In Building the Body of Christ, Daniel C. Cochran argues that monumental Christian art and architecture played a crucial role in the formation of individual and communal identities in late antique Italy. The ecclesiastical buildings and artistic programs that emerged during the fourth and fifth centuries not only reflected Christianity’s changing status within the Roman Empire but also actively shaped those who used them. Emphasizing the importance of materiality and the body in early Christian thought and practice, Cochran shows how bishops and their supporters employed the visual arts to present a Christian identity rooted in the sacred past but expressed in the present through church unity and episcopal authority. He weaves together archaeological and textual evidence to contextualize case studies from Rome, Aquileia, and Ravenna, showing how these sites responded to the diversity of early Christianity as expressed through private rituals and the imperial appropriation of the saints. Cochran shows how these early ecclesiastical buildings and artistic programs worked in conjunction with the liturgy to persuade individuals to adopt alternative beliefs, practices, and values that contributed to the formation of institutional Christianity and the “Christianization” of late antique Italy.
Daniel C. Cochran (PhD) is an independent researcher.
Chapter 1: Early Christian Art and the Study of Late Antiquity
Chapter 2: Peter, Paul, and Constantina: Commemoration and Christianization in Fourth Century Rome
Chapter 3: Trajectories of Transformation: Walking the Mosaic Pavement of Aquileia’s Cathedral
Chapter 4: Gathering the Ecclesial Flock in Ravenna’s Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
Epilogue: “Come and See” the Mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore
In this deftly written book, Daniel C. Cochran examines the material culture of early Christianity as evidence both of plurality and the means of manufacturing consensus, letting artifacts, bodies, and spaces work as primary evidence for deeper historical understanding. He challenges a number of old ideas about art in early Christianity in order to pursue fresh ways of thinking about a varied and formative era.
Cochran provides a lucid and engaging exploration of the ways early Christians developed and expressed their self-understanding through art and architecture. He supplements an instructive overview with focused studies that demonstrate the integration of pictorial programs, constructed ritual spaces, and embodied actions. The end result is a richly visual and sensually vivid depiction of the lived religion of the ancient Church.
Daniel C. Cochran has produced an impressive contribution to the field of early Christian studies and material culture of late antiquity. His work advances the importance of reexamining early Christianity, arguing that the boundary between early Christians and their non-Christian neighbors was porous rather than firm. His interdisciplinary approach, examining early Christian texts along with art and iconography of late antiquity, provides a compelling narrative, focusing on several key examples of art and architecture. Early Christians were not aniconic nor united in producing images of Christ as a regal emperor in the fourth century. Cochran reminds us of the complex and illuminating nature of early Christian art, and how much of what we can learn about late antiquity can be accomplished through the lens of art and imagery.
Daniel C. Cochran’s Building the Body of Christ: Christian Art, Identity, and Community in Late Antique Italy is a welcome addition to a burgeoning collection of works on Early Christian art and community formation. By examining visual culture as a didactic tool of Christian groups, he manages to enrich the understanding of both Christian identities and religious art. Rich with images, the book contextualizes and explains the history of these case studies and their decoration. This is art history applied to everyday life: how persons saw, understood, and were shaped by the images of their faith.