Byzantine Art




As the Roman power base shifted to the city of Constantinople, previously Byzantium, Byzantine art spread through eastern Europe. There was also a
great influence from the Near East, and from barbarian art and Persian
culture. The common language, or
Koine, spoken throughout the Roman world,
faded and Greek became the language of the empire.


The emperor Constantine founded Constantinople in AD324, dedicating the new city to the Virgin Mary. Gradually, in the centuries that followed, Roman culture became influenced by the East and the "barbarian" cultures of northern Europe. Respect for tradition was passed down without question or criticism, evident in the fact that the Greek language of a fifth-century writer is virtually indistinguishable from that written in the 12th century. Byzantine art displayed the same constancy: in the fifth and sixth centuries, it developed a formal expression that was manifested in thousands of works of art that came to be regarded as sacred and immutable. This survived the eighth and early ninth centuries (when those who venerated graven images were terrorized by the iconoclasts), and was revived in the late ninth century.



The Armenian people enjoyed a long period of prosperity between their conversion to Christianity and the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. Throughout Armenia and neighbouring Georgia there was much important and original architecture, with historical links to the traditions of the peoples who had long dominated the region - the Persians and Romans - and with the Byzantine koine from the fifth century. By the tenth century, Armenian architecture was developing along independent lines. Advanced building techniques, notably the use of concrete domes and vaults on stone walls, led to many remarkable monuments that still survive, despite earthquakes and wartime destruction. Earlier than in other regions, Armenian church architects employed the basic-plan of a central dome on a square base, a theme that was elaborated on many times. The dome, set on a circular or polygonal drum, is often supported by four pilasters, and the interior contains pilasters with arches and niches. In many cases, the plans of the buildings are quite complex, such as those of the church of Kazkh. Those that follow the Greek cross type sometimes have terminal apses and corner pieces between the arms. The fascinating ruins of the old Armenian capital, Ani, include rectangular, domed and polygonal churches. There are also castellated monastic complexes. Much of the ornamentation was carved from stone, and in some cases was inlaid in a style incorporating Persian. Arabic, Syrian, and Byzantine elements. Armenian architecture had a lasting influence on later styles in the Caucasian region.

Monastery of Marmashen, 10th-13th century.
Following the decline of Armenian power, monastic buildings gained in importance,
and became the places where culture was preserved.
The building next to the church, the gavit, was used not just for worship but also for assemblies and meetings




The Last Judgment, wall mosaic. Torcello Cathedral, Venice, late 11 th-12th century


Churches on Torcello, in Venice

Churches on Torcello, in Venice, are remnants of the Byzantine "cities of silence". which were tantamount to museums in the declining Byzantine culture of the ninth century. Buildings of brick, the most typical material of Byzantine architecture, rise up from the grey waters of the lagoon, the brick interspersed with thin layers of stone or decorated with marble-lined openings. The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, founded in 639 and rebuilt in 1008, has a 9th-century portal and a crypt with an 11th-century architrave and bell tower, all of which are constructed of marble. Inside, there are columns with 11th-century capitals and a huge mosaic. The Last Judgment (late 11th to 12th century), on the west wall. In the apse, which dates from the original church, other mosaics from the same period include the Twelve Apostles and the Virgin and Child. Another church. Santa Fosca, has a floor plan in the shape of a Greek cross.


Christ in Majesty between the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, mosaic in the vault of the chapel's apse.
Torcello Cathedral, Venice, 13th century.
The island of Torcello was the spiritual centre and bishopric of the lagoon before Rialto-Venice





Two pages from the Gospels, 1204-05, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican City.
This Coptic and Arabic manuscript was produced in Cairo. It shows St Mark and. in imperial dress, St Michael


Another important late-antique and high medieval culture that continued with little change until the ninth century was Coptic ait, produced by Christians in the Nile valley area of Egypt and stretching in some cases to modern Ethiopia. However, there was no influence of ancient Egyptian art. since Alexander had all but annihilated the dynastic cultures. The principal points of reference in the ancient world were the cities of Constantinople and Alexandria, and their influence extended to this region. Byzantine styles and themes can be seen in many small objects of Coptic art. These include linen textiles decorated with medallions that bear coloured figures — these were used both for burial and ecclesiastical clothing - as well as many small paintings on wood, a variety of inlaid woods, and finely worked miniatures of sacred books. The influence of Coptic art was to last beyond the Islamic conquest of Egypt.


Decorative tunic sleeve border, ninth to tenth century.
Museo Nazionaie di Antichita, Ravenna, Italy.
The polychrome wool border stands out against the cobalt blue fabric


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