Paleochristian art in Italy (AC 100–AC 700)

The art of early Christians was Roman in style, but its themes were starting to explore the figures and motifs that would soon become familiar

The Germanic and later Frankish invaders who swept down from the north brought a very meager share with them of a building and decorative statuary style. Nonetheless, their influence on native primitive modes, and late Imperial Roman holdovers such as the basilican plan for a church (basilicas started out as Roman law courts), filled the 4th to 11th centuries with what is often referred to in general as Paleochristian style.

This melded with artsits in Rome working in the late Classical Roman style but with Christian motifs—like the Savior as a sheperd—that would begin to take center stage in ITalian art just as Christianity would become the religious philosophy guiding and underpinning Italian society from the early Dark Ages on.  

The Paleochristian period was marked by very simple structures, the few of which that survive striking most moderns as hauntingly beautiful and simple, if architecturally inharmonious. They include churches in Spoleto, Pienza, and Perugia, and the later and much more unified Sant’Antimo. In the north of Tuscany, the architecture quickly developed into the style known as Romanesque.

The sculpted elements of the era are particularly charming, with animal heads, biblical scenes, and fantastically complicated allegories played out in a rough, primitive style best exemplified in the late part of the era by Guido da Como.

The Paleochristians also caught some interior decorative stylings from the nearby empire of Byzantium—especially in the use of glittering gold mosaics. The Byzantines, however, had a much greater influence on painting.

Where to find Paleochristian art art in Italy

The garden facade (Photo by Diego Bonacina)
Villa Carlotta

A baroque villa filled with Neoclassical sculptures and Romantic paintings halfway between Lenno and Menaggio

"The Tuscan Maremma" (1894) by Giovanni Fattori (Photo Public Domain)

The Galleria d'Arte Moderna is a collection of works by Tuscan macchiaoli (Impressionsts) and other modern art in the princely Renaissance Pitti Palace


Where to find the best ancient Roman sculpture, mosaics, and frescoes in Italy


While the Neoclassical rediscovers the clean Classical lines of antiquity, the Romantics went for the heroic, historic, and melodramatic

The Chiaramonti gallery (Photo by Jorge Cortell)

Loads of ancient Roman statues in the Vatican

Archeological Museum
Mainland Siracusa

The archeological museum in Siracusa is one of the most important collections in Southern Italy