Byzantine art

Byzantine art

Overview


Byzantine art is the term commonly used to describe the artistic products of the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 from about the 5th century until the Fall of Constantinople
Fall of Constantinople
The Fall of Constantinople was the capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which occurred after a siege by the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, against the defending army commanded by Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI...

 in 1453.

The term can also be used for the art of Eastern Orthodox states which were contemporary with the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 and were culturally influenced by it, without actually being part of it (the "Byzantine commonwealth
Byzantine commonwealth
Byzantine Commonwealth is a term coined by 20th century historians to refer to the area where Byzantine liturgical tradition and general cultural influence was spread during the Middle Ages by Byzantine missionaries...

"), such as Bulgaria
First Bulgarian Empire
The First Bulgarian Empire was a medieval Bulgarian state founded in the north-eastern Balkans in c. 680 by the Bulgars, uniting with seven South Slavic tribes...

, Serbia
History of Medieval Serbia
Тhe medieval history of Serbia begins in the 5th century AD with the Slavic invasion of the Balkans, and lasts until the Ottoman occupation of 1540.- Slavic invasion :...

, or Rus
Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus was a medieval polity in Eastern Europe, from the late 9th to the mid 13th century, when it disintegrated under the pressure of the Mongol invasion of 1237–1240....

 and also for the art of the Republic of Venice
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

 and Kingdom of Sicily
Kingdom of Sicily
The Kingdom of Sicily was a state that existed in the south of Italy from its founding by Roger II in 1130 until 1816. It was a successor state of the County of Sicily, which had been founded in 1071 during the Norman conquest of southern Italy...

, which had close ties to the Byzantine Empire despite being in other respects part of western European culture.
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Byzantine art is the term commonly used to describe the artistic products of the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 from about the 5th century until the Fall of Constantinople
Fall of Constantinople
The Fall of Constantinople was the capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which occurred after a siege by the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, against the defending army commanded by Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI...

 in 1453.

The term can also be used for the art of Eastern Orthodox states which were contemporary with the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 and were culturally influenced by it, without actually being part of it (the "Byzantine commonwealth
Byzantine commonwealth
Byzantine Commonwealth is a term coined by 20th century historians to refer to the area where Byzantine liturgical tradition and general cultural influence was spread during the Middle Ages by Byzantine missionaries...

"), such as Bulgaria
First Bulgarian Empire
The First Bulgarian Empire was a medieval Bulgarian state founded in the north-eastern Balkans in c. 680 by the Bulgars, uniting with seven South Slavic tribes...

, Serbia
History of Medieval Serbia
Тhe medieval history of Serbia begins in the 5th century AD with the Slavic invasion of the Balkans, and lasts until the Ottoman occupation of 1540.- Slavic invasion :...

, or Rus
Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus was a medieval polity in Eastern Europe, from the late 9th to the mid 13th century, when it disintegrated under the pressure of the Mongol invasion of 1237–1240....

 and also for the art of the Republic of Venice
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

 and Kingdom of Sicily
Kingdom of Sicily
The Kingdom of Sicily was a state that existed in the south of Italy from its founding by Roger II in 1130 until 1816. It was a successor state of the County of Sicily, which had been founded in 1071 during the Norman conquest of southern Italy...

, which had close ties to the Byzantine Empire despite being in other respects part of western European culture. Art produced by Eastern Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 is often called "post-Byzantine." Certain artistic traditions that originated in the Byzantine Empire, particularly in regard to icon painting and church architecture, are maintained in Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, Serbia
Serbia
Serbia , officially the Republic of Serbia , is a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, covering the southern part of the Carpathian basin and the central part of the Balkans...

, Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

, Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 and other Eastern Orthodox countries to the present day.

Introduction


Just as the Byzantine Empire represented the political continuation of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, Byzantine art developed out of the art of the Roman Empire
Roman art
Roman art has the visual arts made in Ancient Rome, and in the territories of the Roman Empire. Major forms of Roman art are architecture, painting, sculpture and mosaic work...

, which was itself profoundly influenced by ancient Greek art
Art in Ancient Greece
The arts of ancient Greece have exercised an enormous influence on the culture of many countries all over the world, particularly in the areas of sculpture and architecture. In the West, the art of the Roman Empire was largely derived from Greek models...

. Byzantine art never lost sight of this classical heritage. The Byzantine capital, Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, was adorned with a large number of classical sculptures, although they eventually became an object of some puzzlement for its inhabitants. And indeed, the art produced during the Byzantine Empire, although marked by periodic revivals of a classical aesthetic, was above all marked by the development of a new aesthetic.

The most salient feature of this new aesthetic was its “abstract,” or anti-naturalistic character. If classical art was marked by the attempt to create representations that mimicked reality as closely as possible, Byzantine art seems to have abandoned this attempt in favor of a more symbolic approach.

The nature and causes of this transformation, which largely took place during late antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

, have been a subject of scholarly debate for centuries. Giorgio Vasari
Giorgio Vasari
Giorgio Vasari was an Italian painter, writer, historian, and architect, who is famous today for his biographies of Italian artists, considered the ideological foundation of art-historical writing.-Biography:...

 attributed it to a decline in artistic skills and standards, which had in turn been revived by his contemporaries in the Italian Renaissance
Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 13th century to about 1600, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe...

. Although this point of view has been occasionally revived, most notably by Bernard Berenson
Bernard Berenson
Bernard Berenson was an American art historian specializing in the Renaissance. He was a major figure in pioneering art attribution and therefore establishing the market for paintings by the "Old Masters".-Personal life:...

, modern scholars tend to take a more positive view of the Byzantine aesthetic. Alois Riegl
Alois Riegl
Alois Riegl was an Austrian art historian, and is considered a member of the Vienna School of Art History...

 and Josef Strzygowski
Josef Strzygowski
Josef Strzygowski was a German art historian known for his theory on the influence of Early Christian Armenian architecture on the early Medieval architecture of Europe, outlined in his book, Die Baukunst der Armenier und Europa...

, writing in the early 20th century, were above all responsible for the revaluation of late antique art. Riegl saw it as a natural development of pre-existing tendencies in Roman art, whereas Strzygowski viewed it as a product of “oriental” influences. Notable recent contributions to the debate include those of Ernst Kitzinger
Ernst Kitzinger
Ernst Kitzinger was a German-American historian of late antique, early medieval, and Byzantine art.-Biography:...

, who traced a “dialectic” between “abstract" and "Hellenistic” tendencies in late antiquity, and John Onians, who saw an “increase in visual response” in late antiquity, through which a viewer “could look at something which was in twentieth-century terms purely abstract and find it representational.”

In any case, the debate is purely modern: it is clear that most Byzantine viewers did not consider their art to be abstract or unnaturalistic. As Cyril Mango
Cyril Mango
Cyril Alexander Mango is a British scholar in the history, art, and architecture of the Byzantine Empire. He is a former King's College London and Oxford professor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language and Literature. He is the brother of Andrew Mango.One of his major works The Mosaics of St...

 has observed, “our own appreciation of Byzantine art stems largely from the fact that this art is not naturalistic; yet the Byzantines themselves, judging by their extant statements, regarded it as being highly naturalistic and as being directly in the tradition of Phidias
Phidias
Phidias or the great Pheidias , was a Greek sculptor, painter and architect, who lived in the 5th century BC, and is commonly regarded as one of the greatest of all sculptors of Classical Greece: Phidias' Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World...

, Apelles
Apelles
Apelles of Kos was a renowned painter of ancient Greece. Pliny the Elder, to whom we owe much of our knowledge of this artist rated him superior to preceding and subsequent artists...

, and Zeuxis.”

The subject matter of monumental Byzantine art was primarily religious and imperial: the two themes are often combined, as in the portraits of later Byzantine emperors that decorated the interior of the sixth-century church of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey...

 in Constantinople. These preoccupations are partly a result of the pious and autocratic nature of Byzantine society, and partly a result of its economic structure: the wealth of the empire was concentrated in the hands of the church and the imperial office, which therefore had the greatest opportunity to undertake monumental artistic commissions.

Religious art was not, however, limited to the monumental decoration of church interiors. One of the most important genres of Byzantine art was the icon
Icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

, an image of Christ, the Virgin, or a saint, used as an object of veneration in Orthodox churches and private homes alike. Icons were more religious than aesthetic in nature: especially after the end of iconoclasm, they were understood to manifest the unique “presence” of the figure depicted by means of a “likeness” to that figure maintained through carefully maintained canons of representation.

The illumination of manuscripts was another major genre of Byzantine art. The most commonly illustrated texts were religious, both scripture itself (particularly the Psalms) and devotional or theological texts (such as the Ladder of Divine Ascent of John Climacus
John Climacus
Saint John Climacus , also known as John of the Ladder, John Scholasticus and John Sinaites, was a 7th century Christian monk at the monastery on Mount Sinai. He is revered as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches.We have almost no...

 or the homilies of Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory of Nazianzus was a 4th-century Archbishop of Constantinople. He is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age...

). Secular texts were also illuminated: important examples include the Alexander Romance
Alexander Romance
Alexander romance is any of several collections of legends concerning the mythical exploits of Alexander the Great. The earliest version is in Greek, dating to the 3rd century. Several late manuscripts attribute the work to Alexander's court historian Callisthenes, but the historical figure died...

 and the history of John Skylitzes
John Skylitzes
John Skylitzes, latinized as Ioannes Scylitzes was a Greek historian of the late 11th century. He was born in the beginning of 1040's and died after 1101.- Life :Very little is known about his life...

.

The Byzantines inherited the Early Christian distrust of monumental sculpture
Monumental sculpture
The term monumental sculpture is often used in art history and criticism, but not always consistently. It combines two concepts, one of function, and one of size, and may include an element of a third more subjective concept. It is often used for all sculptures that are large...

 in religious art, and produced only relief
Relief
Relief is a sculptural technique. The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is thus to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane...

s, of which very few survivals are anything like life-size, in sharp contrast to the medieval art of the West, where monumental sculpture revived from Carolingian art
Carolingian art
Carolingian art comes from the Frankish Empire in the period of roughly 120 years from about AD 780 to 900 — during the reign of Charlemagne and his immediate heirs — popularly known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The art was produced by and for the court circle and a group of...

 onwards. Small ivories were also mostly in relief.

“Minor” or “luxury” arts (i.e. ivories, steatites
Soapstone
Soapstone is a metamorphic rock, a talc-schist. It is largely composed of the mineral talc and is thus rich in magnesium. It is produced by dynamothermal metamorphism and metasomatism, which occurs in the areas where tectonic plates are subducted, changing rocks by heat and pressure, with influx...

, enamels, jewelry, metalwork, ceramics, etc.) were produced in large number throughout the Byzantine era. Many of these were also religious in nature, although a large number of objects with secular or non-representational decoration were produced: for example, ivories representing themes from classical mythology, and ceramics decorated with figures that may derive from the Akritic epics
Digenis Acritas
Digenes Akrites , known in folksongs as Digenes Akritas , is the most famous of the Acritic Songs. The epic details the life of its eponymous hero, Basil, a man, as the epithet signifies, of mixed Roman and Syrian blood...

.

Early Byzantine art


Two events were of fundamental importance to the development of a unique, Byzantine art. First, the Edict of Milan
Edict of Milan
The Edict of Milan was a letter signed by emperors Constantine I and Licinius that proclaimed religious toleration in the Roman Empire...

, issued by the emperors Constantine I
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

 and Licinius
Licinius
Licinius I , was Roman Emperor from 308 to 324. Co-author of the Edict of Milan that granted official toleration to Christians in the Roman Empire, for the majority of his reign he was the rival of Constantine I...

 in 313, allowed for public Christian worship, and led to the development of a monumental, Christian art. Second, the dedication of Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 in 330 created a great new artistic centre for the eastern half of the Empire, and a specifically Christian one. Other artistic traditions flourished in rival cities such as Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

, Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

, and Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, but it was not until all of these cities had fallen - the first two to the Arabs and Rome to the Goths
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

 - that Constantinople established its supremacy.

Constantine devoted great effort to the decoration of Constantinople, adorning its public spaces with ancient statuary, and building a forum
Forum of Constantine
The Forum of Constantine was built at the foundation of Constantinople immediately outside of the old city walls of Byzantium. It was circular in shape and had two monumental gates to the east and west...

 dominated by a porphyry column that carried a statue of himself. Major Constantinopolitan churches built under Constantine and his son, Constantius II
Constantius II
Constantius II , was Roman Emperor from 337 to 361. The second son of Constantine I and Fausta, he ascended to the throne with his brothers Constantine II and Constans upon their father's death....

, included the original foundations of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey...

 and the Church of the Holy Apostles
Church of the Holy Apostles
The Church of the Holy Apostles , also known as the Imperial Polyandreion, was a Christian church built in Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, in 550. It was second only to the Church of the Holy Wisdom among the great churches of the capital...

.

The next major building campaign in Constantinople was sponsored by Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

. The most important surviving monument of this period is the obelisk and base erected by Theodosius in the Hippodrome
Hippodrome of Constantinople
The Hippodrome of Constantinople was a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. Today it is a square named Sultanahmet Meydanı in the Turkish city of Istanbul, with only a few fragments of the original structure surviving...

. The earliest surviving church in Constantinople is the Basilica of St. John at the Stoudios
Stoudios
The Monastery of Stoudios, more fully Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner "at Stoudios" The Monastery of Stoudios, more fully Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner "at Stoudios" The Monastery of Stoudios, more fully Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner "at Stoudios" (Greek Μονή του Αγίου...

 Monastery, built in the fifth century.

Due to subsequent rebuilding and destruction, relatively few Constantinopolitan monuments of this early period survive. However, the development of monumental early Byzantine art can still be traced through surviving structures in other cities. For example, important early churches are found in Rome (including Santa Sabina
Santa Sabina
The Basilica of Saint Sabina at the Aventine is a titular minor basilica and mother church of the Roman Catholic Dominican order in Rome, Italy. Santa Sabina lies high on the Aventine Hill, beside the Tiber, close to the headquarters of theKnights of Malta....

 and Santa Maria Maggiore
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major , known also by other names, is the largest Roman Catholic Marian church in Rome, Italy.There are other churches in Rome dedicated to Mary, such as Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, but the greater size of the...

), and in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki , historically also known as Thessalonica, Salonika or Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the region of Central Macedonia as well as the capital of the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace...

 (the Rotunda
Arch and Tomb of Galerius
The Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda are neighboring early 4th-century monuments in the city of Thessaloniki, in the region of Central Macedonia in northern Greece. The Rotunda is also known as the Church of Agios Georgios or the Rotunda of St...

 and the Acheiropoietos Basilica).

A number of important illuminated manuscripts, both sacred and secular, survive from this early period. Classical authors, including Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

 (represented by the Vergilius Vaticanus
Vergilius Vaticanus
The Vergilius Vaticanus is a manuscript containing fragments of Virgil's Aeneid and Georgics made in Rome in about 400. It is one of the oldest surviving sources for the text of the Aeneid and is the oldest and one of only three illustrated manuscript of classical literature...

 and the Vergilius Romanus
Vergilius Romanus
The Vergilius Romanus , also known as the Roman Vergil, is a 5th century illuminated manuscript of the works of Virgil. It contains the Aeneid, the Georgics, and some of the Eclogues. It is one of the oldest and most important Vergilian manuscripts. It is 332 by 323 mm with 309 vellum folios...

) and Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 (represented by the Ambrosian Iliad
Ambrosian Iliad
The Ambrosian Iliad or Ilia Picta is a 5th century illuminated manuscript on vellum of the Iliad of Homer. It is thought to have been produced in Constantinople during the late 5th or early 6th century AD, specifically between 493 and 508...

), were illustrated with narrative paintings. Illuminated biblical manuscripts of this period survive only in fragments: for example, the Quedlinburg Itala fragment
Quedlinburg Itala fragment
The Quedlinburg Itala fragment is a fragment of six folios from a large 5th century illuminated manuscript of an Old Latin translation of the Bible...

 is a small portion of what must have been a lavishly illustrated copy of 1 Kings.

Early Byzantine art was also marked by the cultivation of ivory carving
Ivory carving
Ivory carving is the carving of ivory, that is to say animal tooth or tusk, by using sharp cutting tools, either mechanically or manually. The ancient craft has now virtually ceased, as since CITES it is illegal under most circumstances throughout the world....

. Ivory diptych
Diptych
A diptych di "two" + ptychē "fold") is any object with two flat plates attached at a hinge. Devices of this form were quite popular in the ancient world, wax tablets being coated with wax on inner faces, for recording notes and for measuring time and direction.In Late Antiquity, ivory diptychs with...

s, often elaborately decorated, were issued as gifts by newly appointed consul
Consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

s. Silver plates were another important form of luxury art: among the most lavish from this period is the Missorium of Theodosius I
Missorium of Theodosius I
The Missorium of Theodosius I is a large ceremonial silver dish preserved in the Real Academia de la Historia, in Madrid, Spain. It was probably made in Constantinople for the tenth anniversary in 388 of the reign of the Emperor Theodosius I, the last Emperor to rule both the Eastern and Western...

. Sarcophagi continued to be produced in great numbers.

The Age of Justinian


Significant changes in Byzantine art coincided with the reign of Justinian I
Justinian I
Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

 (527-565). Justinian devoted much of his reign to reconquering Italy, North Africa and Spain. He also laid the foundations of the imperial absolutism of the Byzantine state, codifying its laws and imposing his religious views on all his subjects by law.

A significant component of Justinian's project of imperial renovation was a massive building program, which was described in a book, the Buildings, written by Justinian's court historian, Procopius
Procopius
Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History...

. Justinian renovated, rebuilt, or founded anew countless churches within Constantinople, including Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey...

, which had been destroyed during the Nika riots
Nika riots
The Nika riots , or Nika revolt, took place over the course of a week in Constantinople in AD 532. It was the most violent riot that Constantinople had ever seen to that point, with nearly half the city being burned or destroyed and tens of thousands of people killed.-Background:The ancient Roman...

, the Church of the Holy Apostles
Church of the Holy Apostles
The Church of the Holy Apostles , also known as the Imperial Polyandreion, was a Christian church built in Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, in 550. It was second only to the Church of the Holy Wisdom among the great churches of the capital...

, and the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus
Little Hagia Sophia
Little Hagia Sophia , formerly the Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus , is a former Eastern Orthodox church dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople, later converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire....

. Justinian also built a number of churches and fortifications outside of the imperial capital, including the Monastery of St. Catherine
Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai
Saint Catherine's Monastery lies on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai in the city of Saint Catherine in Egypt's South Sinai Governorate. The monastery is Orthodox and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site...

 on the Sinai Peninsula
Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai Peninsula or Sinai is a triangular peninsula in Egypt about in area. It is situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the south, and is the only part of Egyptian territory located in Asia as opposed to Africa, effectively serving as a land bridge between two...

, and the Basilica of St. John in Ephesus
Ephesus
Ephesus was an ancient Greek city, and later a major Roman city, on the west coast of Asia Minor, near present-day Selçuk, Izmir Province, Turkey. It was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League during the Classical Greek era...

.

Several major churches of this period were built in the provinces by local bishops in imitation of the new Constantinopolitan foundations. The Basilica of San Vitale
Basilica of San Vitale
The Church of San Vitale — styled an "ecclesiastical basilica" in the Roman Catholic Church, though it is not of architectural basilica form — is a church in Ravenna, Italy, one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine Art and architecture in western Europe...

 in Ravenna
Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...

, was built by Bishop Maximianus
Maximianus of Ravenna
Maximianus of Ravenna, or Maximian was bishop of Ravenna.Born in the Istrian city of Pula , Maximianus was consecrated bishop of Ravenna in 546 by Pope Vigilius in Patras, Greece. Maximianus was a forty-eight year old deacon from Pola when he became the twenty-sixth bishop of Ravenna...

. The decoration of San Vitale includes important mosaics of Justinian and his empress, Theodora
Theodora (6th century)
Theodora , was empress of the Roman Empire and the wife of Emperor Justinian I. Like her husband, she is a saint in the Orthodox Church, commemorated on November 14...

, although neither ever visited the church. Also of note is the Euphrasian Basilica
Euphrasian Basilica
The Euphrasian Basilica is a basilica in Poreč, Croatia. The episcopal complex, including, apart the basilica itself, a sacristy, a baptistery and the bell tower of the nearby archbishop's palace, is one of the best examples of early Byzantine architecture in the Mediterranean region.The...

 in Poreč
Porec
Poreč is a town and municipality on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula, in Istria County, Croatia. Its major landmark is the 6th century Euphrasian Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997....

.

19-20th century archeological discoveries unearthed a large group of Early Byzantine mosaics in the Middle East
Early Byzantine mosaics in the Middle East
Early Byzantine mosaics in the Middle East are a group of Christian mosaics created between the 4th and the 8th centuries in ancient Syria, Palestine and Egypt when the area belonged to the Byzantine Empire. The eastern provinces of the Eastern Roman and later the Byzantine Empires inherited a...

. The eastern provinces of the Eastern Roman and later the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

s inherited a strong artistic tradition from the Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

. Christian mosaic art flourished in this area from the 4th century onwards. The tradition of making mosaics was carried on in the Umayyad
Umayyad
The Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four major Arab caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. It was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, whose name derives from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfather of the first Umayyad caliph. Although the Umayyad family originally came from the...

 era until the end of the 8th century. The most important surviving examples are the Madaba Map
Madaba Map
The Madaba Map is part of a floor mosaic in the early Byzantine church of Saint George at Madaba, Jordan. The Madaba Map is a map of the Middle East. Part of it contains the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem...

, the mosaics of Mount Nebo
Mount Nebo
Mount Nebo originally referred to:* Mount Nebo , a mountain in the present day Western Jordan and the mountain where, according to the Bible, the prophet Moses diedOther uses are derived from the Biblical one, including:Australia...

, Saint Catherine's Monastery
Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai
Saint Catherine's Monastery lies on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai in the city of Saint Catherine in Egypt's South Sinai Governorate. The monastery is Orthodox and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site...

 on Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai , also known as Mount Horeb, Mount Musa, Gabal Musa , Jabal Musa meaning "Moses' Mountain", is a mountain near Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. A mountain called Mount Sinai is mentioned many times in the Book of Exodus in the Torah and the Bible as well as the Quran...

 and the Church of St Stephen in ancient Kastron Mefaa (now Umm ar-Rasas).

The first fully preserved illuminated biblical manuscripts date to the first half of the sixth century, most notably the Vienna Genesis
Vienna Genesis
The Vienna Genesis , designated by siglum L , is an illuminated manuscript, probably produced in Syria in the first half of the 6th Century. It is the oldest well-preserved, surviving, illustrated biblical codex.- Description :The text is a fragment of the Book of Genesis in the Greek Septuagint...

, the Rossano Gospels
Rossano Gospels
The Rossano Gospels, designated by 042 or Σ , ε 18 , at the Cathedral of Rossano in Italy, is a 6th century illuminated manuscript Gospel Book written following the reconquest of the Italian peninsula by the Byzantine Empire...

, and the Sinope Gospels
Sinope Gospels
The Sinope Gospels, designated by O or 023 , ε 21 , also known as the Codex Sinopensis, is a fragment of a 6th century illuminated Greek Gospel Book. Along with the Rossano Gospels, the Sinope Gospels has been dated, on the basis of the style of the miniatures, to the mid-6th century...

. The Vienna Dioscurides
Vienna Dioscurides
The Vienna Dioscurides or Vienna Dioscorides is an early 6th century illuminated manuscript of De Materia Medica by Dioscorides in Greek. It is an important and rare example of a late antique scientific text...

 is a lavishly illustrated botanical treatise, presented as a gift to the Byzantine aristocrat Julia Anicia.

Important ivory sculptures of this period include the Barberini ivory
Barberini ivory
The Barberini ivory is a Byzantine ivory leaf from an imperial diptych dating from Late Antiquity, now in the Louvre in Paris. It is carved in the style known as late Theodosian, representing the emperor as triumphant victor...

, which probably depicts Justinian himself, and the Archangel ivory
Archangel ivory
The Archangel ivory is the largest surviving Byzantine ivory panel, now in the British Museum. Dated to the early 6th century, it depicts an archangel holding a sceptre and imperial orb.-Description:...

 in the British Museum. Silver plate continued to be decorated with scenes drawn from classical mythology; for example, a plate preserved in the Cabinet des Médailles, Paris, depicts Hercules
Hercules
Hercules is the Roman name for Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus , and the mortal Alcmene...

 wrestling the Nemean lion
Nemean Lion
The Nemean lion was a vicious monster in Greek mythology that lived at Nemea. It was eventually killed by Heracles. It could not be killed with mortal weapons because its golden fur was impervious to attack...

.

The seventh-century crisis


The Age of Justinian was followed by a political decline, since most of Justinian's conquests were lost and the Empire faced acute crisis with the invasions of the Avars
Eurasian Avars
The Eurasian Avars or Ancient Avars were a highly organized nomadic confederacy of mixed origins. They were ruled by a khagan, who was surrounded by a tight-knit entourage of nomad warriors, an organization characteristic of Turko-Mongol groups...

, Slavs, Persians and Arabs in the 7th century. Constantinople was also wracked by religious and political conflict.

The most significant surviving monumental projects of this period were undertaken outside of the imperial capital. The church of Hagios Demetrios in Thessaloniki was rebuilt after a fire in the mid-seventh century. The new sections include mosaics executed in a remarkably abstract style. The church of the Koimesis in Nicaea (present-day Iznik
Iznik
İznik is a city in Turkey which is primarily known as the site of the First and Second Councils of Nicaea, the first and seventh Ecumenical councils in the early history of the Church, the Nicene Creed, and as the capital city of the Empire of Nicaea...

), destroyed in the early 20th century but documented through photographs, demonstrates the simultaneous survival of a more classical style of church decoration. The churches of Rome, still a Byzantine territory in this period, also include important surviving decorative programs, especially Santa Maria Antiqua
Santa Maria Antiqua
The Ancient church of St Mary is a Roman Catholic Marian church in Rome, built in the 5th century in the Forum Romanum, and for long time the monumental access to the Palatine imperial palaces....

, Sant'Agnese fuori le mura
Sant'Agnese fuori le mura
The church of Saint Agnes Outside the Wall is a titulus church, minor basilica in Rome, on a site sloping down from the Via Nomentana, which runs north-east out of the city, still under its ancient name. What is said to be the remains of Saint Agnes's are below the high altar...

, and the Chapel of San Venanzio in San Giovanni in Laterano. Byzantine mosaicists probably also contributed to the decoration of the early Umayyad
Umayyad
The Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four major Arab caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. It was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, whose name derives from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfather of the first Umayyad caliph. Although the Umayyad family originally came from the...

 monuments, including the Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock is a shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. The structure has been refurbished many times since its initial completion in 691 CE at the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik...

 in Jerusalem and the Great Mosque of Damascus
Umayyad Mosque
The Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus or formerly the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist , is located in the old city of Damascus, is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world...

.

Important works of luxury art from this period include the silver David Plates, produced during the reign of Heraclius
Heraclius
Heraclius was Byzantine Emperor from 610 to 641.He was responsible for introducing Greek as the empire's official language. His rise to power began in 608, when he and his father, Heraclius the Elder, the exarch of Africa, successfully led a revolt against the unpopular usurper Phocas.Heraclius'...

, and depicting scenes from the life of the Hebrew king David
David
David was the second king of the united Kingdom of Israel according to the Hebrew Bible and, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus Christ through both Saint Joseph and Mary...

. The most notable surviving manuscripts are Syriac gospel books, such as the so-called Syriac Bible of Paris
Syriac Bible of Paris
The Syriac Bible of Paris is an illuminated Bible written in Syriac. It dates to 6th or 7th century. It is believed to have been made in northern Mesopotamia. The manuscript has 246 extant folios. Large sections of text and the accompanying illustrations are missing. The folios are 312 by 230 mm...

. However, the London Canon Tables
London Canon Tables
The London Canon Tables is a Byzantine illuminated Gospel Book fragment on vellum from the 6th or 7th century. It was possibly made in Constantinople. The fragment consists of two folios of two illuminated canon tables – of unusual construction – set beneath an ornamental arcade and the Letter by...

 bear witness to the continuing production of lavish gospel books in Greek.

The period between Justinian and iconoclasm saw major changes in the social and religious roles of images within Byzantium. The veneration of acheiropoieta
Acheiropoieta
Acheiropoieta — also called Icons Made Without Hands — are a particular kind of icon which are alleged to have come into existence miraculously, not created by a human painter. Invariably these are images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary...

, or holy images "not made by human hands," became a significant phenomenon, and in some instances these images were credited with saving cities from military assault. By the end of the seventh century, certain images of saints had come to be viewed as "windows" through which one could communicate with the figure depicted. Proskynesis
Proskynesis
Proskynesis refers to the traditional Persian act of prostrating oneself before a person of higher social rank....

 before images is also attested in texts from the late seventh century. These developments mark the beginnings of a theology of icon
Icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

s.

At the same time, the debate over the proper role of art in the decoration of churches intensified. Three canons of the Quinisext Council
Quinisext Council
The Quinisext Council was a church council held in 692 at Constantinople under Justinian II. It is often known as the Council in Trullo, because it was held in the same domed hall where the Sixth Ecumenical Council had met...

 of 692 addressed controversies in this area: prohibition of the representation of the cross on church pavements (Canon 73), prohibition of the representation of Christ as a lamb (Canon 82), and a general injunction against "pictures, whether they are in paintings or in what way so ever, which attract the eye and corrupt the mind, and incite it to the enkindling of base pleasures" (Canon 100).

Iconoclasm


Intense debate over the role of art in worship led eventually to the period of "Byzantine iconoclasm." Sporadic outbreaks of iconoclasm on the part of local bishops are attested in Asia Minor during the 720s. In 726, an underwater earthquake between the islands of Thera and Therasia was interpreted by Emperor Leo III
Leo III the Isaurian
Leo III the Isaurian or the Syrian , was Byzantine emperor from 717 until his death in 741...

 as a sign of God's anger, and may have led Leo to remove a famous icon of Christ from the Chalke Gate outside the imperial palace. However, iconoclasm probably did not become imperial policy until the reign of Leo's son, Constantine V
Constantine V
Constantine V was Byzantine emperor from 741 to 775; ); .-Early life:...

. The Council of Hieria
Council of Hieria
The iconoclast Council of Hieria was a Christian council which viewed itself as ecumenical, but was later rejected by the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. It was summoned by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V in 754 in the palace of Hieria opposite Constantinople. The council...

, convened under Constantine in 754, proscribed the manufacture of icons of Christ. This inaugurated the Iconoclastic period
Iconoclasm
Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction of religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually with religious or political motives. It is a frequent component of major political or religious changes...

, which lasted, with interruptions, until 843.

While iconoclasm severely restricted the role of religious art, and led to the removal of some earlier apse mosaics and (possibly) the sporadic destruction of portable icons, it never constituted a total ban on the production of figural art. Ample literary sources indicate that secular art (i.e. hunting scenes and depictions of the games in the hippodrome) continued to be produced, and the few monuments that can be securely dated to the period (most notably the manuscript of Ptolemy's "Handy Tables" today held by the Vatican) demonstrate that metropolitan artists maintained a high quality of production.

Major churches dating to this period include Hagia Eirene
Hagia Irene
Hagia Irene or Hagia Eirene , often erroneously rendered in English as St Irene, is a former Eastern Orthodox church located in the outer courtyard of Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. It is open as a museum every day except Monday but requires special permission for admission.-Church:The...

 in Constantinople, which was rebuilt in the 760s following its destruction by an earthquake in 740. The interior of Hagia Eirene, which is dominated by a large mosaic cross in the apse, is one of the best-preserved examples of iconoclastic church decoration. The church of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki was also rebuilt in the late 8th century.

Certain churches built outside of the empire during this period, but decorated in a figural, "Byzantine," style, may also bear witness to the continuing activities of Byzantine artists. Particularly important in this regard are the original mosaics of the Palatine Chapel in Aachen
Palatine Chapel in Aachen
The Palatine Chapel is an Early Medieval chapel that is the remaining component of Charlemagne's Palace of Aachen. Although the palace no longer exists, the chapel has been incorporated into the Aachen Cathedral, Germany. It is the city's major landmark and the central monument of the Carolingian...

 (since either destroyed or heavily restored) and the frescoes in the Church of Maria foris portas in Castelseprio
Castelseprio
Castelseprio was the site of a Roman fort in antiquity, and a significant Lombard town in the early Middle Ages, before being destroyed and abandoned in 1287. It is today preserved as an archaeological park in the modern comune of Castelseprio, near the modern village of the same name...

.

Macedonian Art



The rulings of the Council of Hieria were reversed by a new church council in 843, celebrated to this day in the Eastern Orthodox Church as the "Triumph of Orthodoxy." In 867, the installation of a new apse mosaic in Hagia Sophia depicting the Virgin and Child was celebrated by the Patriarch Photios in a famous homily as a victory over the evils of iconoclasm. Later in the same year, the Emperor Basil I
Basil I
Basil I, called the Macedonian was a Byzantine emperor of probable Armenian descent who reigned from 867 to 886. Born a simple peasant in the Byzantine theme of Macedonia, he rose in the imperial court, and usurped the imperial throne from Emperor Michael III...

, called "the Macedonian," acceded to the throne; as a result the following period of Byzantine art has sometimes been called the "Macedonian Renaissance
Macedonian Renaissance
Macedonian Renaissance is a label sometimes used to describe the period of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire , especially the 10th century, which some scholars have seen as a time of increased interest in classical scholarship and the assimilation of classical motifs into Christian...

", although the term is doubly problematic (it was neither "Macedonian
Macedonia (terminology)
The name Macedonia is used in a number of competing or overlapping meanings to describe geographical, political and historical areas, languages and peoples in a part of south-eastern Europe. It has been a major source of political controversy since the early 20th century...

", nor, strictly speaking, a "Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

").

In the 9th and 10th centuries the Empire's military situation improved, and patronage of art and architecture increased. New churches were commissioned, and the standard architectural form (the "cross-in-square
Cross-in-square
The term cross-in-square or crossed-dome denotes the dominant architectural form of middle- and late-period Byzantine churches. The first cross-in-square churches were probably built in the late 8th century, and the form has remained in use throughout the Orthodox world until the present day...

") and decorative scheme of the Middle Byzantine church were standardised. Major surviving examples include Hosios Loukas
Hosios Loukas
Hosios Loukas is an historic walled monastery situated near the town of Distomo, in Boeotia, Greece. It is one of the most important monuments of Middle Byzantine architecture and art, and has been listed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, along with the monasteries of Nea Moni and Daphnion.-...

 in Boeotia
Boeotia
Boeotia, also spelled Beotia and Bœotia , is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Central Greece. It was also a region of ancient Greece. Its capital is Livadeia, the second largest city being Thebes.-Geography:...

, the Daphni Monastery
Daphni Monastery
Dafní or Daphní is a monastery 11 km north-west of downtown Athens in Chaidari, south of Athinon Avenue . It is situated near the forest of the same name, on the Sacred Way that led to Eleusis...

 near Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 and Nea Moni on Chios
Chios
Chios is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, situated in the Aegean Sea, seven kilometres off the Asia Minor coast. The island is separated from Turkey by the Chios Strait. The island is noted for its strong merchant shipping community, its unique mastic gum and its medieval villages...

.

There was a revival of interest in the depiction of subjects from classical mythology (as on the Veroli Casket) and in the use of a "classical" style to depict religious, and particularly Old Testament, subjects (of which the Paris Psalter
Paris Psalter
The Paris Psalter is a Byzantine illuminated manuscript containing 449 folios and 14 full-page miniatures "in a grand, almost classical style", as the Encyclopædia Britannica put it....

 and the Joshua Roll
Joshua Roll
The Joshua Roll is a Byzantine illuminated manuscript of highly unusual format, probably of the 10th century Macedonian Renaissance, believed to have been created by artists of the Imperial workshops in Constantinople, and now in the Vatican Library....

 are important examples)

The Macedonian period also saw a revival of the late antique technique of ivory
Ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

 carving. Many ornate ivory triptych
Triptych
A triptych , from tri-= "three" + ptysso= "to fold") is a work of art which is divided into three sections, or three carved panels which are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. It is therefore a type of polyptych, the term for all multi-panel works...

s and diptych
Diptych
A diptych di "two" + ptychē "fold") is any object with two flat plates attached at a hinge. Devices of this form were quite popular in the ancient world, wax tablets being coated with wax on inner faces, for recording notes and for measuring time and direction.In Late Antiquity, ivory diptychs with...

s survive, such as the Harbaville Triptych
Harbaville Triptych
The Harbaville Triptych is a Byzantine ivory triptych of the middle of the 10th century AD with a Deesis and other saints, now in the Louvre. Traces of colouring can still be seen on some figures...

 and a triptych at Luton Hoo
Luton Hoo
Luton Hoo straddles the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire borders between the towns of Harpenden and Luton. The unusual name "Hoo" is a Saxon word meaning the spur of a hill, and is more commonly associated with East Anglia.- Early History :...

, dating from the reign of Nicephorus Phocas).

Comnenian Age


The Macedonian emperors were followed by the Komnenian dynasty, beginning with the reign of Alexios I Komnenos
Alexios I Komnenos
Alexios I Komnenos, Latinized as Alexius I Comnenus , was Byzantine emperor from 1081 to 1118, and although he was not the founder of the Komnenian dynasty, it was during his reign that the Komnenos family came to full power. The title 'Nobilissimus' was given to senior army commanders,...

 in 1081. Byzantium had recently suffered a period of severe dislocation following the battle of Manzikert
Battle of Manzikert
The Battle of Manzikert , was fought between the Byzantine Empire and Seljuq Turks led by Alp Arslan on August 26, 1071 near Manzikert...

 in 1071 and the subsequent loss of Asia Minor to the Turks. However, the Komnenoi brought stability to the empire, (1081–1185), and during the course of the twelfth century their energetic campaigning did much to restore the fortunes of the empire. The Komnenoi were great patrons of the arts, and with their support Byzantine artists continued to move in the direction of greater humanism and emotion, of which the Theotokos of Vladimir
Theotokos of Vladimir
The Theotokos of Vladimir , also known as Our Lady of Vladimir or Virgin of Vladimir and "The Vladimir Madonna" - is one of the most venerated Orthodox icons and a typical example of Eleusa Byzantine iconography. The Theotokos is regarded as the holy protectress of Russia...

, the cycle of mosaics at Daphni, and the murals at Nerezi
Nerezi
Gorno Nerezi is a small village in the Republic of Macedonia, located in the Karpoš municipality, near Skopje, and at an altitude of 771 meters . It is situated on the wooded slopes of Mt. Vodno, covers a 7 km radius, and has a population of 314 inhabitants, mostly Albanians.Located in Gorno...

 yield important examples. Ivory sculpture and other expensive mediums of art gradually gave way to frescoes and icons, which for the first time gained widespread popularity across the Empire. Apart from painted icons, there were other varieties - notably the mosaic and ceramic
Ceramic
A ceramic is an inorganic, nonmetallic solid prepared by the action of heat and subsequent cooling. Ceramic materials may have a crystalline or partly crystalline structure, or may be amorphous...

 ones.


Some of the finest Byzantine work of this period may be found outside the Empire: in the mosaics of Gelati
Gelati
Gelati may refer to:* Gelati Monastery, a medieval monastery in Georgia* Gelato, an Italian ice cream* A layered parfait of water ice and frozen custard, popular in the Philadelphia metropolitan region...

, Kiev
Kiev
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. The population as of the 2001 census was 2,611,300. However, higher numbers have been cited in the press....

, Torcello
Torcello
Torcello is a quiet and sparsely populated island at the northern end of the Venetian Lagoon. It is considered the oldest continuously populated region of Venice, and once held the largest population of the Republic of Venice.-History:...

, Venice
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

, Monreale
Monreale
Monreale is a town and comune in the province of Palermo, in Sicily, Italy, on the slope of Monte Caputo, overlooking the very fertile valley called "La Conca d'oro" , famed for its orange, olive and almond trees, the produce of which is exported in large quantities...

, Cefalù
Cefalù
Cefalù is a city and comune in the province of Palermo, located on the northern coast of Sicily, Italy on the Tyrrhenian Sea about 70 km east from the provincial capital and 185 km west of Messina...

 and Palermo
Palermo
Palermo is a city in Southern Italy, the capital of both the autonomous region of Sicily and the Province of Palermo. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old...

. For instance, Venice's Basilica of St Mark, begun in 1063, was based on the great Church of the Holy Apostles
Church of the Holy Apostles
The Church of the Holy Apostles , also known as the Imperial Polyandreion, was a Christian church built in Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, in 550. It was second only to the Church of the Holy Wisdom among the great churches of the capital...

 in Constantinople, now destroyed, and is thus an echo of the age of Justinian. The acquisitive habits of the Venetians mean that the basilica is also a great museum of Byzantine artworks of all kinds (e.g., Pala d'Oro
Pala d'Oro
Pala d’Oro is the high altar retable of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. It is universally recognized as one of the most refined and accomplished works of Byzantine craftsmanship, with both front and rear sides decorated.-Description and history:The altarpiece consists of two parts...

).

Palaeologan Age


Eight hundred years of continuous Byzantine culture were brought to an abrupt end in 1204 with the sacking of Constantinople by the knights of the Fourth Crusade
Fourth Crusade
The Fourth Crusade was originally intended to conquer Muslim-controlled Jerusalem by means of an invasion through Egypt. Instead, in April 1204, the Crusaders of Western Europe invaded and conquered the Christian city of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire...

, a disaster from which the Empire never recovered. Although the Byzantines regained the city in 1261, the Empire was thereafter a small and weak state confined to the Greek peninsula and the islands of the Aegean
Aegean Sea
The Aegean Sea[p] is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located between the southern Balkan and Anatolian peninsulas, i.e., between the mainlands of Greece and Turkey. In the north, it is connected to the Marmara Sea and Black Sea by the Dardanelles and Bosporus...

.

Nevertheless the Palaeologan Dynasty, beginning with Michael VIII Palaeologus in 1259, was a last golden age of Byzantine art, partly because of the increasing cultural exchange between Byzantine and Italian artists. Byzantine artists developed a new interest in landscapes and pastoral scenes, and the traditional mosaic-work (of which the Chora Church
Chora Church
The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora is considered to be one of the most beautiful examples of a Byzantine church. The church is situated in Istanbul, in the Edirnekapı neighborhood, which lies in the western part of the municipality of Fatih...

 in Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 is the finest extant example) gradually gave way to detailed cycles of narrative frescoes (as evidenced in a large group of Mystras
Mystras
Mystras is a fortified town and a former municipality in Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Sparti, of which it is a municipal unit. Situated on Mt...

 churches). The icons, which became a favoured medium for artistic expression, were characterized by a less austere attitude, new appreciation for purely decorative qualities of painting and meticulous attention to details, earning the popular name of the Paleologan Mannerism for the period in general.

Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

 had been ruled by the Venetians since 1211, and the Cretan school
Cretan School
The term Cretan School describes an important school of icon painting, also known as Post-Byzantine art, which flourished while Crete was under Venetian rule during the late Middle Ages, reaching its climax after the Fall of Constantinople, becoming the central force in Greek painting during the...

 of icon-painting gradually introduced Western elements into its style, and exported large numbers of icons to the West. After the fall of the Empire, Crete became the centre of Greek art, until it too fell to the Turks in 1669.

Legacy




The splendour of Byzantine art was always in the mind of early medieval Western artists and patrons, and many of the most important movements in the period were conscious attempts to produce art fit to stand next to both classical Roman and contemporary Byzantine art. This was especially the case for the imperial Carolingian art
Carolingian art
Carolingian art comes from the Frankish Empire in the period of roughly 120 years from about AD 780 to 900 — during the reign of Charlemagne and his immediate heirs — popularly known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The art was produced by and for the court circle and a group of...

 and Ottonian art
Ottonian art
In pre-romanesque Germany, the prevailing style was what has come to be known as Ottonian art. With Ottonian architecture, it is a key component of the Ottonian Renaissance named for the emperors Otto I, Otto II, and Otto III...

. Luxury products from the Empire were highly valued, and reached for example the royal Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 Sutton Hoo burial in Suffolk
Suffolk
Suffolk is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in East Anglia, England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east...

 of the 620s, which contains several pieces of silver. Byzantine silk
Byzantine silk
Byzantine silk is silk woven in the Byzantine Empire from about the 4th century until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.The Byzantine capital of Constantinople was the first significant silk-weaving center in Europe. Silk was one of the most important commodities in the Byzantine economy, used by...

s were especially valued and large quantities were distributed as diplomatic gifts from Constantinople. There are records of Byzantine artists working in the West, especially during the period of iconoclasm, and some works, like the frescos at Castelseprio
Castelseprio
Castelseprio was the site of a Roman fort in antiquity, and a significant Lombard town in the early Middle Ages, before being destroyed and abandoned in 1287. It is today preserved as an archaeological park in the modern comune of Castelseprio, near the modern village of the same name...

 and miniatures in the Vienna Coronation Gospels
Vienna Coronation Gospels
See also Coronation Gospels for other manuscripts with the nameThe Vienna Coronation Gospels, also known as the Treasury Gospels is a late 8th Century illuminated Gospel Book...

, seem to have been produced by such figures.

In particular, teams of mosaic
Mosaic
Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration, or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral...

 artists were despatched as diplomatic gestures by emperors to Italy, where they often trained locals
Late Antique and medieval mosaics in Italy
Italy has the richest concentration of Late Antique and medieval mosaics in the world. Although the technique is especially associated with Byzantine art, and many Italian mosaics were probably made by imported Greek-speaking artists and craftsmen, the numbers of significant mosaics remaining in...

 to continue their work in a style heavily influenced by Byzantium. Venice
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 and Norman Sicily were particular centres of Byzantine influence. The earliest surviving panel paintings in the West were in a style heavily influenced by contemporary Byzantine icons, until a distinctive Western style began to develop in Italy in the Trecento
Trecento
The Trecento refers to the 14th century in Italian cultural history.Commonly the Trecento is considered to be the beginning of the Renaissance in art history...

; the traditional and still influential narrative of Vasari and others has the story of Western painting begin as a breakaway by Cimabue
Cimabue
Cimabue , also known as Bencivieni di Pepo or in modern Italian, Benvenuto di Giuseppe, was an Italian painter and creator of mosaics from Florence....

 and then Giotto from the shackles of the Byzantine tradition. In general Byzantine artistic influence on Europe was in steep decline by the 14th century if not earlier, despite the continued importance of migrated Byzantine scholars in the Renaissance in other areas.

Islamic art
Islamic art
Islamic art encompasses the visual arts produced from the 7th century onwards by people who lived within the territory that was inhabited by or ruled by culturally Islamic populations...

 began with artists and craftsmen mostly trained in Byzantine styles, and though figurative content was greatly reduced, Byzantine decorative styles remained a great influence on Islamic art, and Byzantine artists continued to be imported for important works for some time, especially for mosaic
Mosaic
Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration, or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral...

s.


The Byzantine era properly defined came to an end with the fall of Constantinople
Fall of Constantinople
The Fall of Constantinople was the capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which occurred after a siege by the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, against the defending army commanded by Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI...

 to the Ottoman Turks
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 in 1453, but by this time the Byzantine cultural heritage had been widely diffused, carried by the spread of Orthodox Christianity, to Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

, Serbia
Serbia
Serbia , officially the Republic of Serbia , is a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, covering the southern part of the Carpathian basin and the central part of the Balkans...

, Romania
Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

 and, most importantly, to Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, which became the centre of the Orthodox world following the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. Even under Ottoman rule, Byzantine traditions in icon-painting and other small-scale arts survived, especially in the Venetian-ruled Crete and Rhodes
Rhodes
Rhodes is an island in Greece, located in the eastern Aegean Sea. It is the largest of the Dodecanese islands in terms of both land area and population, with a population of 117,007, and also the island group's historical capital. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within...

, where a "post-Byzantine" style under increasing Western influence survived for a further two centuries, producing artists including El Greco
El Greco
El Greco was a painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. "El Greco" was a nickname, a reference to his ethnic Greek origin, and the artist normally signed his paintings with his full birth name in Greek letters, Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος .El Greco was born on Crete, which was at...

 whose training was in the Cretan School
Cretan School
The term Cretan School describes an important school of icon painting, also known as Post-Byzantine art, which flourished while Crete was under Venetian rule during the late Middle Ages, reaching its climax after the Fall of Constantinople, becoming the central force in Greek painting during the...

 which was the most vigorous post-Byzantine school, exporting great numbers of icons to Europe.

Russian icon painting began by entirely adopting and imitating Byzantine art, as did the art of other Orthodox nations, and has remained extremely conservative in iconography, although its painting style has developed distinct characteristics, including influences from post-Renaissance Western art. All the Eastern Orthodox churches have retained highly protective of their traditions in terms of the form and content of images and, for example, modern Orthodox depictions of the Nativity of Christ
Nativity of Jesus in art
The Nativity of Jesus has been a major subject of Christian art since the 4th century. The artistic depictions of the Nativity or birth of Jesus, celebrated at Christmas, are based on the narratives in the Bible, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and further elaborated by written, oral and...

 vary little in content from those developed in the 6th century.

See also

  • Icon
    Icon
    An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

  • Sacred art
    Sacred art
    Sacred art is imagery intended to uplift the mind to the spiritual. Sacred art involves the ritual and cultic practices and practical and operative aspects of the path of the spiritual realization within the bosom of the tradition in question....

  • Book of Job in Byzantine Illuminated Manuscripts
    Book of Job in Byzantine illuminated manuscripts
    There are fourteen known Byzantine manuscripts of the Book of Job dating from the 9th to 14th centuries- as well as a post-byzantine codex illuminated with cycle of miniatures...


Further reading

  • J. Beckwith, Early Christian and Byzantine art (New Haven, 1993).
  • R. Cormack, Byzantine art (Oxford, 2000).
  • H.C. Evans, ed., Byzantium: faith and power (1261-1557) (New York, 2004).
  • H.C. Evans, ed., The glory of Byzantium (New York, 1997).
  • Sharon E. J. Gerstel and Julie A. Lauffenburger, ed., A Lost Art Rediscovered (Penn State, 2001) ISBN 0-271-02139-X
  • C. Mango, ed., The art of the Byzantine Empire, 312-1453: sources and documents (Englewood Cliffs, 1972).
  • K. Weitzmann, ed., Age of spirituality (New York, 1979).
  • Papadaki-Oekland, Stella. Byzantine Illuminated Manuscripts of the Book of Job. ISBN 2-503-53232-2 & ISBN 978-2-503-53232-5

External links