The Beginnings of Christian Art

By D. Talbot Rice | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
PAINTING IN ITALY FROM THE EIGHTH TO THE TWELFTH CENTURY

WHILE all these developments were taking place in the East, Italy was not completely stagnant, though work done there was not only a good deal less lavish, owing to the absence of imperial patronage, but also less inspiring. The Hellenistic and eastern elements which had played an important part in the formation of Byzantine art were absent, and in many ways what was done in Italy represented a decline rather than a renewal; that is to say the subject matter changed, being Christian, but the style remained provincial and the quality fairly low. Nor was the same overriding religious enthusiasm present, for paganism subsisted longer in the West than in the East, and the fervent influence of monasticism was absent, for it was in Egypt and Syria that this aspect of the new faith flourished most markedly. In fact, what was done in Italy after the decline of the great cities like Rome, Milan and Ravenna was of secondary quality and of local rather than universal importance. The best work was that done under the patronage of the Popes, and for practically the whole of the period with which we are dealing in this chapter it was in Rome itself and under the auspices of the Popes that the most active production took place. Only towards its close did the patronage of monastic orders, more especially that of the Benedictines, begin to play a similarly important part.

Something has already been said of the mosaics set up in a number of Roman churches at this time. They represent the richest work in point of material, but though the colours are effective and some of the work, especially that in the chapel of St. Zeno in Sta Praxede, is really fine, much of it is rather monotonous and wooden, and lacks movement and life in comparison with what was done in the East. A word has also been said about the paintings of Sta Maria Antiqua in the Forum, but they deserve further consideration, for some are of

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