Article

Byzantine Art

Lynn Jones

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online June 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0060
Byzantine Art

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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Byzantine art, simply stated, is the art produced in the Byzantine Empire during the period 330–1453 ce. Of course it is not quite as simple as that. Byzantium was the Eastern Roman Empire, distinguished from Rome by three elements: Greek language, Christian religion, and Roman law. Byzantium was founded by Emperor Constantine I (the Great) in 330 ce with a new capital city, Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), and was, for over a century, the cultural center of the Middle Ages. Byzantine art history is divided chronologically. The Early Byzantine period (330–842 ce) begins with Constantine and ends with the overthrow of Iconoclasm, “icon breaking.” The Iconoclastic controversy (730–842 ce) was a period of turmoil during which the role of icons in pubic liturgy and private use was fiercely debated, resulting in a ban of icon use and production. Art of this period is characterized by its evolution from Roman art and by its transition from pagan to Christian art. While there is a relative wealth of monumental decorative programs and manuscripts, many icons were destroyed during Iconoclasm. The Middle Byzantine period (842–1204 ce) begins with the “Triumph of Orthodoxy”: the reestablishment of icon use and production. It ends with the sack of Constantinople by the Latin armies of the Fourth Crusade. There is more surviving art from the Middle Byzantine period than remains to us from either the Early or Late periods. This period saw the full flowering of art; imperial and aristocratic patronage spurred artistic development in all fields. Patrons and artists also looked back to Byzantium’s classical artistic heritage. The “classicizing style” that resulted is best represented in illuminated manuscripts. There is also a growth in the production of luxury objects, including ivory caskets, reliquaries, and jewelry. The art of the 11th and 12th centuries reveals increasing contact with western Europe. The Late Byzantine period (1204–1453 ce) covers the loss of much of Byzantium to the Crusaders, its reconquest, and subsequent increasing interactions with the West. The empire was also reduced by subsequent attacks by Arabs, Seljuks, and Mongols. In 1453 ce, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, ending the empire. Of the three periods, there is less extant Late Byzantine art, but what remains, while lesser in quantity, is not of lesser quality. Monumental wall paintings, mosaic decorations, and illuminated manuscripts attest to the increasing influence of Western art and to the continued artistic production of the highest quality.

Article.  6851 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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