RELIGIOUS INFLUENCES.

The influences of the prevailing religion or of its interpretation and practice at any given time is seen in the art productions of almost every nation, and these influences as exemplified in art are so strong in most of the examples that the force of the convictions of the artists and of the strong feelings of ecclesiastics by whom they were employed or controlled can be understood when examining these objects. When there was a sudden change from one religion to another, as so often has been the case in the history of nations, the newer inspiration was, of course, set forth as a matter of policy if not of conviction by the artists, who in so many instances worked for the men and women who felt strongly upon such matters. These changes might, too, be welcomed by artists as giving them ,opportunities of gaining new clients, and also because -the changes of religious thought provided them with fresh subjects for treatment, just as political changes now-adays influence art, and even religious propaganda and missions find business for their special supporters and followers. The change in religion gave the exponents of Byzantine art a reason for throwing aside the more realistic forms of ornament which had so long dominated artists ; they soon discarded the beautiful figures of Greek form and the Roman attributes of the pagan gods and other personified ,characters. The new Christian religion came in with many hardships, and contrasted with the luxury and voluptuous pleasures of the pagan beliefs, and that would be sufficient to account for the hard lines and conventional figures which came to be the accepted form of ornament in the early Christian church. The sufferings of the -followers of Christ changed their ideas of beauty and of merit-to suffer was meritorious, and the saints they pictured in their ornament and in modelled figures were shown in severe garb, as those who had won their places of honour after great privations and pain. Beauty of form and that delightfully graceful pose which is associated with the pagan deities and with the ornament of their temples of Greece and Rome was too frivolous for the favour of those who had recollections of the hardships they had endured ; and as time went on these newer forms which had been early adopted for religious subjects became stereotyped, and were unchanged, and even now, after centuries of enlightenment are now the correct renderings of church art. The Christian church of to-day is the outcome of slow progress and the symbols used are to many meaningless, they have lost their original purport, its art decorations were the outcome of different conditions then prevailing. The daily happenings in the first centuries of the Christian religion interfered with the right rendering of even common things of everyday life, and the artists and metal workers set up a style without any real semblance to contemporary surroundings, in that they differed from artists of a still earlier period. Thus, gradually, conventional figures of the Cross and of the Saints, and emblems of Our Saviour and of the Godhead, took the place of Greek figures. Although to use these conventional forms seems now to be unnecessary, with those influences at work it was quite natural that stiff and formal ornament should supplant the decorative foliations of Pagan Roman ornament. The change had been gradual, for the art of the first century of the Christian era, seen by those who lived in Rome in those early days had been more natural. Much has been written about the marvellous metal work of Byzantine Art-to admire it now, apart from its antiquarian associations may be an acquired taste. One of the great cities where that art prevailed, and where so much that was quaint and old is to be seen, is Venice, that beautiful city on which so many eyes have been turned lately and where many have grieved at the possibility of wanton injury-a danger happily no longer existing. Think of the massive altar of St. Marks, of the wonderful canopy supported by four silver columns plated with gold, and of the polished plates of silver which formed the dome of the altar ! Here indeed was a masterpiece of the silversmith's art. It showed Byzantine ornament at its best. Upon the altar stood for many centuries a great gold cross in which were set precious stones. It was in keeping with the perfected art of Byzantium which became so richly jewelled, indeed in the days before ' plunder disgraced the conqueror and spoilation was a crime tolerated alike by friend and foe the churches might display their jewels without fear. The fear of the penalties of sacrilege were a deterrent to the boldest robber in those days. Wealthy patrons lavished their best upon the altars of their favourite churches and before the shrines of the saintly martyrs, until many of the cathedrals became rich in the splendour of their altars and tombs and of the vessels which were used in connection with the most sacred rites, upon special occasions. It is said that even the pulpit of St. Mark's, in Venice, was a veritable treasure house of silver and precious jewels. So it was in many instances when the sanctity of church and cathedral were almost superstitiously respected. Such exhibitions of church plate as that to be seen in Venice and elsewhere gave impetus to the desire for private plate of similar styles and design ; and, of course, in carrying out the commissions of their patrons the t silversmiths of Mediaeval England copied the patterns from which they had secured their orders, and thus the style of the period followed the type of the church ornament, not only in plate but in all manner of decorative art, and in the Middle Ages and even during the immediate period which followed, the ornament of the home was little different from that of the church. It was thus in England as it had been for many years before on the Continent of Europe.