of the Book who worship the Word made flesh. It took a while, but Christians also became people of images, and in those images they expressed their faith as much as they did in words.

REVIEW:  Guest-curator Jeffrey Spier’s "Picturing the Bible" at the Kimbell Art Museum is the first major exhibition of early Christian art in the United States since the Metropolitan Museum’s "The Age of Spirituality" in 1977. It is also accompanied by a full-color exhibition catalogue of book length which includes all exhibits displayed. Where that was a vast installation, responding to the panoramic sweep of what had then only barely begun to be called Late Antiquity, "Picturing the Bible" is compact and select, focused specifically upon the modes of Christian visual expression and asking much of each object displayed. It is an exhibition of exceptional visual and intellectual elegance. Its governing insight, conveyed in its title, is most fully explicated in its early sections, and it is here that the exhibition is at its best.

It opens with a selection of the photographs taken by Carlo Tabanelli between 1897 and 1903 of catacomb images over-painted in color, beginning with the theme of Jonah. Tabanelli’s photographs were made for Josef Wilpert’s magisterial Roma sotterranea: Le pitture delle catacombe romane (Rome: Desclée, Lefebvre, 1903), the first comprehensive publication of the paintings in the Roman catacombs. The imagery of Jonah has been explored exhaustively as a story, an illustrated funerary prayer, or an appropriation of classical iconography (see, above all, Eduard Stommel, “Zum Problem der frühchristlichen Jonasdarstellungen,” Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 1 (1958): 112–15; and William D. Wixom, “Early Christian Sculptures in Cleveland,” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 45 (1967): 75–88). It emerges here as a picture of a way of reading. It exemplifies the capacity of the familiar early Christian vignettes to trigger multiple, associative meanings: typological, sacramental, symbolic, eschatological.

Such vignettes, the exhibition argues, presuppose a distinctive way of reading biblical texts. Prompted by Christians’ need to see the teaching of Jesus and his apostles as the fulfillment of Hebrew Scripture, it was a method of reading that layered biblical themes and episodes, linking them so that meanings ricocheted from one to the other, binding them together and amplifying their significance. The visual images exemplified by the catacomb paintings literally “picture” the Bible as early Christians read it. As such, they endowed the image with a distinctive function that shaped its future in Christian expression. It was a way not so much of picturing the word, as of picturing the way reading opened the word to associative and allegorical amplification.

The brightly painted photographs offer an inspired introduction to the exhibition. They invite viewers to enter their implied spatial environments; at the same time, they are exactly comparable in their small scale to the objects that follow, calibrating the eye to their diminutive size and shimmering surfaces. Gold glass is especially beautifully represented among these objects. They show that the catacombs’ repertoire of multivalent little picture-readings was pervasive not just in death but throughout early Christian life. They serve, too, to define the volatility of the early Christian “Bible,” for they include themes that have long since fallen from the canon. Jewish coins, seals, and catacomb images are juxtaposed with Christian ones, showing the former’s similarly epitomic form but their less allegorically layered meaning-structure. Luxury objects with Christian images from far-flung sites demonstrate the wide geographical range of the imagery known from the catacombs.

Genuinely symbolic forms—fishes, anchors, and nomina sacra—are gathered toward the end of this section, giving priority in Christian imagination to the images that picture the Bible texts. Most memorable of all the objects in this section may be the finger rings, for they show that “picturing the Bible” was integral not only to worldly but to personal life. What Mary Charles-Murray in her catalogue essay calls the “autobiographical” dimension of early Christian art (60), embracing the individual in the imagery, emerges most strikingly in a bezel engraved, in the genitive, “?ησο? Χριστο?,” identifying its wearer as “of Jesus Christ” (cat. no. 16). The objects define a distinctively Christian way both of reading the Bible and of picturing that reading, and they claim it for the full geography of Christendom, for Christians in life as well as death.

This first section of the exhibition demands, and receives from its visitors, vivid, concentrated attention. It is followed by an imposing phalanx of sarcophagi, their imagery dense with contrasts. Both the beloved Jonah sarcophagus from the Vatican and an astonishing newcomer—a huge red sandstone sarcophagus from Trier depicting Noah’s ark (cat. no. 40)—retain the familiar, schematic vignettes, but do so in narrative styles so emphatically different from each other that one can only wonder what we must have missed by neglecting to integrate Trier into the story of early Christian art. In the other sarcophagi the character of the imagery shifts, and the empire makes its entry. The rich, ricocheting reciprocity of meaning seen hitherto within the Bible itself now opens to elements from the political and ritual matrix of contemporary Rome. A new chapter in Christian imagery begins, no longer strictly “picturing the Bible,” but using the Bible pictures to picture Christianity’s place in its world.

The complicated relationship of imperial imagery and Christian art, correlated perhaps too categorically in Johannes Deckers’s catalogue essay, is more subtly explored in the exhibition itself through the theme of Pilate, and above all though a room dedicated to the rewriting—or really, re-picturing—of the lives of Paul and especially of Peter to give them the same layered, typological, sacramental, and eschatological meanings found in the stories of the Bible. Paralleling the lives of the apostle princes with those of the biblical prophets and binding those lives to the city of Rome, Christian imagery embedded the economy of salvation in the history of Rome.

The exhibition returns once again to small objects here, mostly of bronze and silver; but its labels emphasize that the images, especially the Traditio Legis, were conceived for monumental art. Constantinian Christianity produced art of truly prodigious monumentality. Its immensity is indicated by a wall-sized enlargement of Giovanni Paolo Panini’s painting of the nave of San Paolo fuori le mura. The vast nave of the enlargement faces a suspension in the exhibition, as the small metal objects shrink to the edges of the room. In some sense an effective solution to a magnitude that beggars museum space, this installation struggles nonetheless in the face of what was in fact a stentorian achievement, for the Bible was pictured in San Paolo on a scale that literally rivaled the triumphal art of Rome.

The wedding of Christianity and empire in the imagery of the apostle princes opens the way to the climax of the exhibition, which is studded with objects of extraordinary artistic, intellectual, and historical weight. The Carrand (cat. no. 78) and Andrews Diptychs (cat. no. 52), the silver reliquary box from Milan (cat. no. 77), the Crucifixion ivories (cat. no. 57) and a Crucifixion amulet (cat. no. 55) from the British Museum, the Sinope (cat. no. 81) and Rabbula (cat. no. 82) Gospels, fragments of the Cotton Genesis (cat. no. 80), two of the David Plates (cat. no. 84), the Milan book covers (cat. no. 76), a fine small ivory from the Vatican of Christ healing the blind man (cat. no. 51)—a recurrent theme of both early Christianity and the exhibition itself—are gathered in two rooms. To be in their presence is pure privilege. The labels present the Carrand Diptych, the book covers, and the reliquary box as “visual sermons.”

The elegance with which they orchestrate their messages is indeed magisterial, demanding that—greedy as one is to feast upon their sterling and precious substance—one nonetheless reads the exegetical labels first. The obligation of association and allegory that had been placed upon the Christian image from its very beginning is realized in these works with a richness that looks both into the layered texts of the Bible itself and from these layers into the contemporary world. Yet a dimension of magnitude still eludes the display. Early Christian art was not rich in its allegory alone. It opened its texts to a play of affect as powerful as that of content. Neither gold nor color was negligible in the art of early imperial Christianity. The “autobiographical dimension” was exploited with extraordinary force, engulfing the viewer in light and also in hue of saturated intensity. Visual rhetoric was as highly colored as the verbal in this era of sermons by men known as “Chrysostom” and “Chrysologus.”

Color emerges here in the manuscripts, above all in the bifolium from the Sinope Gospels where the word glints in gold on pages quite literally made of flesh the hue of what Caroline Bynum would call “wonderful blood” (Caroline Walker Bynum, Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).The amulet with the Crucifix amid magic signs, too, is made of bloodstone. It might have been possible to set the manuscripts into a space of their own, where viewers could concentrate on the very special demands—discussed so well in the catalogue by Herbert Kessler—of the image in the book itself, as well as on the exceptional intensity of both gold and color that explodes in the manuscript pages. The amulet might also have been a place to bring out the visceral appeal of blood and gold, and the way it pulled at the boundaries of faith and magic, doctrine and belief. As it is, color blazes out with abrupt, aggressive impact only in the very last space of the exhibition. This is devoted to the cross of Justin II (cat. no. 83). Here gold, color, relics, emperors—all the things that a Protestant might regard as excess—gleam with dazzling force.

It is not richness that one misses in the rooms before this last one, for silver and ivory are both materially superb, and the exhibition has assembled objects of the most distilled eloquence. But the coloristic reticence of silver and ivory, so tempting for an exhibition of the word, tones the word to the era of print. Thus it strips some of the distinctively early Christian color from what is presented so compellingly as “picturing the Bible.” [Annemarie Weyl Carr, Distinguished Professor of Art History, Southern Methodist University].

REVIEW:  Picturing the Bible began as a catalogue for the spectacular jewel of a show early in 2008 by the same name at the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth, Texas. Jeffrey Spier’s, the editor and guest-curator, teaches classics at the University of Arizona. The exhibition, included in the offerings of the College Art Association meeting in Dallas in 2008, was the first major show of early Christian art in the United States since 1977, when the Metropolitan Museum mounted The Age of Spirituality. Unlike that mega-installation, Picturing the Bible was a manageable, compact exhibition, focused specifically on the manner in which the earliest Christians gave visual expression to their faith.

The Late Antique and Early Christian art in Picturing the Bible, although selective, is comprehensive. Geographically the text covers most of the Greco-Roman Christian world, with examples from North Africa and Europe to Syria and the Near East. The earliest examples, mainly coins with Jewish symbols, date from the first century. The earliest Christian objects, including remnants of sarcophagi and the Cleveland marbles, date from the third century. A few British manuscripts of the sixth century mentioned in the introductory essays and salvers in the catalogue from eighth century Constantinople mark the later boundary.

The objects represented a wide variety of art forms and refinement. They ranged from the sublime Cleveland marbles, done in the highly refined Greco-Roman tradition, to golden images imbedded in clear glass, to utilitarian clay lamps from Tunisia to simple bronze and brass altar crosses from Aquileia at the east most tip of northern Italy to the eastern Mediterranean. Manuscripts included the fire-parched remnants of the Cotton Genesis and the Rabula Gospels.

Where the deterioration of time and problems of important monuments in sitù were a problem, the exhibition designers and the authors of the book resorted to creative measures. Watercolor paintings by Carlo Tabanelli over photographs taken by Pompeo Sansaini and his son Renato between 1897 and 1903, now in the Wilpert Collection, made an adequate substitute for catacomb paintings. In some cases, the photographs preserve details that the damp and polluted air of the last century has dulled.

The text of the book is divided into seven introductory essays and the catalogue. The catalogue portion is further divided into art before and after Christian art became part of the Imperial institution, with three and six topics, respectively. Whereas the introductory essays are loosely chronological, the essays in the catalogue are mostly thematic. The art is not limited to the Greco-Roman roots of the Christian tradition; two essays address the Jewish tradition of symbols and narrative art.

The catalogue was a fine complement to the exhibition; it also is worthy of standing on its own as an enduring work of scholarship. The essays are by outstanding scholars and they flow together cohesively. The bibliography is comprehensive and the book is well indexed. The photographs are of the highest quality. Its broad usefulness is apparent in its new edition, released in mid-December 2008, in more affordable paperback format. [Sara Nair James, Mary Baldwin College].

REVIEW:  The catalogue of the exhibition, 328 pages, 251 color and 52 black and white images, all 84 artifacts in the exhibit reproduced in color and some from different angles, is of immense interest not only to art historians, lovers of finely crafted objects of great beauty, but also in the Christian community who have ever pondered on the extraordinarily rapid growth through out he whole Mediterranean area of dedicated believers in the Divine Word in the first two or three centuries after the Crucifixion.

It has taken a mere two years to bring together in one place for the first time, an extraordinary collection of Christian objects pertaining to the first six hundred years in the history of the Christian faith. From the clay lamp from the late second century, molded by Florentius, a potter in Rome showing Jesus as The Good Shepherd, flanked by Jonah issuing from the whale, an important symbol to the earliest Christians for Redemption through Christ, and Noah''s Ark, a dove perched on top, to signet rings, essential for sealing documents, when it is remembered that Roman citizens baptized in the Christian faith were subjected to torture and death. It took courage and fortitude as well as faith to sign one''s documents with a signal that courted mauling by lions in the Coliseum.

Topics covered in the first half of PICTURING THE BIBLE begin with The Earliest Christian Art from Personal Salvation to Imperial Power, the Emergence of Christian Art to Constantine The Great in Early Christian Art to Word Made Flesh in Early Christian Art. The picturing of the artifacts themselves is subtitled The Emergence of Christian Art, divided into ten sections from Exegesis and Earliest Christian Images to Apostolic Succession and Traditio Legis to Illustrated Bibles and concluding with Religious Images as Imperial Messages.

The 84 objects on display have been selected form nine countries'' outstanding museums, including eleven from Italy alone and eight items from the Pontifical Institute of the Vatican and from the Treasury of St. Peter''s, Vatican City, the reliquary Cross of Justin II (the Crux Vaticana). From the Bibliotheque National de France, department des Manuscrits, four pages of the 43 folios of the Sinope Gospels, Syria or Constantinople (?), sixth century are on view and illustrated full page in the catalogue.

To make a pilgrimage to Fort Worth to see these wondrous things, some made by the earliest followers in our faith, may not be possible, but to study the splendid photographs and to read of their origins is to enter into an intangible sense of fraternity with these folk, ordinary people, the first proselytizers, as well as later on from 312 A.D. onward to be dazzled by the glorious expressions of faith made by Constantine and his followers, emperors and kings. That these earliest objects may well have been used and worn by those whose grandparents were present to hear the Sermon on the Mount or were given the joy of listening to an Apostle or one of his followers are collected together and discussed in one volume makes Picturing the Bible a work to bring us a deepened sensitivity to our forefathers in faith. Published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London in association with the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth, the magnificent work retails for $65.00 hard cover and $40.00 soft cover, a book to refer to again and again. [Mary Willan Mason, "Catholic Insight"].

REVIEW:  Heralded as the first major exhibition of third- to-sixth century Christian art since the Metropolitan Museum of Art''s Age of Spirituality (1977), this show on display exclusively at the Kimbell Art Museum (Fort Worth, TX) through March 2008 features over 100 treasures from major museums in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. More than another seasonal extravaganza, the catalog focuses top-tier scholarly attention on the emergence of a distinctive pictorial iconography for early Christians, who, beginning in the third century, co-opted Old Testament and pagan sources and motifs to depict the life of Jesus. Christian art proliferated in the fourth century in a wide variety of media: frescoes, mosaics, marble sculpture and sarcophagi, reliquaries, carved ivories, illuminated Bibles, silver plate, and gold glass medallions. Six scholars of classics, Jewish and Byzantine studies, art history, and theology contribute thought-provoking essays. The catalog portion is equally illuminating, with superb photos and detailed descriptions of each object. The exhibit includes objects never loaned before, such as the reliquary gold cross presented by Emperor Justin II to Pope John III in the late sixth century, on loan from the Vatican. Highly recommended. [Russell T. Clement, Northwestern University]. 

REVIEW:  "Picturing the Bible” presents a rich account of the strange transformation in the visual tradition of what have become, by now, familiar biblical stories. [Cherie Woodworth, “Church History”].

...contains wonderful illustrations of many objects as well as five approachable, short essays on the most important topics... [Amy Raffel, CUNY Graduate Center].


Two recent exhibition in USA provided scholars and general public with reviews of recent conclusions on the beginnings of Biblical representations in Late Antique and Early Medieval period, that is: In the Beginning. Bibles before the Year 1000, Washington, The Freer Gallery of Art - the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Oct. 21, 2006 - Jan. 7, 2007; and Picturing the Bible. The Earliest Christian Art, Forth Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Nov. 18, 2007 - March 30, 2008. The former concentrated on manuscripts, the latter giving a wider outlook by means of works of arts in several media. The catalogue contains essays on "The Earliest Christian Art" (J. Speier), "Jewish Art and Biblical Exegesis" (S. Fine), introducing the recent archaeological findings in Israel, "The Emergence of Christian Art" (M. Charles-Murray), "Early Christian Images and Exegesis" (R. M. Jensen), "Constantine the Great and Early Christian Art" (J. G. Deckers), "Bright Gardens of Paradise" and "The Word Made Flesh in Early Decorated Bibles" (H. L. Kessler, the decane of American scholarship in Medieval representation of sacred images).

REVIEW:  This book is essentially the catalog for the world-class exhibition held from Dec. 2007-March 2008 at Ft. Worth''s Kimbell Art Museum. Curated by Jeffrey Spier, the exhibition titled "Picturing the Bible" brought to this country 100 treasures, many of which had never left their countries before. For those who couldn''t see this once-in-a-lifetime collection, the catalog presents pictures with articles of all the exhibits. More than that, however, well-known art historians, classicists and archaeologists provide major articles on the Jewish art of late antiquity, on pre- and post-Constantinian Christian art, as well as on book illustrations of late antiquity. The volume is beautifully done and provides a fine addition to the library of anyone interested in Christianity and Christian art in late antiquity. Personally, I appreciated Dr. Spier''s vision for assembling this collection and editing this volume. It is rare to have an opportunity to experience these works in a U.S. museum.

REVIEW:  A beautiful and well-researched book in a subject area that has too often been overlooked. Forget all the Gothic gruesomeness of the Last Judgment and the beatific blonde virgins of the early Renaissance, and see how some of the world''s earliest Christians pictured their faith! Taken mostly from tomb paintings and sculptures, since those were often the only art that survived from the early centuries of Christianity, Picturing the Bible is a fascinating read for anyone who enjoys trying to peer into the Church''s dim past, before the creeds became law.

REVIEW:  Awesome pictures, great information!


10/27/2016 12:00:00 AM

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