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Early Christians expressed their new faith and its mysteries through symbols – visible images of material culture conveying invisible spiritual realities, just as Christ’s own incarnation in human flesh brought to earth “Emmanuel – God with us.”
What is a Symbol?
"In a cultural context, symbols are vehicles that convey the worldview and ethos of a society. They have two parts: One is the physical aspect that can be captured objectively by the senses (the symbolizer), such as a word, an image, or an object; the other (the symbolized) is its significance, the sum of all the various meanings derived from the first part. These meanings require a constant process of interpretation by both the user and the receiver of the symbol."
~Encyclopedia of Jewish Folklore and Traditions
"Any object, person or event to which a generally agreed, shared meaning has been given, and which individuals have learnt to accept as representing something other than itself: for example, a national flag represents feelings of patriotism and national unity. Symbols are almost always culture-bound. The meaning of symbols can change over time and in changing circumstances. "
~Dictionary of Media and Communication Studies
What is Christian Iconography?
"The science of the description, history, and interpretation of the traditional representations of God, the saints and other sacred subjects in art.
Almost from the beginning the Church has employed the arts as potent means of instruction and edification. In the first centuries the walls of the catacombs were decorated with paintings and mosaics, and in all later times churches have lent their walls, ceilings, and windows as well as their altars, furniture, and liturgical vessels and books, to be adorned with scenes from the Old and the New Testament, from the lives and legends of the saints, and even from old mythologies, modified, of course, and harmonized with Christian teaching."
~ The Catholic Encyclopedia
Voicu, S.J., and C. Carletti. "Symbols & Symbolism ." In Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity, by Angelo Di Berardino. InterVarsity Press, 2014.
Scholarly Journals (These titles are found within the databases above, but can be exclusively searched one-by-one)
BS- The Bible
BX- Christian Denominations
N- Visual arts
NX- Arts in general
Where hyperlinked, Murray Library provides access to the article or chapter.
Other items can be requested through Interlibrary Loan (ILL). This is a free service. Article and book chapters will be delivered via emailed PDFs. This usually takes 24 hours to one week. You may need to create an account if this is your first ILL request.
Barry, Fabio, “Walking on Water: Cosmic Floors in Antiquity and the Middle Ages,” Art Bulletin 89: 4 (December 2007) 627-656.
Bhalla, Niamh, “Christian Ivories: Containment, Manipulation, and the Creation of Meaning,” in Robin M. Jensen and Mark D. Ellison, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art (London: Routledge, 2018) 207-220.
Cutler, Anthony, “The Matter of Ivory and the Movement of Ideas: Thoughts on Some Christian Dyptichs of Late Antiquity,” in Hallie G. Meredith, ed., Objects in Motion: The Circulation of Religion and Sacred Objects in the Late Antique and Byzantine World [British Archaeological Reports International Series S2247] (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2011) 57-71.
Curley, Michael J., “Physiologus, Φυσιολογία and the Rise of Christian Nature Symbolism,” Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies 2 (1980) 1-10.
Deliyannis, Deborah Mausskopf, “The Mosaics of Ravenna,” in Robin M. Jensen and Mark D. Ellison, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art (London: Routledge, 2018) 347-363.
Dresken-Weiland, Jutta, “Christian Sarcophagi from Rome,” in Robin M. Jensen and Mark D. Ellison, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art (London: Routledge, 2018) 39-55.
Freeman, Jennifer Awes, “The Good Shepherd and the Enthroned Ruler: A Reconsideration of Imperial Iconography in the Early Church,” in in Lee M. Jefferson and Robin M. Jensen, eds., Art of Empire: Christian Art in its Imperial Context (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015) 146-183.
Harley, Felicity, “The Narration of Christ’s Passion in Early Christian Art,” in John Burke, ed., Byzantine Narrative: Papers in Honour of Roger Scott [Byzantina Australiensia 16] (Melbourne 2016) 221-232.
Kałużny, Józef Cezary, “Phoenix and Delphinus Salvator: The History of the Forgotten Images of Early Christian Iconography,” Perspektywy Kultury/Perspectives on Culture 30: 3 (December 2020) 9-26.
Kinney, Dale, “Instances of Appropriation in Late Roman and Early Christian Art,” Essays in Medieval Studies 28 (2012) 1-22.
Leatherbury, Sean V., “Christian Wall Mosaics and the Creation of Sacred Space,” in Robin M. Jensen and Mark D. Ellison, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art (London: Routledge, 2018) 86-103.
Martens-Czarnecak, Małgorzata, “Iconography of Jesus Christ in Nubian Painting,” Études et Travaux, Institut des Cultures Méditerranéennes et Orientales de l'Académie Polonaise des Sciences, 25 (2012) 242-252.
Mathews, Thomas F. and Norman E. Muller, “The Iconography of Mary,” in Mathews and Muller, The Dawn of Christian Art in Panel Paintings and Icons (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016) 153-170.
McGowan, Felicity Harley, “Death is Swallowed Up in Victory: Scenes of Death in Early Christian Art and the Emergence of Crucifixion Iconography,” Cultural Studies Review 17 (2011) 101-124.
McGowan, Felicity Harley, “From Victim to Victor: Developing an Iconography of Suffering in Early Christian Art,” in Lee M. Jefferson and Robin M. Jensen, eds., Art of Empire: Christian Art in its Imperial Context (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015) 102-145.
Miziołek, Jerzy, “Transfiguratio Domini in the Apse at Mount Sinai and the Symbolism of Light,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 53: 1 (January 1990) 42-60.
Swift, Ellen and Anne Alwis, “The Role of Late Antique Art in Early Christian Worship: A Reconsideration of the Iconography of the ‘Starry Sky’ in the ‘Mausoleum’ of Galla Placidia,” Papers of the British School of Rome 78 (2010) 193-217.
Talgam, Rina, “Christian Floor Mosaics: Modes of Study and Potential Meanings,” in Robin M. Jensen and Mark D. Ellison, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art (London: Routledge, 2018) 104-123.
Todorova, Rostislava, “Visualizing the Divine. Mandorla as a Vision of God in Byzantine Iconography,” IKON. Journal of Iconographic Studies 6 (2013) 287-296.
Verkerk, Dorothy, “Early Christian Illuminated Manuscripts,” in Robin M. Jensen and Mark D. Ellison, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art (London: Routledge, 2018) 254-272.
Zimmerman, Norbert, “Catacomb Painting and the Rise of Christian Iconography in Funerary Art,” in Robin M. Jensen and Mark D. Ellison, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art (London: Routledge, 2018) 21-38.
Many of these titles are found in Murray Library as physical books and some are available as ebooks.
Brenk, Brent, The Apse, the Image and the Icon: An Historical Perspective of the Apse as a Space for Images (Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2010).
Deliyannis, Deborah Mausskopf, Ravenna in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
Finney, Paul Corby, The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1994).
Grabar, André, Christian Iconography: A Study of Its Origins (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968; rpt. 1980).
Jensen, Robin M., Face to Face: Portraits of the Divine in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005).
Jensen, Robin M., Living Water: Images, Symbols, and Settings of Early Christian Baptism [Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae: Texts and Studies of Early Christian Life and Language 105] (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
Jensen, Robin M., Understanding Early Christian Art (London: Routledge, 2000).
Ladner, Gerhard B., Ad Imaginem Dei: The Image of Man in Medieval Art [St. Vincent College Wimmer Lecture 16] (Latrobe, Pennsylvania: Archabbey Press, 1965).
Lazaridou, Anastasia, ed., Transition to Christianity: Art of Late Antiquity, 3rd-7th Century AD (New York: Onassis Foundation, 2011).
Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers, The Iconography of the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus [Princeton Legacy Library 1112] (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).
Mathews, Thomas F. and Norman E. Muller, The Dawn of Christian Art in Panel Paintings and Icons (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016).
Milborn, Robert, Early Christian Art and Architecture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).
Murray, Peter and Linda, The Oxford Companion to Christian Art and Architecture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).
Schenk, Christina, Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017).
Schreckenberg, Heinz and Kurt Shubert, eds., Jewish Historiography and Iconography in Early and Medieval Christianity (Assen, Netherlands: Van Gorcum Press/Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).
Snyder, Graydon, Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life before Constantine (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2003).
Spier, Jennifer, ed., Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art (Fort Worth: Kimbell Art Museum, 2007).
Verhoeven, Mariette, Early Christian Monuments in Ravenna: Transformation and Memory (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011).
Weitzmann, Kurt, ed., Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century. Catalog of the Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 1977 through February 12, 1978 (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979); Age of Spirituality: A Symposium (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980).
Westenholz, Joan Goodnick, Images of Inspiration: The Old Testament in Early Christian Art (Jerusalem: Bible Lands Museum, 2000).
These website offer examples of early Christian symbols. The websites are not considered scholarly sources.
Examples in Chicago. Footnote (N) and Bibliography (B) citation included :
Note (N): 1. Firstname Lastname, Title of Book (Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication), page number.
Bibliography (B): Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication.
Article or Chapter in an Edited Book:
N: 2. Peter Chilson, "The Border," in The Best American Travel Writing 2008, ed. Anthony Bourdain (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), 46.
B: Chilson, Peter. "The Border." In The Best American Travel Writing 2008, edited by Anthony Bourdain, 44-51. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.
Online Article from a periodical:
N: 3. Kirsi Peltonen, Noora Ellonen, Helmer B. Larsen, and Karin Helweg-Larsen, “Parental Violence and Adolescent Mental Health,” European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 19, no. 11 (2010): 813-822, doi: 10.1007/s00787-010-0130-8.
B: Peltonen, Kirsi, Noora Ellonen, Helmer B. Larsen, and Karin Helweg-Larsen. “Parental Violence and Adolescent Mental Health.” European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 19, no. 11 (2010): 813-822. doi: 10.1007/s00787-010-0130-8.