Early Christian Art in the Second Century
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In the second century, with the increase of pictures, the number of Christian subjects and symbols increased to the point of invading the ceiling, where purely ornamental forms became simplified in consequence, and continued to diminish till they served only as a frame to the figures. On the other hand, figures, scenes, decorations, symbols were all reduced as far as was compatible with a representation which should be clear and obvious, and easily understood of the people.  
These modest paintings, which exhale a sentiment of sweet and beneficent calm and of solemn austerity, depend for their significance on their moral and religious purpose; they are to be regarded less as a decoration of the sepulchres than as an invocation of eternal life. The paintings of the Catacombs have in fact become a pictorial rendering of the prayers of the dead man to God and to his brothers yet alive.
To God they say in the name of the deceased: "Lord, I received Baptism, and through it I entered the Faith; I received the Eucharist, and thereby I entered the Church and the communion of the Faithful; and as Thou didst save Noah, Daniel, Jonah, the Three Children from the Fiery Furnace, as Thou didst release Job and Susanna from Satan, save and release me also."
The same pictures provided the living, when they visited the Catacombs, with prayers under the form of sensuous images, which they might offer up to the Redeemer that he would receive the soul of the deceased into the joys of heaven.
Considered then from an iconographic point of view, the paintings in the Catacombs throw light on the ideas aspirations, and sentiments of the first Christians, and preserve for us the sensuous expression of their religious ideas relating to the future life, their faith, and their hopes.
As we have already said, they are artistically of the greatest importance. It is true that the few and rare gems of delicate and graceful ornamentation, at times even lifelike and naturalistic, and with a certain richness and delicacy of gradation in their colouring, very soon became even fewer, while at the same time the aesthetic sense grew feebler and feebler, so that, with a few exceptions, we have in reality only a collection of the most decadent examples of a decadent Classic Art; but the choice of elements of Classic Art for the representation of a certain number of Christian subjects, and their continual repetition and final adaptation, with certain modifications, to the portrayal of other subjects of the same kind --though Christian--set on foot a development of types and forms which finally produced a real evolution out of which a new style, and hence a new art, came into being.
After the publication of the edict of 313 by which Constantine allowed the Christians freely to practise their cult, burial in the Catacombs began to diminish; later it was reserved for the bodies of the faithful who at their death had expressed the wish to lie near their friends or near the bodies of the martyrs. In the year 410 it came entirely to an end. During the invasions of the barbarians the Catacombs remained closed, and, after the ninth century, almost wholly forgotten, and one by one all traces of them were lost. It was not till the sixteenth century that the discovery of one or two led to the search for and retracing of the others, and Antonio Bosio made a study of them and prepared a description, which was published after his death in 1634.
It was only in the nineteenth century that the study was taken up again in a scientific and exhaustive manner by G. B. de Rossi, who published a monumental work on them, the true foundation of Christian archaeology.
Finally, in 1903, Monsignor Wilpert published a new work illustrating all the paintings, reproducing them by means of photography and the three-colour process, a mechanical medium ensuring accuracy.
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