In Pigment and Stone: Anthropological Proclamation in Early Christian Art

When Patristic Anthropology is addressed in the classroom and academic literature, texts are typically the only sources invoked. While these diverse ancient writings are an essential avenue for exploration, there is another facet through which early Christians also communicated, modeled exegetical method, and affirmed theological convictions: visual art. Anthropology is no exception.
This paper examines a variety of early Christian pictorial productions: firstly in catacomb frescoes and engravings from the early third through the fourth centuries, then in several fourth century sarcophagi. An intriguingly consistent iconographic program is evident, particularly when we know how to view these sources by engaging the coherent hermeneutics and visual rhetorical patterning that provide interpretive keys. Thus, what is on display in Patristic-era images are Scripturally-anchored theological proclamations: in pigment and stone, Christology and anthropology are compellingly rendered. In fact, these visual works convey methods, metaphors, and beliefs consistent with contemporary Patristic texts, from sermons to epistles to tomes. Examples of convergence between early Christian art and texts of various genres are striking: they cross geographical boundaries to reveal broad coherence in emphases and Scriptural interpretation.
If Early Christian hermeneutics implicated an entire metaphysic, as recent studies insist, we would be remiss to neglect the material expressions of Patristic anthropology. This paper and presentation of visual examples models this conviction and methodology. As the paper concludes, it will be suggested that renewed attention to the complimentary visual and textual facets of early Christian theological reflection can enrich conversations about historical theology and carries implications for theological continuity and retrieval today.

5 thoughts on “In Pigment and Stone: Anthropological Proclamation in Early Christian Art”

  1. Entire metaphysic but general metaphysic
    The conviction and resourcing of art is good. The proposal for a more “entire metaphysic” is appealing. However, the thesis is general while the potential illustrations provide more specificity. A methodology of appropriating them with their challenges or original research on one of them would strengthen this. This is–to me–a great seminar lecture rather than a research presentation.

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  2. too generic
    I agree that this presenter usually does fine work, and agree that art papers are wonderful. This proposal has nothing specific about it. Nonetheless, this paper could be grouped with any other art papers proposed, so perhaps the presenters can share the cost of a projector.

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