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 Byzantine Art


Mosaic of the Empress Theodora bringing her offerings and her court at San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy c.547.



The lands of the eastern Mediterranean had always been more Hellenic than Roman at heart.At Constantinople the previous Eastern influences of the Near East coalesced with the Roman and Hellenic to form Byzantine art.The rise of Christianity marked the end of an aestheticism of ancient Greece on realism and physical beauty and infused it with a new  of inward looking spirit. The Byzantines concentrated their decoration within their buildings, rather than the exterior. For example, in the San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, the outside is made of a brick construction and almost barnlike in appearance, while the inside is covered with marble and glowing mosaics. Mosaics were used to great effect with a color charged shimmering richness illuminated by ever changing shafts of light. The mosaics were composed of small pieces with fractured edges to catch the light. Gold and silver tesserae were formed fusing a thin sheet of the metal between two layers of glass.


The one hundred and fifty years following the conversion of Constantine saw the development of monumental Christian art. The principle types of church architecture were established. Christian imagery, influenced by the imperial cult of the emperor created the type of Christ in majesty which was to become a central theme in the art of the Middle Ages .A Christian style was formed which brought a new spirituality into the classical concept of art . The period of Byzantine art can be divided into periods: The First Golden Age ( 527-726) a period of great architectural activity, the Iconoclastic Age (726-867)a period of internal strife,the Second Golden Age (867-1204), the Latin Domination (1204-1261, the Byzantine Renaissance


The First Golden Age of Byzantine Art (527-726)


While the Western Empire disintegrated after the 5th century, the eastern Empire by the time of Justinian saw the revival of Roman power.While the Latins continued to build basilicas in the traditional type, the Greek East devised the domed church on a cruciform ( Hagia Sophia) ,cross in square (St. Marks, Venice) and other forms to replace the basilica. With the Hagia Sophia,built between 532 and 537, the pendentive was perfected, surpassing the earlier Roman examples in domical construction.The arch,vault and domes were all supported on piers


mosaics from the second golden age of Byzantine art, from  the Hagia Sophia- the image of Christ Pantocrator


Late Byzantine art from the church of Nerez in Skopje, Macedonia (1164) painted with deep tenderness and poignant emotion, the descent from the Cross, the Virgin caresses Christ's cheek with her own, while St.John kisses his hand, shows an increasing technical mastery. The growing power of the Hesychasts,however, did much to check the influence of renaissance realistic techniques and byzantine artists turned again to the past.


A silk tapestry of the Virgin Mary and an angel. Byzantine silk was very precious, on par with gold.Its production was tightly controlled. Silkmaking began during the reign of Justinian when silkworm eggs were smuggled out of China.


The Barberini ivory, an imperial diptych of an emperor conquering with Christ above