Byzantine Art – Grandeur in the Art History of Eastern Roman Empire

The era of Byzantine Art, awed for the lavish use of gold and silver in artworks, dates back from the fourth century to the fall of its capital, Constantinople, in 1453. Byzantine Empire also referred to as Eastern Roman or Romania, had a Middle Aged, Greco-Roman culture. Several other states, such as Bulgaria, Serbia, and Venice, shared cultures similar to that of the Byzantine. The heart of Byzantine Art was set on human figures, especially holy Christian figures, “Virgin Mary,” “apostles,” and “saints” accompanied by “angels & bishops.” Byzantine emperors held the ultimate place in the culture. They were crucial to the political anatomy and were accredited as the divinely word of God.The art & architecture of this period reflected the strife between the Roman Catholic religion developed in the Western Roman Empire, and the Eastern Orthodox religion thriving in the East. Eastern Orthodox Church created the majority of Byzantine artworks, emphasizing on the mournful worship tone, instead of mass praying. The ‘Classical’ creative heritage of this era reflects the images of “Cherubs,” mythological heroes, Gods & Goddesses, as well as the incarnation of virtues. The paintings and the mosaics of this period exhibited a generous use of colors with golden or toned backgrounds on lifeless and tense figures, such as the mosaic of “Hagia Sophia” in Constantinople.Interestingly enough, human figures, the key subject of Byzantine Art, were portrayed in two different styles. One, as an emblem of power, authority, and grandeur, represented through the frontal figures of Christ, saints, and the imperial family. The images used to be full-length, with subtle emotions in eyes, a relevant facial expression, and hands gesturing meaningfully. The other style was religious in format, such as adoration, prayer, sympathy, and distress. The figures’ hands would gesture for blessings, teaching, etc, and/or holding either a book or a scroll. To depict a crowd, the principle of depth was applied through the overlap and/or the placement of figures at the higher side of a plane.Sculptures in this glorious era, were limited only to ivory works, such as the diptych of “Areobindus” (506) and “Forty Martyrs of Sebaste” of Macedonia. Overall, Byzantine Art somewhere abandoned its attempt towards ‘Realism,’ working more on ‘Symbolism’ and ‘Abstraction,’ such as in miniatures of “Rabula Gospel” (6th century). Several famous Byzantine icon works include, “The Virgin of the Passion,” “The Ladder to the Heaven,” “The White Angel at Christ’s Sepulchre,” “The Archangel Michael,” “The Crucifixion,” and “Entroned Madonna and Child,” depicted on the walls of either monasteries or churches.The fifth and the sixth centuries Byzantine Art climaxed, while staying consistent on the marks of excellence. By eighth and ninth centuries, Byzantine Art began diminishing, due to the ‘iconoclastic’ prohibition of human illustration in paintings. These rulers considered the human representation through artworks, as an infatuation to idol worship. However, the excellent Byzantine Art regained its lost prestige towards the end of the ninth century. Works such as the icon, “The Annunciation from Ohrid,” depicting ‘Paleologan Mannerism’ were created. Through its journey, Byzantine Art influenced the architectural artistry of West Europe, especially Italy, as Romanesque Art, in the tenth and the eleventh century. The Byzantine glory continued up to the 14th century, until the fall of empire to the Ottoman Turks.