Religious emotion has always been one of the principal sources of artistic inspiration, and has provided the creative force for artistic productivity. Christian art covers almost two millenniums, and includes various epochs and national art provinces. It involves the whole of Europe, a large part of the near East, and considerable areas in other continents where Christianity has been spread by missionaries.
Buddhist art has also a large range of subdivisions, which have in common the symbols of the Buddhist doctrine and the characters of Buddhist legends, but differ from each other in their traditional styles. They cover the huge period from the time of the Indian king Asoka ( third century A.D.) to the beginning of the eighteenth century, and they still survive in millions of replicas.
The oldest of the religious arts still in existence is Hindu art. Since the discovery of primitive statuettes of Hindu gods and symbols, dating as far back as the early part of the third millennium B.C., in the excavations at Mohenjo Daro in the Indus valley, it has been realised that this art is considerably older than was recently supposed.
Other principal provinces of art were predominantly, if not entirely, of a religious character, as for instance the art of Babylon and Assyria, Egypt, Greece, Mexico, Central America and Colombia. Only the art of ancient Peru was to any large extent secular. The relation between art and religion is thus a universal feature, and by no means limited to primitive cultures. Moreover, the archaic stages of highly-developed arts usually retain marked primitive traits.
In the primitive sphere, we must first of all become used to the idea of religion in a far wider sense than is understood