We have all seen the magnificent paintings and sculptures of Biblical themes that were created during the Renaissance. Now, however, you can see an exhibition of the earliest examples of works of art depicting the Old and New Testaments. The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX is presentingPicturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art, an exhibit that runs through March 30,2008.
The exhibit will only be held at the Kimbell Art Museum, and will not travel to other venues; the guest curator is Dr. Jeffrey Spier of the University of Arizona. This unique and very important exhibit tells the story of how the earliest Christians first depicted their beliefs visually.
In spite of the immense number of Christian works art that we now have, there are none known to date before the beginning of the third century A.D. However, by the third century Christians had started using Old Testament themes that they felt had special significance to Christians, most specifically of the Jewish Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph) and David, from whom they believed Jesus traced his spiritual and Messianic lineage. It was also during this period that they first used the symbolic images of the Good Shepherd and the “ichthys” fish.
By the fourth century, scenes from the life of Jesus were being created in catacomb paintings, mosaics, decorated crosses and Bibles. By the sixth century, depictions of the life and miracles of Christ as we know them today had become common. Picturing the Bible exhibits examples of all of these various forms, using a wide range of material from different early time periods to show how the first Christians gave illustration to their religious beliefs.
The Kimbell exhibition has brought together magnificent examples of early Christian art from all over the world. Picturing the Bible includes significant loans from the Vatican, the Bargello and the Laurentian Library in Florence, the British Museum, the Louvre, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This landmark event is the first major review of third-to sixth-century Christian art since The Age of Spirituality at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1977.
Some of the important treasures in the exhibition have never or rarely been lent before, such as the spectacular, gem-encrusted gold cross presented by the emperor Justin II to Pope John III in the late sixth century, on loan from the Treasury of Saint Peter’s in Vatican City. Two silver plates depicting scenes from the life of David are on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Part of a series of nine plates, these fine silver objects were discovered in a hoard in Cyprus in 1902 and date from the time of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, who reigned from 610-41.
Carved sculpture, both in stone and in ivory, also form an integral part of the exhibition. From the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence is the ivory diptych of Adam Naming the Animals and the Miracles of St. Paul, one of the masterpieces of their collection. Imposing sarcophagi with scenes of the life and ministry of Christ as well as depictions of Daniel, Jonah, and other figures of both the Old and New Testaments are on loan from the Vatican Museums.
Illustrated manuscripts are among the rarest and most amazing objects in the exhibition. Only a handful of illustrated Bibles from the sixth century have survived, and three of these are included in the exhibition: The Rabbula Gospels (586 A.D.), an illustrated folio from the fragmentary Greek Sinope Gospels (of which only five exist), and several fragments of the Cotton Genesis, a Greek manuscript produced in Egypt.
Admission prices for the exhibition are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors age 60 and over and students with ID, and $10 for children between 6 and 11. Children under 6 are free. An Acoustiguide audio tour is included in the ticket price. Admission prices are half-off on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, visit the Museum’s website here.