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Byzantine Art

Medieval life and Times

The capitol of the Roman Empire was Byzantium, renamed Constantinople. The Roman Empire was spit into two sections - the Eastern and Western part of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire fell when the German Visigoths, led by Alaric, sacked Rome. The Western part of the Empire disintegrated but the Eastern, or Byzantium Empire, stayed in tact.

Early Medieval Art reflect the differences between the development of the Catholic religion in the west and the Byzantium Empire of the east. The Catholic religion became divided in the Great Schism.

ByzantineArt Style
The Byzantine art style of the Dark Ages or early Medieval Art was created largely for the Eastern Orthodox Church. The style of Byzantium Art was characterised by:

  • Byzantine Art was totally flat - one dimensional. There was no perspective

  • There were no shadows

  • Figures in Byzantine Art were generally depicted front-facing

  • Byzantine Art featured long, narrow and solemn faces

  • There was no attempt to portray realism in sombre Byzantine Art

  • Pietistic painting (Christian art)

  • Artists were members of religious houses such as monasteries

  • There were no sculptures as these were looked upon as a form of idolatry

  • Sombre tones were used

The strong influence of the Byzantine style on medieval Italian painting can be seen in the works of the artists Cimabue and Giotto.

ByzantineArt History Overview
Byzantine art history was dictated initially by a highly conservative style which remained until the changes effected by the reconstituted realm of Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade and the emergence in 1204 of the Empire ruled by the Palaiologoi emperors. Byzantine art adhered to classical Greek styles and used simplification and stylization in figures due to their disdain for vanity and their attempts to depict the spiritual nature, rather than the physical appearance, of their subjects.

ByzantineArt History - The Iconoclastic controversy (715 - 843)
Byzantine Iconography refers to the distinct art style embodied in Eastern Orthodox religious images painted during the period of the Byzantine Empire. The iconoclastic controversy was a religious rather than an artistic dispute which centred around how the Second Commandment of Moses should be interpreted. The iconoclasts believed that it meant that people should not create pictures of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary or the saints. The iconodules disagreed with this belief. The arguments and debates lasted for over one hundred years during which time many examples of Byzantine art were destroyed. The word 'iconoclasm' refers to the destruction of works of art on the grounds that they are impious.

ByzantineArt History - Macedonian Art (843-1025)
Macedonian art (sometimes called the Macedonian Renaissance) was a period in Byzantine art which began in the period followed the lifting of the ban on icons (iconoclasm). Macedonian art featured classical styles in beautiful floor mosaics, ornate ivory sculptures and more realistic paintings of people.

ByzantineArt History - The Sack of Constantinople in 1204
The sack of Constantinople was outrageous. Christian Crusaders, persuaded by the Venetians and motivated by financial greed, attacked and sacked Constantinople.  The crusaders burned down a great part of the city. They slaughtered the inhabitants and they deliberately destroyed monuments, statues, paintings, and manuscripts - the accumulation of a thousand years of Byzantine Art.

ByzantineArt History - The Paleologus dynasty
Under the rule of the Palaiologoi, the fragmented Byzantine empire still claimed descent from the Roman Empire, but began to focus more on their Greek heritage. The Palaiologan period witnessed a renewed flourishing in Byzantine art in what has been called the "Palaiologian Renaissance". This heralded a renewed golden age of Byzantine art because of the increasing interaction between Byzantine and Italian artists. The influence of Italian art resulted in Italian-style frescoes replacing the traditional mosaic-work.

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