Why are there so many depictions of pre-Christian gods built in Medieval and Renaissance Rome?

Why are there so many depictions of pre-Christian gods built in Medieval and Renaissance Rome?

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I wonder why Church officials not only allowed but also endorsed and paid for depictions of pre-Christian gods.

Examples include Pietro Bracci's Oceanus, which was funded by the Pope,

and multiple others like this depiction of Venus and Mars.

These works were created even at those times when for worshiping Jesus Christ somewhat different way you could be easily burned alive.

5 Reasons Why the Medieval Church Was So Powerful

After the fall of the Roman empire in the fifth century, there was something of a power vacuum in Europe: no monarchy rose to fill the space left. Instead, the Catholic Church began to grow in power and influence, eventually becoming the dominant power in Europe (although this was not without struggle). Like the Romans they had their capital in Rome and they had their own emperor – the Pope.

Fundamentally, the power of the Catholic Church stemmed from widespread belief. As the doctrine of Christianity became widespread and the accepted norm, the Church’s status as an intermediary between God and the people, as well as the idea that clergy were the so-called ‘gatekeepers to heaven’, filled people with a combination of respect, awe and fear.

9 Wooden Doors Of Santa Sabina

The church of Santa Sabina in Rome was completed in 432. The building stands mostly in its original state, though it was stripped of its sumptuous mosaics. You might expect mosaics to endure longer than wood, but it is the wooden doors that hold one of the earliest images of the crucified Jesus.

The wooden panels of the original fifth-century doors of the church have survived and can still be seen in the church. Carved from cedar wood, the panels show various scenes from the Bible. One of these shows Jesus as a long-haired and bearded man hanging from a cross. While this is now the standard view of Jesus, the contemporaneous Good Shepherd mosaic in Ravenna shows Jesus as a beardless youth.

The Art History of Pandemics

India: a laboratory in which dead rats are being examined as part of a plague-prevention programme. Watercolour, by E. Schwarz, 1915/1935 (?). Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

I’ve been writing this from April to July 2020, when the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amidst all of the fears and frustrations and disruptions of the everyday, I’ve been finding some comfort in the art and visual culture that came out of previous pandemics and epidemics from history. The Black Death used to feel like a distant historical curiosity now, I can start to understand even a little bit of what the atmosphere might have been like.

Below, I want to take you through the diverse, beautiful, interesting, and, unfortunately, relatable art history of seven of the deadliest pandemics and epidemics throughout history, from the 100s to present day. I hope it brings some perspective or enjoyment during the strange times we’re in.

165–180: Antonine Plague. Killed ca. 5 million.

The angel of death striking a door during the plague of Rome. Engraving by J.G. Levasseur after J. Delaunay. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

I’m going in consecutive order here, so let’s start with the earliest large-scale outbreak I could find: the Antonine plague. This one took place in the ancient Roman Empire and possibly also Eastern Han China. It’s estimated to have killed around five million people, completely devastated the army, and might even have killed a Roman Emperor or two (Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius).

A group of physicians in an image from the Vienna Dioscurides, an early 6th-century Byzantine Greek illuminated manuscript. Galen is in the top centre.

This pandemic is sometimes called the Plague of Galen after the famous physician Galen, who is depicted in the top centre of the illustration above (made several centuries after the pandemic). He recorded descriptions of the disease, mentioning fever, diarrhea, sore throat, and skin eruptions on the ninth day of the illness. Based on his observations, scholars have speculated that the disease could have been smallpox or measles. Other evidence that lends itself to the smallpox theory is apparently depictions of possible smallpox pustules on certain archaeological finds however, I haven’t been able to find any representations of these to show you.

In fact, one thing that I discovered while researching this article is that there are very few remaining depictions of historical pandemics from the actual periods in which they happened. Many of the images we think depict certain pandemics (especially the Black Death, which we will get to in a bit) are actually depictions of recurring diseases such as smallpox or leprosy. This is why many depictions that I could find of these early pandemics are drawings, prints, and paintings that were made many years after the pandemics happened. The print at the top of this section is a good example, depicting the Antonine plague around 1,700 years after the event.

What we can look at from the time, however, is architecture—not just what was built, but what wasn’t built. Architectural evidence seems to show that there was a halt in civic building projects between 166 and 180, one possible artistic consequence of the pandemic.

735–737: Japanese smallpox epidemic. Killed ca 1 million.

A woodblock print depicting Minamoto no Tametomo defeating a smallpox demon. The print is by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, from his series Shinkei Sanjurokuten (New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts) (1889–1892).

The Japanese smallpox epidemic in the 700s was the first of many recorded smallpox epidemics throughout Japan’s history, and probably killed around a third of the entire population.

The main reason I wanted to include this pandemic is because of the Japanese smallpox demon, which is represented in lots of great prints and drawings. Smallpox was initially thought to be caused by an onryō, a vengeful spirit from Japanese folklore. However, over the centuries, the specific spirit that caused smallpox was eventually given the name hōsōshin, which translates to ‘smallpox god’. This deity caused smallpox rather than offered protection from it.

Traditionally, the hōsōshin was chased away by placing effigies at the boundaries of villages. Families also tried to appease it by building shrines, burning incense, and offering flowers in their homes. The colour red was often associated with smallpox apparently, the hōsōshin was afraid of this colour, as well as of dogs.

Tametomo banishes the smallpox demon from the Island of Oshima. Colour woodcut by Yoshikazu, 1851/1853. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The above print from the nineteenth century illustrates the tale of the legendary figure Chinsei Hachiro Tametomo banishing a hōsōshin from the island Oshima. The demon is so small in this print because it apparently shrunk to the size of a pea in response to his threats and floated out to sea. This story must have reflected some sort of comfort or wishful thinking to communities that had been ravaged by smallpox on and off throughout the centuries.

(By the way, this is not the only smallpox deity around—Ṣọ̀pọ̀na, for example, is the god of smallpox in the Yoruba religion.)

1347–1351: Black Death. Killed ca. 75–200 million.

The people of Tournai bury victims of the Black Death. Miniature by Pierart dou Tielt illustrating the chronicles by Gilles Li Muisis (1272-1352).

Arguably the most infamous historical pandemic. This is where I want to point out one of the most surprising things I found while researching this post: there are no depictions of the Black Death—that is, people with the disease itself—painted during the plague, as far as is currently known. According to this academic paper (also explored in this NPR article), most of the images we think depict the Black Death—showing people sick with boils or red marks all over their skin—are actually images of other diseases, such as smallpox or leprosy. It’s true that one symptom of bubonic plague seems to have been buboes in the groin, beck, or armpit, but these wouldn’t have completely covered the body.

Theories of why there are no depictions of the disease itself from the time of the plague include that artists were worried about getting symptoms themselves (sick people were, after all, quarantined), or that people simply didn’t have a good idea of what the disease actually was. It wasn’t until centuries after it ended, when smaller outbreaks popped up over the years, that people started connecting the dots.

What we can see from this time, however, are depictions of the consequences of the Black Death. The image at the top of this section, from 1349, is one of the earliest known images from the plague, showing people in the city of Tournai burying coffins of those who died.

Michael Wolgemut, Dance of Death, leaf from The Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493.

One of the most striking artistic motifs that arose because of the Black Death was the ‘Dance of Death’, or ‘Danse Macabre’. This motif consisted of dancing skeletons, and was an allegory on the universality of death.

Bernt Notke: Surmatants, 1475-1499. Art Museum of Estonia.

As with some of the other pandemics, there are also plenty of artworks depicting the Black Death after it happened. One of my favourite examples draws on the ‘Dance of Death’ motif to evoke the pandemic: The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel from ca. 1562, showing an army of skeleton killing and setting fire to a village:

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death, c. 1562. Oil on panel. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

There are also plenty of depictions of the bubonic plague from later outbreaks. One piece of imagery I wanted to mention is that of the plague doctor figure with a beak-like mask, seen below in a drawing from the 1665 London plague, a famous later outbreak of the bubonic plague that decimated the city. These plague doctor figures are extremely iconic, appearing in popular culture like films and video games.

Plague doctor. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

1492–onwards: Americas and Oceania smallpox and other epidemics due to colonisation. Killed at least 56 million.

Illustration of indigenous victims of smallpox by an unknown indigenous Mesoamerican artist. The image is found in Book twelve of the Florentine Codex, a 16th-century ethnographic research study in Mesoamerica by the Spanish Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, currently held in Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, Florence.

This “pandemic” technically consists of many devastating outbreaks over the course of centuries, all related to one thing: European colonial expansion. Many different diseases were brought by the Europeans to the countries they colonised. I’ll mostly be addressing smallpox here, as it seems to have been one of the most destructive.

The spread of smallpox to indigenous communities has been responsible for the deaths of at least 56 million people. I say “at least” 56 million, because this figure is taken from research on the amount of native Americans who died from smallpox in the Americas. However, it doesn’t include the millions of indigenous people who died of imported epidemics in Australia and other colonised regions.

The Aztec drawings at the top of this section come from the 1500s and depict victims of smallpox amongst the indigenous Mexican population. They were drawn by unknown indigenous artists for the Florentine Codex, a 16th-century ethnographic research study by the Spanish Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún Columbus.

Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492, and his expeditions paved the way for Spanish colonisation, with groups of Spanish conquistadors successfully conquering the Mexican Aztec and Peruvian Incan empires. The smallpox virus played an important role in them doing so. Having been exposed to the virus in Europe, the Spanish invaders were largely immune, but the indigenous populations in the Americas were completely vulnerable to the virus. The smallpox epidemic that ravaged the Aztec empire apparently began on the same night that the indigenous population drove the conquistadors out of what is now Mexico City. The many who died from the disease included the Emperor of Mexico. The subsequent decimation of their population due to the epidemic made both conquest and colonisation by the Spanish much easier.

In North America, a notable outbreak from 1616 to 1619 in New England is sometimes referred to as “The Great Dying”. In the Native American communities that it hit, it’s estimated that anywhere between 50 to 90% of the populations died. It’s unclear exactly what the disease was, but it could have been smallpox, bubonic plague, or another imported disease. One research article suggests leptospirosis, caused by rodents from European ships infecting indigenous reservoirs.

Benjamin West, The Indians Giving a Talk to Colonel Bouquet in a conference at a Council Fire Near his Camp on the Banks of Muskingum in America, in October 1764, 1765, 1765-1766. Grey wash and ink on paper. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

One infamous event was the deliberate spread of smallpox by Europeans in Native American communities through gifting blankets that were infected with the virus. The evidence for this is letters sent during Pontiac’s War in 1763, during which a loose confederation of Native American tribes rose up against the British settlers in their regions. The letters in question were between Jeffery Amherst and Colonel Henry Bouquet in July 1763. In a post-script of one of his letters Bouquet wrote: “P.S. I will try to inocculate [sic] the Indians by means of Blankets that may fall in their hands, taking care however not to get the disease myself.” Amherst responded with approval. Historians disagree on exactly what the results were of this exchange, and whether the orders from Amherst were carried out, but other evidence suggests that, a month before this exchange, “two Blankets and an Handkerchief” were actually taken out of a smallpox hospital at Fort Pitt and delivered to the Native Americans. The full extent of the plans are still unclear, but it seems that some form of biological warfare using smallpox was indeed committed.

The above 1765 engraving by Benjamin West depicted Pontiac’s negotiations with Colonel Bouquet that eventually ended the conflict. It is titled “The Indians Giving a Talk to Colonel Bouquet in a conference at a Council Fire Near his Camp on the Banks of Muskingum in America, in October 1764, 1765”. I’ve seen versions of this print around the Internet with descriptions that may imply he was confronting Bouquet about the smallpox blankets. While this doesn’t seem to be the subject matter, I can understand why it might be interpreted that way, with the obvious outrage on Pontaic’s face and the shocked demeanour of Bouquet.

Captains Hunter, Collins & Johnston with Governor Phillip, Surgeon White &c. visiting a distressed female native of New South Wales at a hut near Port Jackson. Published by Alexr. Hogg, 1793. National Library of Australia.

The final epidemic I want to touch on in this section is the smallpox epidemic in Australia that apparently killed up to 70% or even 90% of the nearby indigenous populations.

In April 1789, fifteen months after the First Fleet arrived to establish the first colony in Australia, a major smallpox epidemic broke out in Sydney. While most of the British settlers had a level of immunity to the disease, the indigenous population did not. Apparently, the epidemic was first detected by the Europeans when members of Aboriginal communities were found, according to Newton Fowell, “laying Dead on the Beaches and in the Caverns of Rocks”.

A likely cause of the outbreak was the “variolas matter” brought with Surgeon John White on the First Fleet. This was pus from smallpox victims that he intended to use to create immunity amongst children in the colony. It’s unclear how this “variolas matter” would have spread to the native communities. Some writers have argued that it was a deliberate act of biological warfare.

I have, as you might expect, not found any depictions of this epidemic in art or visual culture. (Apparently, however, Aboriginal Australian traditional songs retold the story of the outbreak afterwards.) The image above shows British soldiers visiting a “distressed” indigenous Australian woman in 1793. While the title indicates that she is in distress, it’s unclear why this is maybe why some online sources attribute this image to the smallpox outbreak (although I couldn’t find further evidence for this).

However, you might find the below illustrations interesting. These were made in the 1880s, reflecting an outbreak in Melbourne during those years. The imagery in them—from quarantine to border controls—is familiar territory for us during COVID-19:

THE SMALL POX [i.e. SMALLPOX] IN MELBOURNE [VIC.], Melbourne : David Syme and Co.
September 3, 1884. State Library Victoria.

THE SMALL-POX SCARE – BORDER PRECAUTIONS – “ANYONE GOT SMALL-POX?”, Melbourne : David Syme and Co., July 27, 1881. State Library Victoria.

1855–1960: The Third Plague pandemic. Killed more than 12 million.

Hospital staff disinfecting patients during the outbreak of bubonic plague in Karachi, India. Photograph, 1897. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Did you think that the bubonic plague disappeared after the Black Death in medieval Europe? Nope! The last major outbreak happened just over a hundred years ago and didn’t disappear until the 1960s(!). This outbreak is known as the “Third Plague” and started in Yunnan, China, in 1855. It was relatively contained in China until it hit Hong Kong in 1894 (in an outbreak known as the “Hong Kong plague”) and spread to all inhabited continents, as Hong Kong was an international trading port.

Hong Kong plague medal, England, 1894. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

In Hong Kong, the pandemic brutally hit Tai Ping Shan, one of the earliest Chinese settlements in Hong Kong established by the British in the 1840s. The houses were tiny and window-less, with multiple generations of a family crammed inside. There was no proper sewage or drainage. It was the perfect environment for an illness to spread. In total, around 2,500 people died from May to September 1894. To try and contain the outbreak, the authorities imposed strict measures including rapid disposal of the dead, isolation of the sick, and disinfection of affected households. Soon after, Tai Ping Shan’s houses were demolished and its residents forcibly evicted in a move that heightened political and racial tensions.

The above medal was given by the Hong Kong authorities to nurses, civil servants, police, and British army and naval personnel who helped during the epidemic. It shows a Chinese man being tended to by a nurse, while a man holds off the angel of death. It highlights the heroic side of how the authorities handled the epidemic, rather than any of the problems I described.

Bombay plague epidemic, 1896-1897: interior of a plague hospital. Photograph attributed to Clifton & Co. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

From Hong Kong, the outbreak continued to India in 1896, killing over twelve million people over the next thirty years. It initially affected port cities such as Bombay (in the 1896 Bombay plague), Pune, Calcutta, and Karachi, but spread inland, mainly to northern and western India. The photos I’ve included here show attempts at controlling the plague in Bombay and Karachi in 1896-97, through plague hospitals and segregation camps.

The colonial British government’s attempts at controlling the plague led to protests and riots, as they were considered culturally invasive and offensive. Initially, British search parties burned down and destroyed infected buildings after forcefully evicting the tenants. However, this became impractical, and instead they started destroying the bedding, clothes, and furnishings of the infected, and forcefully sanitising their buildings. When they found the body of a victim, they immediately removed it for incineration. The British government changed course around 1899 in response to widespread protests and resistance, for example by involving more indigenous medicinal methods in their practices.

Staff of the Runchore segregation camp, set up by the Karachi Plague Committee, India. Photograph, 1897. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

1918–1920: Spanish Flu. Killed ca 17–50 million.

Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu, 1919. Oil on canvas. Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections

The Spanish flu is one of the only pandemics that we have explicit artistic representations of, and that’s because it affected and even killed some of the world’s most famous artists, such as Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt, and Egon Schiele.

The Spanish flu was a deadly influenza virus that lasted around fifteen months and infected around a third of the world’s population. It was named the Spanish flu because, to maintain morale during World War I, early reports of the illness were censored by countries like the UK, the US, Germany, and France. In neutral Spain, however, newspapers were free to report on it.

John George Adami, Drawing of the 1918 Influenza. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

As I mentioned, several well known artists were infected with the virus. Egon Schiele was one of them. He was an Austrian painter, famous for his raw, expressive paintings, particularly his intense and often sexual self portraits.

Egon Schiele, Die Familie, 1918. Oil on canvas.

In 1918, Schiele painted the above self portrait of him and his family, featuring his wife, Edith Schiele, and their unborn child. It was never completed. Just a few months later, his wife died of the Spanish flu, never having had the chance to give birth. Egon Schiele drew this striking portrait of her on 28 October 1918, the day before she died:

Egon Schiele, Portrait of the dying Edith Schiele, 1918

I find this portrait incredibly emotional. Not only is it a portrait that someone drew of their wife the day before she passed, but Egon Schiele himself died only a couple of days later, on 31 October.

It wasn’t the only portrait that Schiele drew of his loved ones dying of the Spanish flu. A few months earlier he had created the below portrait mourning his mentor, Gustav Klimt, who died in February that year, possibly of the Spanish flu. Klimt was another well known Austrian artist from the Vienna Secession movement. Schiele visited the morgue of Vienna General Hospital the day after Klimt died there to create the portrait.

Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt on his deathbed, 1918.

Edvard Munch, who you might know as the artist who painted The Scream, was also stricken with the Spanish flu. He, however, survived. He painted two self portraits of himself: one during his bout with the disease (seen at the top of this section), and one after he had survived it, below.

Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait after the Spanish Flu, 1919. Oil on canvas. Munch-museet.

1981–present: HIV/AIDS global epidemic. Has killed over 32 million people so far.

Keith Haring, Ignorance = Fear / Silence = Death, 1989. Courtesy Keith Haring Foundation

The last outbreak I want to look at is one that is still ongoing: HIV/AIDS. Some consider this a pandemic, while the WHO uses the term “global epidemic” to describe it. The HIV virus probably originated in the 1920s, and AIDS—the disease caused by the HIV virus—was officially recognised in 1981.

What many people might think of as the “HIV/AIDS epidemic” is likely the AIDS crisis in the 1980s United States. At the time, there was no cure for the disease, and thousands of people died. Because it largely affected marginalised LGBTQ+ communities, the disease was heavily stigmatised and famously initially ignored by the government. In response, activists responded by raising awareness, creating care and education centres—and making art.

A pink triangle against a black backdrop with the words ‘Silence=Death’ representing an advertisement for the Silence=Death Project used by permission by ACT-UP, The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power. Colour lithograph, 1987. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

In 1987, six gay activists in New York formed the Silence = Death Project and designed the above poster for it, using the pink triangle as the logo. The pink triangle was already well established as a pro-gay liberation symbol in the United States at that time. The six men who created the project later joined the protest group ACT UP and offered the logo to the group, with which it remains closely identified.

The “SILENCE = DEATH” slogan, “ACT UP” name, and pink triangle are all used in Keith Haring’s work Ignorance = Fear / Silence = Death (1989) at the top of this section. Keith Haring was a well known American artist who used his art to advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness. The incredibly strong image depicts three figures covering their ears, eyes, and mouth, referring to the silence of a government that was looking the other way.

Haring passed away in 1990 of AIDS-related complications. He wasn’t the only well known artist who passed away from the disease during this time: others include Robert Mapplethorpe, Felix-Gonzales Torres, David Robilliard, Peter Hujar, and Derek Jarman. Multiple beautiful and heartbreaking artworks were created about the crisis. One of my favourites is Untitled (Falling Buffalos) by David Wojnarowicz. The imagery of buffalos falling off a cliff is a metaphor for a generation of AIDS victims falling to their inevitable deaths.

However, while the 1980s AIDS crisis has received the most attention in the West when it comes to awareness of this disease, it’s important to remember that this has always affected the entire world and continues to do so today, with Sub-Saharan Africa currently being the most affected region. Below are a selection of posters from the past few decades created to raise awareness about AIDS in a variety of languages and countries:

AIDS Control Programme, Ministry of Health, Uganda. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Panels from the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt. Colour lithograph. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Advert for Nirodh condoms to prevent AIDS. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Japanese Stop AIDS Fund. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Ernest Board, Dr Jenner performing his first vaccination, on James Phipps, a boy of 8. May 14 1796. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

I want to finish with this painting from around 1796. It depicts Dr Edward Jenner performing his first vaccination against smallpox on the young boy James Phipps. Smallpox was the first virus epidemic ended by vaccine. Today, it’s been certified as globally eradicated by the WHO. Looking at all of the countless deaths caused by just this one disease, this image sort of stands out as a glimmer of hope.

Viewing the art in this article from the perspective of a contemporary pandemic, there are themes that many of us can currently relate to: depictions of quarantines and social isolation, hospitalisations, deaths, and loved ones affected by disease. Another unmistakeable trend that comes through is how much worse marginalised communities were affected by these diseases something that holds true for COVID-19 today.

Especially striking, I think, is the lack of imagery of most of these outbreaks the idea either that these outbreaks were too dangerous and widespread to properly (or safely) record, or perhaps that they seemed so big and incomprehensible that they were hard to depict or sum up through art. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of images live on from COVID-19, and how it will be remembered in years and decades to come.

I hope that looking back at how people over thousands of years have experienced pandemics makes processing our current situation a little easier and maybe even helps you connect to those histories—it certainly did for me. As always, feel free to let me know any suggestions of other images that depict historical pandemics and I might add them to the post!


Michelangelo was a 16th century Florentine artist renowned for his masterpieces in sculpture, painting, and architectural design.

Learning Objectives

Discuss Michelangelo’s achievements in sculpture, painting, and architecture

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Michelangelo created his colossal marble statue, the David, out of a single block of marble, which established his prominence as a sculptor of extraordinary technical skill and strength of symbolic imagination.
  • In painting, Michelangelo is renowned for the ceiling and The Last Judgement of the Sistine Chapel, where he depicted a complex scheme representing Creation, the Downfall of Man, the Salvation of Man, and the Genealogy of Christ.
  • Michelangelo’s chief contribution to Saint Peter’s Basilica was the use of a Greek Cross form and an external masonry of massive proportions, with every corner filled in by a stairwell or small vestry. The effect is a continuous wall-surface that appears fractured or folded at different angles.

Key Terms

  • contrapposto: The standing position of a human figure where most of the weight is placed on one foot, and the other leg is relaxed. The effect of contrapposto in art makes figures look very naturalistic.
  • Sistine Chapel: The best-known chapel in the Apostolic Palace.

Michelangelo was a 16th century Florentine artist renowned for his masterpieces in sculpture, painting, and architectural design. His most well known works are the David, the Last Judgment, and the Basilica of Saint Peter’s in the Vatican.

Sculpture: David

In 1504, Michelangelo was commissioned to create a colossal marble statue portraying David as a symbol of Florentine freedom. The subsequent masterpiece, David, established the artist’s prominence as a sculptor of extraordinary technical skill and strength of symbolic imagination. David was created out of a single marble block, and stands larger than life, as it was originally intended to adorn the Florence Cathedral. The work differs from previous representations in that the Biblical hero is not depicted with the head of the slain Goliath, as he is in Donatello’s and Verrocchio’s statues both had represented the hero standing victorious over the head of Goliath. No earlier Florentine artist had omitted the giant altogether. Instead of appearing victorious over a foe, David’s face looks tense and ready for combat. The tendons in his neck stand out tautly, his brow is furrowed, and his eyes seem to focus intently on something in the distance. Veins bulge out of his lowered right hand, but his body is in a relaxed contrapposto pose, and he carries his sling casually thrown over his left shoulder. In the Renaissance, contrapposto poses were thought of as a distinctive feature of antique sculpture.

The David by Michelangelo, 1504: Michelangelo’s David stands in contrapposto pose.

The sculpture was intended to be placed on the exterior of the Duomo, and has become one of the most recognized works of Renaissance sculpture.

Painting: The Last Judgement

In painting, Michelangelo is renowned for his work in the Sistine Chapel. He was originally commissioned to paint tromp-l’oeil coffers after the original ceiling developed a crack. Michelangelo lobbied for a different and more complex scheme, representing Creation, the Downfall of Man, the Promise of Salvation through the prophets, and the Genealogy of Christ. The work is part of a larger scheme of decoration within the chapel that represents much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

The composition eventually contained over 300 figures, and had at its center nine episodes from the Book of Genesis, divided into three groups: God’s Creation of the Earth, God’s Creation of Humankind, and their fall from God’s grace, and lastly, the state of Humanity as represented by Noah and his family. Twelve men and women who prophesied the coming of the Jesus are painted on the pendentives supporting the ceiling. Among the most famous paintings on the ceiling are The Creation of Adam, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Great Flood, the Prophet Isaiah and the Cumaean Sibyl. The ancestors of Christ are painted around the windows.

The fresco of The Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Clement VII, and Michelangelo labored on the project from 1536–1541. The work is located on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, which is not a traditional placement for the subject. Typically, last judgement scenes were placed on the exit wall of churches as a way to remind the viewer of eternal punishments as they left worship. The Last Judgment is a depiction of the second coming of Christ and the apocalypse where the souls of humanity rise and are assigned to their various fates, as judged by Christ, surrounded by the Saints. In contrast to the earlier figures Michelangelo painted on the ceiling, the figures in The Last Judgement are heavily muscled and are in much more artificial poses, demonstrating how this work is in the Mannerist style.

In this work Michelangelo has rejected the orderly depiction of the last judgement as established by Medieval tradition in favor of a swirling scene of chaos as each soul is judged. When the painting was revealed it was heavily criticized for its inclusion of classical imagery as well as for the amount of nude figures in somewhat suggestive poses. The ill reception that the work received may be tied to the Counter Reformation and the Council of Trent, which lead to a preference for more conservative religious art devoid of classical references. Although a number of figures were made more modest with the addition of drapery, the changes were not made until after the death of Michelangelo, demonstrating the respect and admiration that was afforded to him during his lifetime.

The Last Judgement: The fresco of The Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Clement VII. Michelangelo worked on the project from 1534–1541.

Architecture: St. Peter’s Basilica

Finally, although other architects were involved, Michelangelo is given credit for designing St. Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo’s chief contribution was the use of a symmetrical plan of a Greek Cross form and an external masonry of massive proportions, with every corner filled in by a stairwell or small vestry. The effect is of a continuous wall surface that is folded or fractured at different angles, lacking the right angles that usually define change of direction at the corners of a building. This exterior is surrounded by a giant order of Corinthian pilasters all set at slightly different angles to each other, in keeping with the ever-changing angles of the wall’s surface. Above them the huge cornice ripples in a continuous band, giving the appearance of keeping the whole building in a state of compression.

St. Peter’s Basillica: Michelangelo designed the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica on or before 1564, although it was unfinished when he died.

Renaissance Art and Architecture

Michelangelo’s �vid.” Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Sandro Boticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.” During the Italian Renaissance, art was everywhere (just look up at Michelangelo’s “The Creation” painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel!). Patrons such as Florence’s Medici family sponsored projects large and small, and successful artists became celebrities in their own right.

Renaissance artists and architects applied many humanist principles to their work. For example, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi applied the elements of classical Roman architecture–shapes, columns and especially proportion–to his own buildings. The magnificent eight-sided dome he built at the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence was an engineering triumph–it was 144 feet across, weighed 37,000 tons and had no buttresses to hold it up𠄺s well as an aesthetic one.

Brunelleschi also devised a way to draw and paint using linear perspective. That is, he figured out how to paint from the perspective of the person looking at the painting, so that space would appear to recede into the frame. After the architect Leon Battista Alberti explained the principles behind linear perspective in his treatise �lla Pittura” (“On Painting”), it became one of the most noteworthy elements of almost all Renaissance painting. Later, many painters began to use a technique called chiaroscuro to create an illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat canvas.

Fra Angelico, the painter of frescoes in the church and friary of San Marco in Florence, was called 𠇊 rare and perfect talent” by the Italian painter and architect Vasari in his “Lives of The Artists.” Renaissance painters like Raphael, Titian and Giotto and Renaissance sculptors like Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti created art that would inspire generations of future artists.

Fashion Forward

The figures of the gods and goddesses were as inspiring as they were impactful – then and now. The voluptuous image of Venus that women wished to aspire to developed into trends “the corset became a popular undergarment among women in the Western world from the late Renaissance into the 20th century.”

Marie Antoinette in a court dress of 1779. Her corset slims the waist to extremes, pushes her breasts up and out, and the panniers of her skirt extend dramatically, replicating wide hips and a big bottom. ( Public Domain )

These attempts to shape the body were an exaggerated, and now we know unhealthy, artificial way to mimic the ‘natural’ body of a Venus ideal. While corsets were used to achieve that extreme curve, publications in the 1890s (some bluntly entitled “Fashion in Deformity” and “Death From Tight Lacing”!) listed the dangers of binding the waist, including constricting the internal organs and restricting the lungs, resulting in poor digestion and an inability to breathe.

The Middle Ages

Christian myth and legend were adapted to new traditions as the faith expanded beyond its original cultural milieu of the Mediterranean into northern Europe. New saints and martyrs emerged during the process of expansion, and their miracles and other pious deeds were recorded in hagiographic works. As before, the saints and their relics were known for their miraculous cures, but they also performed miracles associated with new social conditions, such as releasing petitioners from prison. Moreover, a new hagiographic genre appeared that described the practice of furta sacra (“holy theft”). These accounts, most famously that of St. Nicholas, detail the practice of stealing saints’ relics—removing relics from one shrine and placing them in a new one. The narratives describe the miracles that occurred in the process, including the saint’s unwillingness to move and the inability of the holy thief to move the relics.

Medieval scholars and theologians compiled not only new lives of the saints but new lives of the ultimate enemy of the saints, the Antichrist. Drawing from the Scriptures and ancient traditions, the legend of the Antichrist took shape in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. In the 10th century Adso of Montier-en-Der collected these traditions in his popular and influential Epistola ad Gerbergam reginam de ortu et tempore Antichristi (“Letter to Queen Gerberga on the Place and Time of Antichrist”), a mirror image in the negative of the lives of Jesus and the saints. Adso’s treatise became the standard account of the life of the Antichrist.

A related legend was that of the “Last Emperor.” The myth began to form as early as the 4th century, and in the 7th century the legend was shaped further in the Syriac work of the Pseudo-Methodius, who wrote in response to the expansion of Islam into Christian territories. Translated into Greek and Latin, Pseudo-Methodius provided the basis for further reworking of the legend in the 10th and 11th centuries by writers in the Latin West. The legend itself describes the deeds of the last emperor of the world, who will arise in great anger to fight against the enemies of the faith. He will establish peace before fighting and defeating the armies of Gog and Magog. He will then go to Jerusalem, where he will offer up his crown to Christ, who will bear it and the emperor’s spirit up to heaven. After the ascent of the emperor’s spirit to heaven, the Antichrist will appear in Jerusalem, and the final battle between good and evil will be fought.

Bogomil and Cathar heretics developed a number of myths that circulated in both eastern and western Europe. The stories usually stressed the role of Satan as cocreator of the world, as the creator of the human race, or as a being whose fall is responsible for the evil that exists in the world. They also taught that Jesus entered the Virgin Mary’s body through her ear and only appeared to be born of her.

A number of Christian myths, legends, and works of art were aimed at awakening religious capacities, turning the viewer or listener against repulsive forms of evil, and hastening the effects of the salvation achieved in Christ. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the bestiaries, fables, and cosmic dramas sculpted into Romanesque cathedrals. Christ, the glorious king, and his saintly cohorts confront armies of monsters and demons. Together the two sides show forth the full spectrum of the imaginary world of Christian legend and myth of the day.

Christian legends and myths were also woven into various literary creations: the late medieval chansons de geste yielded to the epic tales, lyric poetry, and songs that conducted audiences into an enchanted symbolic world that paralleled their mundane one. Such are the enigmatic poems of the courtly love tradition of the 12th century and the literature patronized by Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter, Marie, countess of Champagne. Similarly, the troubadours of 12th-century Provence creatively refashioned, in Christian terms, the inspirations they received from the Arabic poetry of Spain and the influences of Celtic and Oriental themes in circulation at the time.

These tendencies toward the fantastic in Christian expression reached their literary peak in the works of Dante (1265–1321), whose Divine Comedy depicts the terrifying and attractive visions of Paradise, Purgatory, and Hell in such a way as to quicken the ultimate powers of the imagination and thereby draw the reader toward the effective images of the mystery of their own salvation.

In the place of Charlemagne, a favourite hero of the old chansons de geste, the legendary cycles of the 12th century spawned a new generation of romantic heroes—King Arthur and the knights of his Round Table. Marie, countess of Champagne, sponsored Chrétien de Troyes, the poet who composed five long romances that became the mythic foundation for chivalry. These cycles interweave Christian, Muslim, and Celtic elements into a singular cosmic vision. Suffering ordeals during their adventures, the knights of the Arthurian cycle (Arthur, the Fisher King, Perceval, and Lancelot) journey through the Wasteland on their heroic quests for the Holy Grail and for the cure that will revitalize king and cosmos. Wolfram von Eschenbach offers the most coherent mythology of the Grail in his Parzival, a refinement of Christian legends that draws on the worlds visited by the crusaders and by Italian merchants—Syria, Persia, India, and China. At the conclusion of many of these cycles, the Holy Grail, often in the image of the chalice of salvation in Christ, is transported to a fabulous mythical location in the Orient.

The 12th century also witnessed the rise of a new mythology of Christian history. Joachim of Fiore (1130/35–1201/02) was an abbot of the Calabrian monastery of Fiore and was well-known in the Christian world of his day. On the vigil of Easter and on Pentecost Sunday, God infused him with special knowledge, which enabled him to decode history as a series of divine signs. According to Joachim, universal history has three stages, each age (status) corresponding to a person of the Holy Trinity. The first age, presided over by God the Father, was ruled by married men and propelled by their labour. Jesus Christ presided over the age of the New Testament, an epoch ruled by the clergy and driven forward by the power of science and discipline. The two testamental periods featured the two kinds of people chosen in each, the Jews and the Gentiles. Joachim fascinated the faithful of his day with a prediction that the second age, the age of the New Testament presided over by Jesus Christ, would end in 1260. Then would dawn a new epoch, the third age, presided over by the Holy Spirit, guided by monks and fueled by their contemplation. It was to be an epoch of total love, joy, and freedom. But three and one-half years of cataclysm ruled by the Antichrist would precede entrance to this bliss.

Joachim promised that God’s mysterious saving power would burst fully into history in the immediate future and would change forever the fundamental structures of the cosmos as well as the social and ecclesiastical world. Joachim’s new vision of history generated critiques of the 13th-century church and society and was adopted by the Spiritual Franciscans and the violent heretic Fra Dolcino. His doctrine of the Trinity was condemned at the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. In 1255 Pope Alexander IV suppressed a collection of his written works, and in 1263 the regional Council of Arles condemned many of Joachim’s most stirring ideas. His notions of an impending third epoch, in which history would come to complete fulfillment, lived on.

Space and time

New theories about Hereford&rsquos map continue to develop and divide scholars and historians. Kupfer argues that there are two perspectives of the world rendered within the map: one showing a humanistic and mortal vision, and another showing a divine perspective.

For centuries, scholars thought the map&rsquos calligrapher had incorrectly labelled the continents of Asia and Europe, but Kupfer believes this was an intentional &lsquoartistic invention&rsquo and one of many examples of mirrored imagery within the map. According to Kupfer, our human vision of the world is portrayed correctly, while God&rsquos vision is reflected in a mirrored and reversed position.

Another theory, according to Firman, is that the cities, people and animals found within the map&rsquos circle reflect earthly matters that are bound to the constraints of time while certain Biblical scenes placed outside of the Earth&rsquos circle &ndash such as Christ&rsquos Last Judgment &ndash are timeless.

For histories and images of some of the first Christians: Click Here >>>

Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus (155 A.D. to circa after 229), was a Roman consul and a noted historian writing in Greek.

Cassius Dio
Roman History

14 - 3: After the death of Mithridates all portions of his dominion except a few were subjugated. A few garrisons which at that time were still holding forts outside of Bosporus, did not immediately come to terms, not so much because they were minded to resist Pompey as because they were afraid that others might seize the money which they were guarding and lay the blame upon them hence they waited, wishing to show everything to Pompey himself. When, then, the regions in that quarter had been subdued, and Phraates remained quiet, while Syria and Phoenicia had become tranquil, Pompey turned against Aretas. The latter was king of the Arabians, now subjects of the Romans, as far as the Red Sea. Previously he had done the greatest injury to Syria and had on this account become involved in a battle with the Romans who were defending it he was defeated by them, but nevertheless continued the war at that time. Pompey accordingly marched against him and his neighbours, and, overcoming them without effort, left them in charge of a garrison.

Thence he proceeded against Syria Palaestina, because its inhabitants had ravaged Phoenicia. Their rulers were two brothers, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, who were quarrelling themselves, as it chanced, and were creating factions in the cities on account of the priesthood (for so they called their kingdom) of their god, whoever he is. Pompey immediately won over Hyrcanus without a battle, since the latter had no force worthy of note and by shutting up Aristobulus in a certain place he compelled him to come to terms, and when he would surrender neither the money nor the garrison, he threw him into chains. After this he more easily overcame the rest, but had trouble in besieging Jerusalem. 16 Most of the city, to be sure, he took without any trouble, as he was received by the party of Hyrcanus but the temple itself, which the other party had occupied, he captured only with difficulty. For it was on high ground and was fortified by a wall of its own, and if they had continued defending it on all days alike, he could not have got possession of it. As it was, they made an excavation of what are called the days of Saturn, and by doing no work at all on those days afforded the Romans an opportunity in this interval to batter down the wall. The latter, on learning of this superstitious awe of theirs, made no serious attempts the rest of the time, but on those days, when they came round in succession, assaulted most vigorously. Thus the defenders were captured on the day of Saturn, without making any defence, and all the wealth was plundered. The kingdom was given to Hyrcanus, and Aristobulus was carried away.

This was the course of events at that time in Palestine for this is the name that has been given from of old to the whole country extending from Phoenicia to Egypt along the inner sea. They have also another name that they have acquired: the country has been named Judaea, and the people themselves Jews. I do not know how this title came to be given to them, but it applies also to all the rest of mankind, although of alien race, who affect their customs. This class exists even among the Romans, and though often repressed has increased to a very great extent and has won its way to the right of freedom in its observances. They are distinguished from the rest of mankind in practically every detail of life, and especially by the fact that they do not honour any of the usual gods, but show extreme reverence for one particular divinity. They never had any statue of him even in Jerusalem itself, but believing him to be unnamable and invisible, they worship him in the most extravagant fashion on earth. They built to him a temple that was extremely large and beautiful, except in so far as it was open and roofless, and likewise dedicated to him the day called the day of Saturn, on which, among many other most peculiar observances, they undertake no serious occupation.

Now as for him, who he is and why he has been so honoured, and how they got their superstitious awe of him, accounts have been given by many, and moreover these matters have naught to do with this history. The custom, however, of referring the days to the seven stars called planets was instituted by the Egyptians, but is now found among all mankind, though its adoption has been comparatively recent at any rate the ancient Greeks never understood it, so far as I am aware. But since it is now quite the fashion with mankind generally and even with the Romans themselves, I wish to write briefly of it, telling how and in what way it has been so arranged. I have heard two explanations, which are not difficult of comprehension, it is true, though they involve certain theories. For if you apply the so-called "principle of the tetrachord" (which is believed to constitute the basis of music) to these stars, by which the whole universe of heaven is divided into regular intervals, in the order in which each of them revolves, and beginning at the outer orbit assigned to Saturn, then omitting the next two name the lord of the fourth, and after this passing over two others reach the seventh, and you then go back and repeat the process with the orbits and their presiding divinities in this same manner, assigning them to the several days, you will find all the days to be in a kind of musical connection with the arrangement of the heavens. This is one of the explanations given the other is as follows. If you begin at the first hour to count the hours of the day and of the night, assigning the first to Saturn, the next to Jupiter, the third to Mars, the fourth to the Sun, the fifth to Venus, the sixth to Mercury, and the seventh to the Moon, according to the order of the cycles which the Egyptians observe, and if you repeat the process, you will find that the first hour of the following day comes to the Sun. And if you carry on the operation throughout the next twenty-four hours in the same manner as with the others, you will dedicate the first hour of the third day to the Moon, and if you proceed similarly through the rest, each day will receive its appropriate god. This, then, is the tradition.

The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (56-118 A.D.) had these thoughts on the origins and customs of the Hebrews, as the Romans prepared to destroy Jerusalem.

This is in the context of Titus Caesar, who had been selected by his father to complete the subjugation of Judaea.

1. EARLY in this year Titus Caesar, who had been selected by his father to complete the subjugation of Judaea, and who had gained distinction as a soldier while both were still subjects, began to rise in power and reputation, as armies and provinces emulated each other in their attachment to him. The young man himself, anxious to be thought superior to his station, was ever displaying his gracefulness and his energy in war. By his courtesy and affability he called forth a willing obedience, and he often mixed with the common soldiers, while working or marching, without impairing his dignity as general. He found in Judaea three legions, the 5th, the 10th, and the 15th, all old troops of Vespasian's. To these he added the 12th from Syria, and some men belonging to the 18th and 3rd, whom he had withdrawn from Alexandria. This force was accompanied by twenty cohorts of allied troops and eight squadrons of cavalry, by the two kings Agrippa and Sohemus, by the auxiliary forces of king Antiochus, by a strong contingent of Arabs, who hated the Jews with the usual hatred of neighbours, and, lastly, by many persons brought from the capital and from Italy by private hopes of securing the yet unengaged affections of the Prince. With this force Titus entered the enemy's territory, preserving strict order on his march, reconnoitring every spot, and always ready to give battle. At last he encamped near Jerusalem.

2. As I am about to relate the last days of a famous city, it seems appropriate to throw some light on its origin. Some say that the Jews were fugitives from the island of Crete, who settled on the nearest coast of Africa about the time when Saturn was driven from his throne by the power of Jupiter. Evidence of this is sought in the name. There is a famous mountain in Crete called Ida the neighbouring tribe, the Idaei, came to be called Judaei by a barbarous lengthening of the national name. Others assert that in the reign of Isis the overflowing population of Egypt, led by Hierosolymus and Judas, discharged itself into the neighbouring countries. Many, again, say that they were a race of Ethiopian origin, who in the time of king Cepheus were driven by fear and hatred of their neighbours to seek a new dwelling-place. Others describe them as an Assyrian horde who, not having sufficient territory, took possession of part of Egypt, and founded cities of their own in what is called the Hebrew country, lying on the borders of Syria. Others, again, assign a very distinguished origin to the Jews, alleging that they were the Solymi, a nation celebrated in the poems of Homer, who called the city which they founded Hierosolyma after their own name.

3. Most writers, however, agree in stating that once a disease, which horribly disfigured the body, broke out over Egypt that king Bocchoris, seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land this race detested by the gods. The people, who had been collected after diligent search, finding themselves left in a desert, sat for the most part in a stupor of grief, till one of the exiles, Moyses by name, warned them not to look for any relief from God or man, forsaken as they were of both, but to trust to themselves, taking for their heaven-sent leader that man who should first help them to be quit of their present misery. They agreed, and in utter ignorance began to advance at random. Nothing, however, distressed them so much as the scarcity of water, and they had sunk ready to perish in all directions over the plain, when a herd of wild asses was seen to retire from their pasture to a rock shaded by trees. Moyses followed them, and, guided by the appearance of a grassy spot, discovered an abundant spring of water. This furnished relief. After a continuous journey for six days, on the seventh they possessed themselves of a country, from which they expelled the inhabitants, and in which they founded a city and a temple.

4. Moyses, wishing to secure for the future his authority over the nation, gave them a novel form of worship, opposed to all that is practised by other men. Things sacred with us, with them have no sanctity, while they allow what with us is forbidden. In their holy place they have consecrated an image of the animal by whose guidance they found deliverance from their long and thirsty wanderings. They slay the ram, seemingly in derision of Hammon, and they sacrifice the ox, because the Egyptians worship it as Apis. They abstain from swine's flesh, in consideration of what they suffered when they were infected by the leprosy to which this animal is liable. By their frequent fasts they still bear witness to the long hunger of former days, and the Jewish bread, made without leaven, is retained as a memorial of their hurried seizure of corn. We are told that the rest of the seventh day was adopted, because this day brought with it a termination of their toils after a while the charm of indolence beguilded them into giving up the seventh year also to inaction. But others say that it is an observance in honour of Saturn, either from the primitive elements of their faith having been transmitted from the Idaei, who are said to have shared the flight of that God, and to have founded the race, or from the circumstance that of the seven stars which rule the destinies of men Saturn moves in the highest orbit and with the mightiest power, and that many of the heavenly bodies complete their revolutions and courses in multiples of seven.

5. This worship, however introduced, is upheld by its antiquity all their other customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very badness. The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to shew compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women among themselves nothing is unlawful. Circumcision was adopted by them as a mark of difference from other men. Those who come over to their religion adopt the practice, and have this lesson first instilled into them, to despise all gods, to disown their country, and set at nought parents, children, and brethren. Still they provide for the increase of their numbers. It is a crime among them to kill any newly-born infant. They hold that the souls of all who perish in battle or by the hands of the executioner are immortal. Hence a passion for propagating their race and a contempt for death. They are wont to bury rather than to burn their dead, following in this the Egyptian custom they bestow the same care on the dead, and they hold the same belief about the lower world. Quite different is their faith about things divine. The Egyptians worship many animals and images of monstrous form the Jews have purely mental conceptions of Deity, as one in essence. They call those profane who make representations of God in human shape out of perishable materials. They believe that Being to be supreme and eternal, neither capable of representation, nor of decay. They therefore do not allow any images to stand in their cities, much less in their temples. This flattery is not paid to their kings, nor this honour to our Emperors. From the fact, however, that their priests used to chant to the music of flutes and cymbals, and to wear garlands of ivy, and that a golden vine was found in the temple, some have thought that they worshipped father Liber, the conqueror of the East, though their institutions do not by any means harmonize with the theory for Liber established a festive and cheerful worship, while the Jewish religion is tasteless and mean.

Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer is an aggadic-midrashic work on Genesis, part of Exodus, and a few sentences of Numbers, ascribed to R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (80-118 C.E.), a disciple of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai and teacher of Rabbi Akiva. It comprises fifty four chapters. Some parts appear to be written as late as the 8th century CE, although there are older elements. Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer comprises ethical guidelines, legends and folklore, as well as astronomical discussions related to the story of the Creation. Many ancient customs that are not found in other sources are described in this work.

The Pirke appears, according to Zunz, to be incomplete, and to be merely a fragment of a larger work. S. Sachs, on the other hand, thinks that it was compiled from two previous works by the same author, the relation of the two productions to each other being that of text and commentary, the text giving merely the story of the Bible, which was interrupted by the commentary in the form of the Aggadah, and the commentary being intended for reading during the ten days of penitence. Meir ha-Levi Horwitz thinks that the author developed those Bible stories which bore relation to the entire nation, dealing lightly with those that concerned only individuals.

Jost was the first to point out that in the 30th chapter, in which at the end the author distinctly alludes to the three stages of the Muslim conquest, that of Arabia, of Spain, and of Rome (830 C.E.), the names of Fatima and Ayesha occur beside that of Ishmael, leading to the conclusion that the book originated in a time when Islam was predominant in Asia Minor. As in ch. xxxvi. two brothers reigning simultaneously are mentioned, after whose reign the Messiah shall come, the work might be ascribed to the beginning of the 9th century, for about that time the two sons of Harun al-Rashid, El-Amin and El-Mamun, were ruling over the Islamic realm. If a statement in ch. xxviii. did not point to an even earlier date, approximately the same date might be inferred from the enumeration of the four powerful kingdoms and the substitution of Ishmael for one of the four which are enumerated in the Talmud and the Mekilta.

The author seems to have been a rabbi of the Land of Israel this appears not only from the fact that some of the customs to which he refers (in ch. xiii. and xx.) are known only as customs of the Land of Israel, but also from the fact that nearly all the authorities he quotes are from the Land of Israel, the exceptions being Rav Mesharshia and Rav Shemaiah, who are from Babylonia. The work is ascribed to R. Eliezer (80-118 C.E.), although he was a tanna, while the book itself the Pirḳe Abot is quoted. Late Talmudic authorities belonging to the 3rd century C.E., like Shemaiah (ch. xxiii.), Ze'era (ch. xxi., xxix.), and Shila (ch. xlii., xliv.), are also quoted, indicating that the work was edited or additions were made to it after the time of R. Eliezar.

The work is divided into 54 chapters, which may be divided into seven groups.

Supposedly a 10th century Palestinian Jewish author gives
the word of Roman era Ribbi Eli`ezer Hyrkanus that
"[God] blessed Shem and his sons, black and beautiful,
giving them the habitable earth.", his Pirqe, daf 28a.
This blackness was not as dark as Ham's raven similied
black skin.

Amos 9: (King James Version)
7: Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?

Isaiah 43: (King James Version)
3: For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.

2 Kings 5 (King James Version)

1Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.

2And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid and she waited on Naaman's wife.

3And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.

4And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel.

5And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment.

6And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy.

7And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.

8And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.

9So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.

10And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.

11But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.

12Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.

13And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?

14Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

15And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.

16But he said, As the LORD liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it but he refused.

17And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD.

18In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing.

19And he said unto him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way.

20But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, Behold, my master hath spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought: but, as the LORD liveth, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him.

21So Gehazi followed after Naaman. And when Naaman saw him running after him, he lighted down from the chariot to meet him, and said, Is all well?

22And he said, All is well. My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now there be come to me from mount Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets: give them, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments.

23And Naaman said, Be content, take two talents. And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and laid them upon two of his servants and they bare them before him.

24And when he came to the tower, he took them from their hand, and bestowed them in the house: and he let the men go, and they departed.

25But he went in, and stood before his master. And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, Thy servant went no whither.

26And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants?

27The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.

On differentiating between White people and Lepers.

Leviticus 13 (King James Version)

1And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, saying,

2When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests:

3And the priest shall look on the plague in the skin of the flesh: and when the hair in the plague is turned white, and the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a plague of leprosy: and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean.

4If the bright spot be white in the skin of his flesh, and in sight be not deeper than the skin, and the hair thereof be not turned white then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague seven days:

5And the priest shall look on him the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague in his sight be at a stay, and the plague spread not in the skin then the priest shall shut him up seven days more:

6And the priest shall look on him again the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague be somewhat dark, and the plague spread not in the skin, the priest shall pronounce him clean: it is but a scab: and he shall wash his clothes, and be clean.

7But if the scab spread much abroad in the skin, after that he hath been seen of the priest for his cleansing, he shall be seen of the priest again.

8And if the priest see that, behold, the scab spreadeth in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a leprosy.

9When the plague of leprosy is in a man, then he shall be brought unto the priest

10And the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the rising be white in the skin, and it have turned the hair white, and there be quick raw flesh in the rising

11It is an old leprosy in the skin of his flesh, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean, and shall not shut him up: for he is unclean.

12And if a leprosy break out abroad in the skin, and the leprosy cover all the skin of him that hath the plague from his head even to his foot, wheresoever the priest looketh

13Then the priest shall consider: and, behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: it is all turned white: he is clean.

14But when raw flesh appeareth in him, he shall be unclean.

15And the priest shall see the raw flesh, and pronounce him to be unclean: for the raw flesh is unclean: it is a leprosy.

16Or if the raw flesh turn again, and be changed unto white, he shall come unto the priest

17And the priest shall see him: and, behold, if the plague be turned into white then the priest shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague: he is clean.

18The flesh also, in which, even in the skin thereof, was a boil, and is healed,

19And in the place of the boil there be a white rising, or a bright spot, white, and somewhat reddish, and it be shewed to the priest

20And if, when the priest seeth it, behold, it be in sight lower than the skin, and the hair thereof be turned white the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a plague of leprosy broken out of the boil.

21But if the priest look on it, and, behold, there be no white hairs therein, and if it be not lower than the skin, but be somewhat dark then the priest shall shut him up seven days:

22And if it spread much abroad in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a plague.

23But if the bright spot stay in his place, and spread not, it is a burning boil and the priest shall pronounce him clean.

24Or if there be any flesh, in the skin whereof there is a hot burning, and the quick flesh that burneth have a white bright spot, somewhat reddish, or white

25Then the priest shall look upon it: and, behold, if the hair in the bright spot be turned white, and it be in sight deeper than the skin it is a leprosy broken out of the burning: wherefore the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is the plague of leprosy.

26But if the priest look on it, and, behold, there be no white hair in the bright spot, and it be no lower than the other skin, but be somewhat dark then the priest shall shut him up seven days:

27And the priest shall look upon him the seventh day: and if it be spread much abroad in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is the plague of leprosy.

28And if the bright spot stay in his place, and spread not in the skin, but it be somewhat dark it is a rising of the burning, and the priest shall pronounce him clean: for it is an inflammation of the burning.

29If a man or woman have a plague upon the head or the beard

30Then the priest shall see the plague: and, behold, if it be in sight deeper than the skin and there be in it a yellow thin hair then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a dry scall, even a leprosy upon the head or beard.

31And if the priest look on the plague of the scall, and, behold, it be not in sight deeper than the skin, and that there is no black hair in it then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague of the scall seven days:

32And in the seventh day the priest shall look on the plague: and, behold, if the scall spread not, and there be in it no yellow hair, and the scall be not in sight deeper than the skin

33He shall be shaven, but the scall shall he not shave and the priest shall shut up him that hath the scall seven days more:

34And in the seventh day the priest shall look on the scall: and, behold, if the scall be not spread in the skin, nor be in sight deeper than the skin then the priest shall pronounce him clean: and he shall wash his clothes, and be clean.

35But if the scall spread much in the skin after his cleansing

36Then the priest shall look on him: and, behold, if the scall be spread in the skin, the priest shall not seek for yellow hair he is unclean.

37But if the scall be in his sight at a stay, and that there is black hair grown up therein the scall is healed, he is clean: and the priest shall pronounce him clean.

38If a man also or a woman have in the skin of their flesh bright spots, even white bright spots

39Then the priest shall look: and, behold, if the bright spots in the skin of their flesh be darkish white it is a freckled spot that groweth in the skin he is clean.

40And the man whose hair is fallen off his head, he is bald yet is he clean.

41And he that hath his hair fallen off from the part of his head toward his face, he is forehead bald: yet is he clean.

42And if there be in the bald head, or bald forehead, a white reddish sore it is a leprosy sprung up in his bald head, or his bald forehead.

43Then the priest shall look upon it: and, behold, if the rising of the sore be white reddish in his bald head, or in his bald forehead, as the leprosy appeareth in the skin of the flesh

44He is a leprous man, he is unclean: the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean his plague is in his head.

45And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean.

46All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled he is unclean: he shall dwell alone without the camp shall his habitation be.

47The garment also that the plague of leprosy is in, whether it be a woollen garment, or a linen garment

48Whether it be in the warp, or woof of linen, or of woollen whether in a skin, or in any thing made of skin

49And if the plague be greenish or reddish in the garment, or in the skin, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin it is a plague of leprosy, and shall be shewed unto the priest:

50And the priest shall look upon the plague, and shut up it that hath the plague seven days:

51And he shall look on the plague on the seventh day: if the plague be spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in a skin, or in any work that is made of skin the plague is a fretting leprosy it is unclean.

52He shall therefore burn that garment, whether warp or woof, in woollen or in linen, or any thing of skin, wherein the plague is: for it is a fretting leprosy it shall be burnt in the fire.

53And if the priest shall look, and, behold, the plague be not spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin

54Then the priest shall command that they wash the thing wherein the plague is, and he shall shut it up seven days more:

55And the priest shall look on the plague, after that it is washed: and, behold, if the plague have not changed his colour, and the plague be not spread it is unclean thou shalt burn it in the fire it is fret inward, whether it be bare within or without.

56And if the priest look, and, behold, the plague be somewhat dark after the washing of it then he shall rend it out of the garment, or out of the skin, or out of the warp, or out of the woof:

57And if it appear still in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin it is a spreading plague: thou shalt burn that wherein the plague is with fire.

58And the garment, either warp, or woof, or whatsoever thing of skin it be, which thou shalt wash, if the plague be departed from them, then it shall be washed the second time, and shall be clean.

59This is the law of the plague of leprosy in a garment of woollen or linen, either in the warp, or woof, or any thing of skins, to pronounce it clean, or to pronounce it unclean.