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Constantine and the Nicene Creed of 325

June 26, 2011

Emperor Constantine became a patron of early Christianity and helped the fledgling religion develop solid roots.  The Emperor funded many building projects that fixed into visible form Christian liturgy.   What are your thoughts on the development of Christian imagery found in Late Antiquity sculpture, painting, mosaics, and frescoes within the context of the famous imperial proclamation of Emperor Constantine and the Nicene Creed of 325?  The Nicene Creed reads as follows:

First Council of Nicea (325)

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];

Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;

He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead

And in the Holy Ghost.

Constantine and the Nicene Creed

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29 Comments
  1. Mary Anderson permalink

    I think that the Nicene Creed allowed for Christians to feel more relaxed about expressing their views about their belief towards Christ. The depictions of Christ became less aimed around representing Christ as the Good shephard and more aimed at showing Christ literally as they imagined Him. This means that the artists depicted Christ performing the miracles that He performed in His lifetime.

  2. Silvia G permalink

    I think the structure of the churches are amazing. And the way they built it as a symbolic figure of a cross is very interesting. I wouldn’t have really notice the cross figure on some of them. I think i’f it was for Constantine churches wouldn’t have been such a success as it was. I love that the painting/fesco etc tell a story but the over all art work is bad.

  3. Randee Oh permalink

    Look at the detail of their beards, not only detail but each one has its own personality. Also they seem to be more proportionate from what we have been looking at so far. Unfortunately their feet are still confusing to me.

  4. christina lopez permalink

    The Nicene Creed gives a sense of freedom for Christians to express their love for Christ. It sets rules for those who want to express their love for God and remain faithful to beliefs. The creed sets up that God is the maker of all things visible, he is only one God, and everything is made under his knowledge. My understanding is that if the Christians want to leave a mark behind of their beliefs then it is ok because as long as they believe in God and create things for God then it”s not paganism. This opens a range of capturing any image of God without violating their faith.

  5. Victoria Brown permalink

    This period starts to show a development in the art. Particularly in my thoughts is the new attention to detail that is expressed. Many of the images still lack a lively arrangement and gathering of people, but stand to represent religious gatherings or importance. Situations become rhythmic in sense. The rows of people create a steady beat, almost like a foundation or bass drum, then there is the rows of hair that fall nearly parallel to one another creating the more involved rhythm, taking the pace of a rhythm guitar, steady and more detailed than a bass. Then you see patterns emerge with very intricate details, but without a sense of realism and practicality. The overall sense of rhythm comes to a peak with these patterns on the clothes, complimenting the mechanical rows of hair and curtains draped in the background. The recessing of people is done very methodically and in no way portrays the sense of chaos a room full of people would normally create. This all was very different from their artist predecessors, and becomes more advanced from the most immediate work produced, ultimately creating a new style all their own.

  6. Joshua Stewart permalink

    The imperial proclamation of Emperor Constantine allowed for greater freedom for Christian artists to create great works of art without free of retribution. they no longer had to disguise their art and this allowed for the creation of many large works of art including many grand churches.

  7. Bryan Yim permalink

    As for the art world during this time, people were more focused on the details on the clothing and how different colors and symbols would symbolize who that person is. For example Christ would be the only one that can wear the color purple, and holy figures would have auras on their heads. In architecture it is also about sybolism. The use of the cross-form in the churches’ floor plans was a magnificiant idea during the time. It was not just the best form, but it was the only formthat was appropriate for a church (Constantine dreamed of a symbol of the cross before the great war that ensured his ultimate authority)

  8. Diana Cosio permalink

    As Christianity became more widely accepted within the empire, the Licene creed established a group of important beliefs within the faith. The artists could not all communicate with each other and thus based their art expressions off the decree and whatever the liturgy wanted exemplified. While there was an ability for artists to display Christ as they wished, more often than not, they opted for not representing his cruxificion and kept to moments in his life where he was happy and performed miracles; thus giving the new converts faith of his merciful ways.

  9. Danielle Nazareno permalink

    I find peace in art found in Church. To me, the mosaics and frescoes are beautiful and personally reminds me of an old church I used to go to as a child. Although the nature of these images are stiff, have similar physical features and are not as well developed and skillfully drawn out to proportion, I still find the arrangement and symbolism within the artwork beautiful and tranquil.

  10. Cally Vaurs permalink

    There is more freedom and expression being portrayed. Though the generic face is still being used the artisan is using other things to differentiate between the figures. The beards and head pieces are each different and personalized. There is a greater sense of proportion and space but it is not quite “natural”. The feet are getting better but still slightly chaotic. It still amazes me how well the colors have held up over so many years!

  11. Ed Goodman permalink

    This creed really allowed the Christians to come out of hiding. They no longer need to portray jesus as a shepherd or keep him hidden. They now can paint him in all of his glory. Also, you can see their freedoms showing in all of the works they create. Like with their churches. They are now constructed in the shape of a crucifix and are adorned with all sorts of religious artwork.

  12. Maryann Floren permalink

    The Nicene Creed allowed Christian people to share their belief in Jesus Christ. The painting shows the individuality of the people and their forward standings with their halos and their unity behind and next to Christ. The imagery shows the freedom they were given after not being able to speak and show love for their savior. These paintings show the great detail (ie, Christ having a halo and wearing purple). These paintings and mosaics are beautiful and so elaborate.

  13. Chase Menaker permalink

    I think it’s interesting to see how Christian art flourished once they were allowed more freedom. It’s fascinating how they used symbolism, such as the cross in the halo of Jesus, to represent individuals, instead of unique facial features. I assume they had to do this because they didn’t know exactly what Christ looked like. This development of a sort of artistic language that can be universally read and understood by a culture is particularly fascinating.

  14. Julie Dickinson permalink

    Freedom of expression resulted in the creative minds taking advantage of their skills in art and storytelling through paintings. I love the detail of clothing in this piece. Each individual also has unique facial hair which i find greatly appealing.

  15. The Nicene Creed to me appears almost as though it is a sort of short and sweet way to sum up the major events in Christianity and concise what has happened throughout history. I absolutely love this art found within the old churches and think that it is wonderful we as society are able to have such amazing works of art to document history.

  16. Lindsey Paige permalink

    This creed acted as a message of liberation for the Christians of this time. If it weren’t for Emperor Constantine’s support, Christians may well have remained in hiding for decades.

  17. Cristine LIm permalink

    I think the creed acted as a representation for the Christians and allowed them the ability to express themselves more freely. The newly found freedom catalyzed a movement that influenced even today’s art. Art has always been used in storytelling, but what use is it if you are not allowed to tell your stories. In that way, I think the Nicene Creed helped tremendously.

  18. Kellilyn Monar permalink

    I am most fascinated by the interior of the churches during this period. I could almost imagine the feeling I would get if I were to walk into them. The creed allowed christians to express themselves and art more freely. I believe this marked a slight improvement in artwork, but it is still very stylized. The only way to tell the figures apart are by the color robe they are wearing, their beard, or if the aura of light exists behind them. The whole purpose of art at this time was to tell biblical stories, or for the interior of churches to be a celestial place for christian liturgy. Realism was not necessary to do so.

  19. Irene Webber permalink

    I think the Nicene Creed made it easier for artists to openly develop their skills. While their artwork is still lacking a sense of realism, it definitely improved. In this image, the amount of detail that has been added is a huge step forward. The stories that were being told through their work were more vivid once they were allowed to openly worship Christ.

  20. Alex Trimble permalink

    To me it seems that this deeply affected the development of early Christian art. The Nicene Creed allowed the early Christians to make their art less secretive, because with Constantine’s support their religion became allowed. This means they were free to develop their imagery further since it didn’t have to be hidden and only symbolic. However, their early, more symbolic art still influences their style, and they still have the same purpose, which is mainly storytelling. Also, it seems like it especially influenced the art of Jesus, because it talks about him as the final judge, or Pantokrator, which was a major theme for his presentation in Byzantine mosaics and other later church art.

  21. Emperor Constantine gave Christian artists the freedom to create art. They no longer had to disguise their Christian symbols. Christians could now tell their stories with imagery.

  22. Brook Haller permalink

    Without Constantine it is possible that the entire religion of Christianity may have never lasted…or at least not be one of the dominating religions of today. Constantine’s support and the Nicene Creed of 325 opened the door for Christianity to flourish and further develop. The art seemed to be more out of necessity than artistic expression…they even went against their fear of idolatry. At the very least, the pictures were necessary to convey the lessons in the Bible and the story of Christ to those that were illiterate. Maybe this is why they didn’t pay much attention to the number of feet and if they were overlapping. The feet weren’t important. The message/story comes though loud and clear despite the lack of perspective, proportion, musculature, etc.

  23. Ngoc Le permalink

    Art and architecture were ways to demonstrate Christian belief through divine cathedrals, paintings of biblical scenes, and portraits of popes. With the Emperor Constantine’s support, Christians freedom to create their arts.

  24. Jason Carrara permalink

    Without Emperor Constantine, the Christian faith would not have become so prevalently accepted and widespread. The money he used to build churches, stop persecution, commission art, and conquer allowed for the development of new ideas and expression by religious individuals.

  25. Alex Kereczman permalink

    The Nicene Creed did open the door to spread the word of Christianity. It allowed the symbolism and storytelling of Late Antiquity art to flourish. No longer in hiding, the artists were allowed to depict their reverence for their lord unabated. The creed tells a shortened version of Christ’s story, which is then represented in parts through out much of the current artwork. With the backing of the emperor, Christianity in art was able to become more widespread, picking up followers of the religion and still letting the artwork develope to represent the light of the religion.

  26. Mike Bautista permalink

    I think a lot of the Christian art was directly influenced by that creed. The art that was discussed in class seem to follow or depict that creed in one way or another. Christ is always depicted to be loving and caring. He is always depicted as calm and instructive. But there is also that depiction of quiet power and influence. All of this was either shown directly or through symbols, inviting much to be read into with every piece. It allowed for artists to depict Christ however they want, as long as they adhered to those specifications.

  27. Lucy Glover permalink

    The development of Christian imagery appears to have a formal
    presence about it. The portrayal of Constantine contains a
    seriousness about it, especially the facial expressions. Even
    though this artwork is from the Late Antiquity period, it
    reminds me of the work from the Byzantium period as well.

  28. Alex Keeling permalink

    The mosaics are truly amazing. The rich colors leave me drawn to them. They’re not perfect proportion-wise, but they’re still beautiful for what they are.

  29. The development of Christian imagery had greatly changed after Contantine declared the Christian religion legal and holy. The Christian people finally were able to come out of hiding and express the narratives and religious imagery freely and the way the wanted. This made for much more thought out works of art on the walls of churches, which I particularly admire. Not to say that the art in catacombs and at Dura-Europos wasn’t beautiful in its own way, but now, the artists were able to spend more much time thinking and actually doing these works of art and it really shows. The quality began to be much better and people actually could focus more on the detail they wished the works to have instead of trying to hid the facts of what the images were.

    Devin Cook

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