Wednesday 28 November 2012

TV: The Dark Ages - An Age of Light

I started watching an art programme, The Dark Ages - An Age of Light, on BBC 4 last night, mainly because there wasn't anything else much on the telly, and I'm very glad I did. It was all about how early Christians adopted images of pagan gods and goddesses for the way they portrayed Jesus, Mary and even angels.

Apparently, the earliest statues and mosaics of Jesus showed him as a young man with blond curly hair, very similar to the way the god Apollo was depicted. He was also often portrayed as being rather feminine, with soft skin and sometimes even a hint of breasts, to indicate that the Christian god encompassed both sexes. Later images of Jesus that show him as being more manly and regal, with dark hair and a beard, were inspired by the Roman god Jupiter or the Greek Zeus.

The image we all recognise of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus on her lap was inspired by the goddess Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess who was often portrayed with the baby Horus on her lap. Horus was said to have been born around the time of the Midwinter Solstice, close to 25 December, too.

And beautiful angels with wings? They were taken from pagan images of Nike, the Greek personification of victory.

If you missed the first episode in the documentary series The Dark Ages - An Age of Light, you can still catch up with it here: It will also be shown again on BBC 4 on Thursday 29 November at 10pm. The next programme in the series is all about the art of the Huns, Vandals and Goths, and will be on BBC 4 next Tuesday at 9pm.

The picture at the top shows A stone carving of the Goddess Nike at the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, Turkey. It was taken by Maxfield

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