Early Christian art: c. 33 – 325 C.E.

Christianity in its first three centuries was one of a large number of mystery religions that flourished in the Roman world. Persecutions of Christians ended in Rome with Emperor Constantine. Fourth-century churches, tombs and catacombs decorated with Christian imagery can still be visited.

The Vienna Genesis
Silver ink on purple parchment—what luxury! This is the oldest surviving illustrated biblical text.

The Vienna Genesis

An earthquake buried this early Roman church. Recent excavations exposed layers of wall painting.

Santa Maria Antiqua

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, marble, 359 C.E. (Treasury of Saint Peter's Basilica) - detail
Made for a member of the Roman elite, this early tomb features Old and New Testament scenes in a classical style.

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

Pediment above the door of Santa Pudenziana, 4th century C.E., Rome
A mosaic proclaims Christ’s rule over the Heavenly Jerusalem. Gesture, toga, and book signal imperial authority.

Santa Pudenziana

Christ and the Apostles, Catacombs of Domitilla, 4th century C.E., Rome
Themes of death and resurrection recur in the first Christian images. But where are scenes from the life of Christ?

Early Christian art