Picturing the Bible

The Earliest Christian Art

Jeffrey Spier; With contributions by Herbert L. Kessler, Steven Fine, Robin M. Jensen, Johannes G. Deckers, Mary Charles-Murray et al.

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The fascinating story of how the earliest Christians first gave visual expression to their religious beliefs

Picturing the Bible explores the vast tradition of Christian art at its very beginnings in the third century A.D., just as Christianity was emerging from its outlawed, clandestine status to become the state religion of the Roman Empire. What images did these Christians use to express their faith openly? Were they the first believers to part with Mosaic law by creating “graven images”? What Jewish and pagan sources, if any, did they look to for inspiration? When did they begin to depict the life of Jesus? This beautifully illustrated book takes up such questions, revealing the story of how Christian art began through insights from recent discoveries.

Leading experts explore topics ranging from Jewish art in the Greco-Roman period and the influence of Constantine, to the development of church decoration and the meaning of illustrated Bibles. Throughout we see the distinctive pictorial selection of Early Christians, who at first depicted Old Testament figures—Abraham and Isaac, Jonah, and Daniel—and did not invent new images until over a century later. The special meanings attached to old images and new ones like the fish, anchor, and Good Shepherd all come to life in these pages.

The essays are complemented by extensive new archaeological research on a range of more than one hundred objects, drawn from major museums of America and Europe. Frescoes, marble sculpture and sarcophagi, silver vessels and reliquaries, carved ivories, decorated crosses, and illuminated Bibles are illustrated in new color photographs, allowing the reader an unprecedented encounter with Early Christian art.

Jeffrey Spier is adjunct professor of classics at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Herbert L. Kessler is professor of the history of art at Johns Hopkins University. Steven Fine is Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University. Robin M. Jensen is Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Worship and Art at Vanderbilt University. Johannes G. Deckers is professor at the Institute for Byzantine Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich. Mary Charles-Murray is professor of theology at the University of Oxford.


Kimbell Art Museum (November 18, 2007 – March 30, 2008)

"The catalogue . . . is of immense interest not only to art historians, lovers of finely crafted objects of great beauty, but also anyone in the Christian community who has ever pondered on the extraordinarily rapid growth throughout the whole Mediterranean area of dedicated believers in the Divine Word in the first two or three centuries after the Crucifixion. . . . An extraordinary collection of Christian objects pertaining to the first six hundred years in the history of the Christian faith. . . . To study the splendid photographs and to read of their origins is to enter into an intangible sense of fraternity with these folk."—Mary Willan Mason, Catholic Insight

"Handsome, authoritative. . . . Enhanced by color illustrations of excellent quality. . . . Recommended."—Choice

“Lavishly illustrated with colour plates, this catalogue is indispensable for the study of Christian art.” - International review of Biblical Studies, Vol. 54:2007/2008

Shortlisted for the 2009 ACE/Mercer's International Book Award

"Picturing the Bible presents a rich account of the strange transformation in the visual tradition of what have become, by now, familiar biblical stories."--Cherie Woodworth, Church History
ISBN: 9780300149340
Publication Date: January 6, 2009
Publishing Partner: Published in association with the Kimbell Art Museum
328 pages, 9 x 12
52 b/w + 251 color illus.
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