AP®︎/College Art History
- Introduction to the middle ages
- Christianity, an introduction for the study of art history
- Architecture and liturgy
- The life of Christ in medieval and Renaissance art
- A New Pictorial Language: The Image in Early Medieval Art
- Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome
- Basilica of Santa Sabina, Rome
- Santa Sabina
- Jacob wrestling the angel, Vienna Genesis
- Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well, Vienna Genesis
- A beginner's guide to Byzantine Art
- San Vitale, Ravenna
- Justinian Mosaic, San Vitale
- Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
- Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
- Theotokos mosaic, apse, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
- Hagia Sophia as a mosque
- Deësis mosaic, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
- Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George
- The Lindisfarne Gospels
- The Lindisfarne Gospels
- The Bayeux Tapestry
- The Bayeux Tapestry - Seven Ages of Britain - BBC One
- Church and Reliquary of Sainte‐Foy, France
- Chartres Cathedral
- Bible moralisée (moralized bibles)
- Saint Louis Bible (moralized bible)
- The Golden Haggadah
- Röttgen Pietà
- Röttgen Pietà
- Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (part 1)
- Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (part 2)
- Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (part 3)
- Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (part 4)
Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome
Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, late 2nd century through the 4th century C.E.
Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.
Want to join the conversation?
- Does anyone have an estimate of how many bodies are buried in the Catacomb of Priscilla?(8 votes)
- I've read 40,000 graves have been identified. However, they are now empty so to answer your question directly, no bodies are known to be buried in the Catacomb of Priscilla now as far as I know.(15 votes)
- At0:20, Dr. Harris mentions that "...there were also Jewish catacombs..." which Dr. Zucker says "...are even older [than the Christian catacombs]..."
Were these "Jewish" catacombs followers of Jesus like "the 12 apostles"? Or were these Jews like we think of the monotheistic religion today, that is completely separate from Christianity?
I ask because I know this was a blurry line in the early days of Christianity and I was wondering if it was these "Christian Jews" or if it was in fact more "traditional" Jewish groups that were forced underground? If in fact it was the latter of the two, why? I thought that Judaism was one of the few religions sanctioned under Roman law as acceptable outside of the Roman Cult religion (as it was referred to)?(4 votes)
- Great question. To learn more you may want to see this paper: https://journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/radiocarbon/article/viewFile/4124/3549}
or you can find a friendlier synopsis here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/07/0720_050720_christianity.html(3 votes)
- At2:04, it talks about the tombs all being empty, speculating that this is because of grave robbery and hunting for relics. Does this account for all the missing bodies? It seems like there would have been a lot of people buried for here for robbers to have stolen all of them.(4 votes)
- Also, decay would take place, these tombs are over a thousand years old and the bodies were not preserved or mummified.(3 votes)
- How do you know all of those women on that painting are the same women?(4 votes)
- It was also common in certain ancient cultures, including Egyptian art, to show several scenes side by side depicting the same person in different situations. There's a large stone mosaic in the Dallas Museum of Art showing the Greek Achilles in three side-by-side scenes like this. It's interesting how this storytelling style can also be seen in today's graphic novels.(1 vote)
- Why did the catacomb include Greek and Latin language?(1 vote)
- Though Latin was the language of the Roman government, Greek was the language of the Roman street.(5 votes)
- I wasn't aware that they could use google earth/ google maps for things like this. It is pretty awesome. Does anyone know of any other situations where the technology is used this way?(3 votes)
- I have seen this used for other examples of architecture. On google maps, if you place the little person on a building, church, etc., then it will let you move around inside. It's a good way to experience architecture that you can't physically visit.(1 vote)
- Why are all the spaces for the bodies empty now?
Some were stolen. Did the others disappear because of time, turning into dust?(3 votes)
- I'm wondering the same thing. Surely grave robbers wouldn't take all of those thousands of bodies, right? That would've been highly difficult to accomplish.(1 vote)
- Hands out of proportion? Maybe the image is to be viewed as one kneels before image in prayer? If so, then the hands would foreshorten from that perspective and appear more normal in size relative to the outstretching arms and body width. It's a visual device Holbein used centuries later with The Ambassadors. Prayer before saints is not uncommon. Perhaps the painting is intended to show that those in heaven do pray and offer up our prayers as in Book of Revelation 8:4.(2 votes)
- Is there some kind of online feildtrip , preferably free, or a map that i can look at for the catacombs of priscella.(2 votes)
- Great question! The catacomb museum, called Museo di Priscilla (www.mupris.net), worked with Google Street View so you can now virtually tour the catacombs!
Here's the link:
This is so cool :) Hope this helps!(1 vote)
- who built the catacombs?
Why did they build the catacombs?(1 vote)
- From the author:Different people. Jewish people and Christian people. Catacombs were built so there would be a place to bury family and community members.(2 votes)
- [Dr. Zucker] We just walked through the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome. And we're now standing in a park just over the catacombs. - [Dr. Harris] There are many catacombs in Rome. And these were places where the earliest Christians were buried. There are also Jewish catacombs here in Rome. - [Dr. Zucker] Which were even older. - [Dr. Harris] The Catacombs of Priscilla occupy about 10 kilometers or more than five miles of burials. - [Dr. Zucker] This is a labyrinth of narrow passageways directly below the park that we're in. So if we were to dig down, we would hit the natural tufa, the stone of Rome, which is a soft material, which is why it was ideal for this kind of excavation. And what's amazing is that the passageways are stacked on top of each other. And the catacomb is in certain places three stories deep. - [Dr. Harris] So here we are in the north of Rome. And the reason that the catacomb is located here is that this was the villa of a wealthy Roman woman named Priscilla. And it seems she donated the land as a place where at first her family would be buried and then eventually the Christian community. - [Dr. Zucker] By the 5th century a lot of people were buried here, some 40,000 tombs have been located. So imagine walking through a very dark passageway, a low ceiling, a rough earth and floor. And on either side of the narrow hall, horizontal niches that are just long enough to accommodate a body. Some are quite short and held the children. And some are longer and would have held adults. And many of them are stacked one atop the other. Wealthier people would have excavated a space large enough to place a sarcophagus in. But most of the tombs are for the poor. And these are simply bodies that were swaddled in a shroud and placed into these shelf-like slots which were then covered over with a slab of marble or, for the poor, just simply tiles of terracotta. All of that would then be covered over with a layer of plaster, which were often painted. - [Dr. Harris] The larger rooms have the name cubiculum. Horizontal shelves for burial are referred to as loculi. And now when we visit, the tombs are all empty and uncovered. - [Dr. Zucker] And we think this is because there was grave robbing and people were hunting for relics, which makes sense because some of the people that were buried here were martyrs. - [Dr. Harris] Right, they were killed for being Christians. - [Dr. Zucker] And their remains then had a spiritual importance and power. - [Dr. Harris] Now, there is a kind of myth or legend around catacombs that they're a secret place where Christians practiced their Christianity during times of persecution. But the catacombs are burial places. They were well known to the Christians in the community. And it's also important to remember that there were episodes of persecution against Christians but also times when Christianity was somewhat tolerated. It's not until 313 when Constantine issues the Edict of Milan that Christianity becomes tolerated within the Roman Empire. - [Dr. Zucker] The catacombs themselves seem to go on endlessly, passages branching off with tombs as far as the eye can see. But what's especially important is that these are the locations where we find the earliest Christian art. - [Dr. Harris] And art historians have wondered why is it that Christianity exists for almost two centuries and we don't have Christian art. Is it because it didn't survive? - [Dr. Zucker] Is it because there wasn't a Christian vocabulary that had been developed yet? - [Dr. Harris] Is it because of prohibition against the making of images because of the Second Commandment? It is also true that image making, images of individuals and of gods, was very common in the Roman Empire and Christians may have had a desire to separate themselves from Paganism. And perhaps not making images was one way of doing that. - [Dr. Zucker] What we do know is that the first images that we found date from the 3rd century from the 200s. And some of the earliest art is, in fact, here at the Catacombs of Priscilla. - [Dr. Harris] In fact, what we think is the earliest known representation of the Madonna and Child, we see an image of a woman nursing and another that points to the mother and child. - [Dr. Zucker] And seems to be holding a book. - [Dr. Harris] If so, that's a remarkably early image of a subject that would become so common for more than a millennium in western art history. - [Dr. Zucker] And so what we think we see here are numerous scenes that are among the earliest inventions of Christian iconography, of Christian symbolism. We find them both painted, and we find them carved. Within the catacombs we see lots of inscriptions that speak to the people that were buried. And there were also inscribed Christian symbols. We find the anchor which speaks to safe harbor. That is a reference to salvation. There are representations of a fish, which is a reference to Christ. - [Dr. Harris] But we also begin to see very specific subject matter that relates to Christian themes of salvation, subjects from both the Old and New Testament. - [Dr. Zucker] And this especially true in one small cubiculum that we call the Greek Chapel. Now, this was not a chapel, and it had nothing to do with the Greeks. It has this name simply because we found some Greek letters there. In fact, throughout the catacombs there's both Greek and Latin. - [Dr. Harris] It was decorated with what arch historians call Roman first style wall painting, that is plaster built up and then painted to imitate marble panels. So there's an attempt to make this a very rich space. - [Dr. Zucker] This must have been one of the oldest parts of the catacombs because it is adjacent to the basement of the original house that had been owned by Priscilla. It is lavish, but it is also small. - [Dr. Harris] It would have held several sarcophagi for members of this family. And there were meals that we taken in these spaces as part of a memorial to the dead. - [Dr. Zucker] There are so many scenes here. There are scenes from the Old Testament. There are scenes from the New Testament. - [Dr. Harris] They refer to divine intervention, to figures who suffered on account of their faith, including the story from the Book of Daniel of three youths in the fiery furnace. The story from the Old Testament is that these three youths were asked to worship a Pagan golden idol and they refused and were sentenced to be burned alive but were saved. You can see why this was a subject that really appealed to early Christians who at various times were persecuted for their faith. - [Dr. Zucker] There are also New Testament scenes. There's the Adoration of the Magi. There's the Resurrection of Lazarus. - [Dr. Harris] These are scenes that refer to the miracles that Christ performed during his life. And very often in early Christian imagery we have an emphasis on the teaching of Christ, on the miracles that he performed. And it's really only later that we get the subjects that we are more familiar with of the crucifixion or the resurrection. - [Dr. Zucker] A good example of the way that the portrayal of a scene has changed is the Sacrifice of Isaac. This is an Old Testament scene. And in this case we only have a partial view. The bottom portion has been destroyed. But what remains shows Abraham in the center and Isaac off to the right carrying wood. This is different from what is normally depicted in later Christian art, where we generally see Isaac about to be killed by Abraham. Abraham's wrists stayed by an angel. - [Dr. Harris] And you could ask why would the first Christians be painting this Old Testament subject of Abraham and Isaac? The first Christians looked back to the story of Abraham and Isaac as a type of Christ, that is, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son foretold, foreshadowed God's willingness to sacrifice his only son, Christ, for the salvation of mankind. - [Dr. Zucker] But one of the most interesting scenes is a scene that is called the Breaking of the Bread. And this might at first glance look a bit like a Last Supper. We see a still life, a long table, and seven men seated behind it. So we don't have the 12 apostles and Christ. Simultaneously, there are seven baskets, three on one side and four on the other, filled with bread. There are fish on the table. And so there seems to be a reference here not only to the Eucharist but also to the story of the multiplication of loaves and fishes. - [Dr. Harris] Both are reference to a miracle that Christ performed during his life, which is typical in early Christian iconography, but also perhaps a reference to the liturgy, that is, to the practice of the Eucharist, of the bread and wine being taken as the body and blood of Christ. - [Dr. Zucker] What we're seeing here is the invention of Christian iconography. These are scenes that have not yet been set, that have not yet been clarified. But looking at that particular image is really quite marvelous, to see the foreshortening of the dishes on the table seen in space. And it reminds us that these are people that would have had access to various sophisticated Roman painting. - [Dr. Harris] The other cubiculum that we wanted to talk about is known as the Cubiculum of the Veil. And this is because there is a depiction of a woman in a veil in this chapel. It's actually the same woman being depicted three times, in reference to the woman who is deceased, who was buried in this space. On the left we see her being married with a seeded bishop officiating. On the right we see her seated in a chair nursing. - [Dr. Zucker] And we think that the chair is actually the chair that was used for childbirth as well. - [Dr. Harris] So we have a reference to her marriage, to her motherhood, and then we see her again in the center, this time larger in a pose that arch historians call arrant. - [Dr. Zucker] This is a pose of prayer meant to represent the woman in the afterlife, the woman resurrected. This is all enclosed within a lunette at the back of the cubiculum. She is representing the hope of the family that she would enjoy a blessed afterlife. - [Dr. Harris] Her eyes look upward toward heaven. This is clearly an image that refers to her salvation and her place in heaven. - [Dr. Zucker] The painting is not in particularly good condition. But we can make out some of the careful articulation of the features of the face. And there's shadow placed under her chin to create a sense of illusionism. - [Dr. Harris] And so even though her hands are too large for the proportions of her body, her face is represented naturalistically. - [Dr. Zucker] It's important to remember that we are now looking at this painting under electric lights. But it would certainly have been painted in the dim light of oil lanterns. - [Dr. Harris] And in fact, there are spaces, there are small holes throughout the catacombs where oil lamps would have been placed. - [Dr. Zucker] But the largest painting in this room is in this shallow dome of the ceiling. And here in the center we see Christ represented as the Good Shepherd. He's surrounded by three goats, one over his shoulders. And he's in a stance that is reminiscent of contrapposto. Clearly, the artist was somebody who had been familiar with Roman sculpture and perhaps Roman painting. Christ is represented young. He has no beard. And beside him are two trees with doves at the top. So the notion here is that Christ will care for his followers the way that a good shepherd cares for his flock. - [Dr. Harris] And although Christ stands naturalistically, he is represented in the center frontal with goats on either side and bushes with the doves on either side. So we have an image that's very symmetrical. And I think in that way speaks to something transcendent, something heavenly. - [Dr. Zucker] And we have more symbols that surround the central roundel. - [Dr. Harris] We see peacocks, which are a symbol of eternal life. - [Dr. Zucker] And other birds that we think are quail, symbols of the earth, that walk on the earth. - [Dr. Harris] So Christ as in between the earthly and the heavenly. - [Dr. Zucker] And then in the four pendentives, there are images of doves with olive branches. So what we're seeing here is the very first tentative steps in what will become into the great tradition of Christian art.