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Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century

Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century

Weitzmann, Kurt, ed.
784 pages
793 illustrations
8.5 x 11 in
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The first centuries of the Christian Era were ones of extraordinary upheaval: the great traditions of the classical world were transformed by dramatic changes in the political and social structure, by continual warfare against invaders, and by the growing influence of the nascent religion Christianity. The trend of this period has been interpreted by some historians as the decline of civilization, but it is represented by its art as a time of cultural experimentation. Although they abandoned some of the realism of the classical mode, artists of the post-antique world continued to borrow from the repertoire of images of pagan and imperial Rome, ultimately creating works distinguished by spiritual grace and an abstraction of form. The innovative style that resulted from the coexistence of the Eastern and Western Empires, of the pagan, mystery, Jewish, and Christian religions, and of the urban and provincial societies was to determine the development of the Byzantine, and then the medieval, artistic traditions.

Over five years in preparation when it opened to the public in November 1977, Age of Spirituality was not only the largest exhibition ever to focus on the period of Late Antique and Early Christian art, it was also hailed as one of the most important didactic exhibitions ever assembled by an art museum. The group of 450 objects, lent by over 110 institutions and private individuals from some 15 countries, presented this little-known period to the public in five realms—the Imperial, the Classical, the Secular, the Jewish, and the Christian—which provided a historical context for the variety of works. Ranging from delicate jewelry of gold and silver, carved ivory diptychs, and rare manuscripts to monumental portraits in stone, wall paintings, and floor mosaics, the exhibition showed the period's diversity of material, style, subject matter, and technique. Architectural monuments, represented in photomontage, contributed information about the public and private lives of the emperors as well as the middle class.

This outstanding exhibition is comprehensively documented and illustrated in the present catalogue, edited by the principal organizer of the exhibition, Kurt Weitzmann, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University and Consultative Curator, The Cloisters and the Department of Medieval Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The thirty-nine authors, chosen to write from their particular areas of expertise, here publish the results of original research in twenty essays and 599 catalogue entries.

Bronze statue of the emperor Trebonianus Gallus, Bronze, Roman
251–253 CE
Marble portrait head of the Emperor Constantine I, Marble, Roman
ca. 325–370 CE
Head of Emperor Constans (r. 337–50), Marble, Byzantine
ca. 337–40
Panel of a Diptych Announcing the Consulship of Justinian, Ivory, Byzantine
Empress Theodora and Members of Her Court, Glass and stone Tesserae, Byzantine
early 20th century (original dated 6th century)
Fragment of a Glass Dish, blue glass, silver stain, Byzantine
10th century
Fragment from a Coptic Hanging, Linen, wool; plain weave, tapestry-weave
5th century
Marble relief fragment with gladiators, Marble, Roman
1st–3rd century CE
Glass beaker with victorious charioteer, Glass, Roman, Eastern Mediterranean
Roman, Eastern Mediterranean
4th century CE
Gold glass base of a beaker, Glass, gold, Roman
3rd century CE
Hanging with Dionysian Figures, Linen, wool; tapestry-woven
5th–7th century
Fragment with the Triumph of Dionysos and the Labors of Herakles, Wool, linen; plain weave, tapestry weave
4th–6th century
Plate with youths and winged horses, Silver, mercury gilding, Sasanian
ca. 5th–6th century CE
Goblet, Glass with vitreous paint, Coptic
4th century
Statuette of the Personification of a City, Copper alloy, Late Roman or Byzantine
Late Roman or Byzantine
Goblet with Personifications of Cyprus, Rome, Constantinople, and Alexandria, Gold, Avar or Byzantine
Avar or Byzantine
Marble front of a child's columnar sarcophagus with the Seasons, Marble, Proconnesian, Roman
290–300 CE
Steelyard Weight with the Bust of a Woman, Copper alloy, Byzantine
4th century
Lead votive plaque, Lead, Roman
probably 3rd century CE
Fragment of a Rock Crystal Bowl, Rock crystal, North African (Carthage)
North African (Carthage)
3rd–5th century
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Weitzmann, Kurt. 1979. Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, 3rd to 7th Century Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 1977 through February 12, 1978. New York Princeton (N.J.): Metropolitan museum of art Princeton university press.