Early Christian art is defined here as the art produced in Europe from the 3rd century to the 7th century. Christian art in this period from about 550 is classified as Byzantine or Byzantine influenced. Although Early Christian art spread across the Mediterranean, our presentation is limited to the art from the territory of the western half of the Roman Empire, particularly Italy and the western Mediterranean. As an exception, some important buildings from Constantinople and a brief description of Coptic art are included in the present and the architecture sections. In this section we present paintings, mosaics, and sculptures; the illuminated manuscripts from this period are treated together with all manuscripts in the Illuminated Manuscripts Section, while Early Christian architecture can be found in the Architecture Section of our collection.
From the first three centuries of the Christian era little of the art has survived, partly because of persecution and consequent destruction, partly because many of the earliest Christians were poor people and slaves. However, the earliest surviving examples of Christian art predate by many years the official recognition of Christianity as a permitted religion in 313.