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the style of Byzantine Art was developed during the Fifth and Sixth centuries. - A Stan Klos Website

Byzantine Art
By Neal McLaughlin

The Byzantine Art movement, which began around A.D. 330 in the Eastern Roman Empire, included architecture, painting and all other forms of visual arts. Centered in the capital city of Constantinople, (Istanbul today) of the Byzantium Empire, Byzantine Art was centralized in the Orthodox Church.

The churches were ornate with richly color paintings of icons as well as decorations made out of mosaic tiles. The use of bright and vivacious colors and the seemingly flat and stiff figures that often appeared to be floating above the ground were actually intended to be religious lessons.

The religious subjects that were portrayed by the Byzantine artists with their luscious golden and solidly toned backgrounds were represented in a clear and simple approach so that the lessons could be easily learned.

When used as architectural ornamentation, the Byzantine churches, unlike the Greek Orthodox temples, were constructed to look similar to the public buildings of Rome. The entire building; walls, domes, vaults and floors were covered by mosaic tiles illustrating both colorful and enhancing images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the saints and the apostles; often times in company of a Bishop and cherubs.

The artists of the Byzantine movement were given little in the way of personal expression. Since the movement was essentially supported and regulated by the church, each artisans was under the obligation to adhere to the church's request that their art reflect paintings of devotional planes that were important to both the religious and the secular life.

Despite the restriction of individuality, being an artist during the Byzantine Empire was considered to be an honorable profession that was either passed down from father to son or daughter or learned through the child's apprenticeship with a practicing master. The downfall to being an artist during this period is perhaps, that when it came to appreciation, individual recognition was extremely rare prior to the 13th- century.

Artists of the Byzantine movement were not specialists in one particular medium. In fact they would be called upon to undertake many aspects of art through a variety of mediums; all dependent upon what the church needed at that time.

Although a majority of the Byzantine art was of grand scale and accomplished by a troupe of traveling artisans, there were some individuals who worked form their homes producing the highly prized objects of ivory and metalwork; such as religious relics, devotional panels and even a series of ivory caskets.

The Byzantine art was an important contribution to the church as well as to the empire for it portrayed the vitality and strength of the Byzantine traditions, which had existed despite the fall of the Byzantium. The use of rich materials such as gold and ivory reflected the degree of wealth that was common during this period, while the choice of subject matters and mediums used attested to the sophistication of the Byzantine Society as well as highlighting the skills of the artists.

As strong as the Byzantine Empire may have appeared, the continuous border and language changes as well as a shift in the political traditions and Christian belief may have been instrumental in keeping the empire off balance. In 395, the Roman Empire experienced a permanent split from the Eastern Empire, (Arcadia) with the founding of the Western Empire of Honorious.

Still, the Byzantine art movement dominated the Roman Orthodox church. That is until 726 when all activity of the artisans were brought to a complete halt by the Iconoclastic Controversy. This interruption, unfortunately had negative impacts on the movement. Not only were the figurines destroyed there was now a a restriction placed upon what was considered permissible as content of ornamental forms as well as the frequent use of symbols such as the cross.

Despite this thorn in their side, the Byzantine movement adopted new philosophies to their approach and embraced the restrictions with a new zest and zeal. Byzantium would press on and even recover from the pillaging of the Frankish Crusade.

In 1453, however, the Byzantine Empire was destined for doom. Following an attack by the Turks, the Byzantine Empire was just too weak to recover and as a result fell. In spite of the crumbling of the Byzantine Empire, the movement had achieved its spot in the historical annals of art history but would eventually be forced to step aside for the new and exciting Renaissance movement.

Even though the Byzantine Style did fall out of fashion following the collapse of Constantinople, the influence was still prevalent in other Orthodox nations such as Russia and Greece.

It is true that with the collapse of Constantinople there came an end to the Byzantine style. However, it is still possible to catch a glimpse of this beautiful style by visiting a Greek Orthodox Church; for it is suggested that because of their intense devotion to the Byzantine Style this art still adorns many of their churches.

Research Links


ART HISTORY RESOURCES: Part 7 Art of the Middle Ages

... Works of Art; Themes in Byzantine Art; A Brief Summary of Byzantine History; Byzantium Through The Ages: A Timeline; Glossary of Terms. The Byzantine Monuments .

The Glory of Byzantium - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Includes Byzantine art themes, the history of Byzantium, and a visual timeline. ... Investigate a theme in Byzantine art. Probe the history of Byzantium. ...

Yahoo! Directory: Art History > Byzantine Art

Yahoo! reviewed these sites and found them related to Art History > Byzantine Art. ... Art History > Byzantine Art. ...

Byzantine Art: Artists and their Works

Artists by Movement: Byzantine Art. 5th Century AD to 1453. Byzantine art is the art of the Byzantine Empire, centered in Constantinople (now Istanbul). ...

Byzantine Art - History for Kids!

Medieval Art Byzantine Ivory panel from Constantinople, now in Cluny Museum, Paris. The art of Rome continued in an unbroken tradition ...

NM's Creative Impulse..Byzantium

... Art History Resources: Byzantine - from Chris Witcombe's excellent site - a list of links leading to images and valuable art info. ...

Early Christian and Byzantine Art


Early Christianity - Art History of Early Christianity

... 2nd - 7th century), and the Byzantine art and architecture ... Rome and of the Church history in its ... Early Christian art and architecture Infoplease Encyclopedia's ...

AHRB Centre for Byzantine Cultural History

... The aim is to unite the strengths and of three universities: the expertise of Sussex in art history, the long tradition of Byzantine archaeology at Newcastle ...

Byzantine Art

L1055. Byzantine Art. In 323 ... The development of the style of Byzantine Art was developed during the Fifth and Sixth centuries. From that ...

Byzantine art and architecture

... Byzantine art and architecture: General History - General History For more than a thousand years, until the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks...

Art History 101 - A Brisk Walk Through the Eras

... its heavy Byzantine influences, breathed new life into sculpture, architecture and metalwork. 1000-1150 - Romanesque Art. For the first time in history, art is ...



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