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Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art (Kimbell Art Museum) Hardcover – December 13, 2007

5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"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
(Cherie Woodworth Church History)

About the Author

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.


Product Details

  • Series: Kimbell Art Museum
  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (December 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300116837
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300116830
  • Product Dimensions: 12.3 x 9.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This gorgeous and hefty volume looks like a coffee table book, but it's a book to savor page by page for both its scholarly texts and spectacular images (263 color and 40 black and white). The book was published in conjunction with an exhibition by the same name that was conceived and organized by Jeffrey Spier for the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. The exhibit drew upon the collaboration of lenders from nine countries and forty-one private and museum collections.

In the first half of the book six scholars write one chapter each on various aspects of the earliest Christian art through the fifth and sixth centuries. Spier explains how the early Jesus movement first expressed itself in visual forms. Art and architecture flourished in classical Greece and Rome, of course, but "the Christians were slow to express their religious beliefs pictorially, and no churches, decorated tombs, nor indeed Christian works of art of any kind datable before the third century are known." This might have been because the earliest Christians were a persecuted and illicit sect comprised largely of people from lower socio-economic classes. They also inherited Judaism's ambivalence toward art rooted in the prohibition against graven images in Exodus 20:4.

Around the year 200, "purely Christian images began to appear." The forty catacombs in and around Rome, along with the discovery of a house church at Dura Europos in Syria dated to 240 AD, show how the earliest Christian art was not merely decorative but intentionally devotional; its purpose was not "objective beauty" but an "expression of faith." In the first decades of the third century, genuine Christian art appears on seal rings, tombs, clay lamps, engraved gems, and in one instance a marble statuette.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is essentially the catalog for the world-class exhibition held from Dec. 2007-March 2008 at Ft. Worth's Kimbell Art Museum. Curated by Jeffrey Spier, the exhibtion titled "Picturing the Bible" brought to this country 100 treasures, many of which had never left their countries before. For those who couldn't see this once-in-a-lifetime collection, the catalog presents pictures with articles of all the exhibits. More than that, however, well-known art historians, classicists and archaeologists provide major articles on the Jewish art of late antiquity, on pre- and post-Constantinian Christian art, as well as on book illustrations of late antiquity. The volume is beautifully done and provides a fine addition to the library of anyone interested in Christianity and Christian art in late antiquity. Personally, I appreciated Dr. Spier's vision for assembling this collection and editing this volume. It is rare to have an opportunity to experience these works in a U.S. museum.
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