Byzantine Art c 300 – 1204
What is Byzantine Art?
In a nutshell: Art representing Christianity
Greek and Roman art was pushed aside as Christianity spread across Europe. The tendency for Greek and Roman art to glorify the person was abandoned as Christian beliefs determined that people were not be glorified above God. Christians believed that God gave artists their artistic ability and therefore their skills should only be used to spread the message of Christianity. Paintings were intended as religious lessons which would wow and inspire the viewer.
In about 300 AD, the emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople in his honour. The modern name is now Istanbul. In Constantinople, walls, ceilings, vaults and domes were covered in glittering mosaics and frescos, often showing people how to behave to get to heaven. With the support of Constantine, Christianity quickly spread to new places including Eastern Europe and Russia.
Byzantine Art is characterised by religion. Countless images of God, the Holy Family, Jesus and Mary were produced during this period. Symbolism is frequently used – keys to represent the power of the church, chalices to represent holy communion and the forgiveness of sin and of course the cross as the main symbol of Christianity. Bright colours and gilded backgrounds are often used to symbolise the wonder and magnificence of God. Individual features are often absent, human and animal forms are often flattened or still and there is little or no perspective or shadow. Individuals face forward and looks as though they are floating. Typically they have large eyes and there is little difference in expression between faces. Figures are usually heavily draped in robes and the outline of the human form is seldom visible. The intention was not to convey an individual person, but to display a figure with a magnificent holy aura.
In architecture, massive domes and rounded arches are common.