The distinction between the decorative and the fine arts has essentially arisen from the post-Renaissance art of the West, where the distinction is for the most part meaningful.
This distinction is much less meaningful when considering the art of other cultures and periods, where the most highly regarded works – or even all works – include those in decorative media. For example, Islamic art in many periods and places consists entirely of the decorative arts, as does the art of many traditional cultures. The distinction between decorative and fine arts is not very useful for appreciating Chinese art, and neither is it for understanding Early Medieval art in Europe.
In that period in Europe, fine arts such as manuscript illumination and monumental sculpture existed, but the most prestigious works tended to be in goldsmith work, in cast metals such as bronze, or in other techniques such as ivory carving. Large-scale wall-paintings were much less regarded, crudely executed, and rarely mentioned in contemporary sources.
They were probably seen as an inferior substitute for mosaic, which for this period must be viewed as a fine art, though in recent centuries mosaics have tended to be seen as decorative. The term «ars sacra» («sacred arts») is sometimes used for medieval Christian art done in metal, ivory, textiles, and other high-value materials but not for rarer secular works from that period.