The first evidence of Christian art is found in the Catacombs. During the times of persecution, various symbols such as fish and loaves were painted on the walls of these secret places.7 These were places where early Christians gathered and where the church leaders (clergy) were buried.8 The primary purpose of these pictures was to convey the stories of the gospels and to portray their inner meaning.9
4 Ouspensky, 1992, p. 137
5 Mahmoud Zibawi. The Icon: Its Meaning and History. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1993), p. 79
6 Ouspensky, 1992, p. 86.
7 Zibawi, 1993, p. 79.
8 Ouspensky, 1992, p. 38.
9 Ibid. p. 27.
While the origins of Christian art may be traced, in a general way, to the pictures of the Catacombs, principles of Icon painting are not seen here. The first instance of a Christian icon is traced to the story of the image created by Christ Himself. The story is told of an ancient King Abgar of Osroene, who was dying of leprosy and sent a message begging Jesus to visit him. According to the story, Christ created an image of himself by pressing his face on a cloth. Apparently, this image remained in Edessa until the tenth century, when it was taken to Constantinople. After the destruction of the city in 1204CE, it disappeared.10 This is called the image “made without human hands” or the “holy face” or the Acheiropoietos.11 While there is virtually no physical evidence to support this event, it is considered a reliable story of the origin of the icon of Christ.
In the History of the Church by Eusebius, the author says that he has seen many portraits of the Savior, Peter and Paul. This indicates that images of the Lord were present during the first centuries of the church.12 This is somewhat significant in that, by many accounts, Eusebius was antagonistic to icons. For example, there is a record of a request of Eusebius for an icon. This came from Constantia, sister of Constantine the great. His decidedly negative response was surprise. He claimed he did not understand what she could possibly have meant.13 Many iconoclasts appeal to Eusebius’s response as evidence against the use of icons.