Byzantine Art

Byzantine art, architecture, paintings and other visual arts were produced in the Middle Ages in the Byzantine Empire, which was centred at Constantinople and in other various areas that came under its influence. The styles that emerged from this period were all particularly similar or homogeneous. It began this way in the 6ht century and continued on until Constantinople was captured by the Turks in 1453. Byzantine art was almost entirely concerned with religious expression and more specifically, with a very carefully controlled church theology. Essentially in that, the church controlled the artistic terms of the period. Its architecture grew out of this, as well as its paintings and for the most part, remained fairly uniform and anonymous.

In the Byzantine Empire, there was little to no distinction between artist and craftsperson. Both created beautiful objects for a specific purpose, whether it be a box to keep a precious belonging or an icon to stir feelings of piety and reverence. In addition, many artists were monks or priests, particularly the creators of illustrated manuscripts. An illustrated or illuminated manuscript would typically spread their gospel or scripture. Byzantine Christian art had a triple purpose. It beautified buildings, instructed the illiterate on matters of the soul and encouraged the faithful that were on the correct path to salvation.
 
Byzantine art was perfected within a structure of rigid tradition rather than the typical artistic approach, which deals more with whims and spontaneity. The result was a spirituality of expression rarely paralleled in Western art. The earliest kinds of Byzantine architecture developed in Italy and favoured the extensive use of large domes and vaults. This architecture is impressive, certainly, but is not well suits to wall arrangements. The circular nature of the domes and walls meant that more structured walls had to be built inside and followed a radial plan that allowed for art and frescoes to be placed on interior walls. This lent itself well to representing their hierarchical view of the universe. For example, the All-ruling Father would be placed in the top of the central dome and below him would be angels, archangels and on the walls, figures of the saints. The Virgin Mary was often pictured high up in a half-dome that covered one of the four radial arms. The lowest realm was that of the congregation. The whole church thus formed a microcosm of the universe.
 
The interiors of these churches would typically be decorated with lavish mosaics and frescoes. They served as static, symbolic images of the divine and the Absolute. The mature Byzantine style evolved through the stylization and standardization of late classical forms of Early Christian art. It was based on the lines and flat areas of colour rather than form. Individual features were suppressed in favour of a standard facial type. Figures were flattened and draped fabric was reduced to patterns of swirling lines. The total effect was one of the disembodiment of the individual. The three-dimensional representation of the human figure was replaced by more of a spiritual presence and this was represented in the strength of the line and brilliance of colour. Most figures were shown as being frontal facing with large eyes and a gaze that could be described as penetrating. Gold was also often used in the background. Very little sculpture was produced in this era but those that were made were small relief carvings, usually in ivory. These would be used for book covers, reliquary boxes and other similar objects. Miniature arts, embroidery, gold work and enamel work were highly prevalent in the upper-class societies of Constantinople. The Byzantine people were able to spread their style and iconography throughout Europe through the use of manuscript illumination. It showed just a hint of what was displayed on the impressive walls of cathedrals and churches.
 The historical effect of the Byzantine era cannot be overlooked or overestimated. Because the Byzantine style was spread to Italy and Sicily, it had significant influences on Italian Renaissance art, which followed shortly after the end of the Byzantine era. Overall the Byzantine Empire was continuously expanding and shrinking over the centuries but the last impression of their art is important to acknowledge. They connected man to the divine in ways not truly seen before.