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Byzantine Synopsis:

Byzantine Art

As the Italian peninsula was invaded by northern Germanic peoples, the Eastern Empire and Constantinople increased in power under the rule of Justinian I (ruled 527-565). Justinian commissioned the Church of Hagia Sophia, famous for its dome, "a golden, light-filled canopy ... suspended on a 'golden chain from heaven'" (a ring of windows) (Stokstad, 167). The centrally planned church utilized pendentives, triangular curving wall sections that spring from the corner piers, to transfer weight from a square to a circular opening.

Byzantine churches were also built outside of the new capital, including San Vitale in Ravenna. The two-story, dome covered octagon is a study in "complex, interpenetrating interior spaces" that create "an airy, floating sensation" (Stokstad, 169). The church is richly decorated with veined marble veneer and glass and gold mosaics, the most famous being those of Justinian and Theodora. The Church of Sant' Apollinare in Classe, a simple basilica plan church, is most famous for the large mosaic of the Transfiguration that decorates the apse.

Early illuminated manuscripts, executed on parchment, contained images for personal study and prayer. Worshipers would also pray before icons, panels painted with religious themes. Virgin and Child with Saints and Angels is an icon from the late 6th century that portrays the Virgin as an imperial throne for Christ. The Virgin, Christ and angels are influenced by Roman art while the saints are more stylized. These works were popular until the 8th century, when iconoclasm forbade the production of religious images.

Later Byzantine artists were influenced by both Classical and Early Byzantine art. The Church of San Marco, Venice, is inspired by the Byzantine domed church. Christ Pantokrator, from Daphni, Greece, is a combination of both styles, and emphasizes "an intellectual rather than a physical ideal" (Stokstad, 177). Details were eliminated, replaced by simple linear forms, focusing on the large eyes and clawlike hand. Luxury items were produced for the church and the court, using silver and gold, jewels and enamels, in techniques such as repousse relief and cloisonne enamel. Eastern churches followed the traditional Byzantine plan of a dome over a Greek cross, but were enhanced with multiple shapes and sizes, layered surfaces and geometric designs. Byzantine conventions, "including simple contours, elongation of the body, and a focus on a limited number of figures," carried over into Eastern art as well (Stokstad, 178).


Byzantine Art

Early Byzantine 527 - 726
Iconoclasm 726 - 843
Middle Byzantine 843 - 1204
Late Byzantine 1261 - 1453


Pendentive - triangular curved masonry supports providing transition from dome to arched supports arranged in a square base
Squinches - octagonal dome support sections that bridge the corners of a square base
Campanile - bell tower
Icon - stylized religious imagery painted on panels that evolved toward a very formal representation while being a focus of devotion
Iconoclasts - religious movement that eschewed religious imagery
Iconophiles - people who offered devotions to/at icons
Tempera - paint medium that uses egg yokes for its binder
Mandorla - pointed-arched all-encompassing nimbus
Anastasis (Greek: Resurrection)
Cardo - a hinge or pivot used in ancient construction to hang a door

Ciborium - a canopy, usually standing free and supported on four columns, covering the high altar; also, a similar canopy used over a statue, etc.
Ambo - a large pulpit and reding desk, in early Christian churches
Bema - in Eastern churches, that part containing the altar combining the bishop's throne and the clergy's stalls


Early Byzantine 527 - 726

Saint Michael the Archangel, Ivory, approx. l’5” x 5 1/2”, early 6th century

Hagia Sophia, Constantinople, 532 - 537
(by Anthemius of Tralles & Isidorus of Miletus)

San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy, 526 - 547
Justinian Bishop Maximianus & Attendants, mosaic from the north wall of the apse, c. 547
Theodora & Attendants, mosaic from the south wall of the apse, c. 547

Christ Between Angels & Saints, mosaic, from the apse vault, Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, Italy, c. 533 - 549

Saint Apollinaris amid sheep, Apse Mosaic c. 549

Iconoclasm 726 - 843

Middle Byzantine 843 - 1204

Monastery churches at Hosios Loukas, Phocis, Greece, Katholikon 1011-1022

The Crucifixion, mosaic in the monastery church in Daphne, Greece, 1090 - 1100

St. Mark’s, Venice, Italy begun 1063

Virgin (Theotokos) & Child, icon (Vladimir Virgan), Tempera on wood late 11th - 12th cent.

David Composing the Psalms, Paris Psalter, approx. 15 x 11”, c. 950 - 970
Late Byzantine 1261 - 1453

Anastasis, apse fresco in the parekklesion, Church of Christ in Chora, Constantinople, 1310 - 1320

Three Angels (The Old Testament Trinity), Tempera on wood, 56 x 45”, c. 1410

DJB Quick Notes:

~ St. Matthew: Angel
~ St. John: Eagle
~ St. Luke: Ox
~ St. Mark: Lion

DJB In-Depth Notes:

Special Event:


The Department of Art History and Archaeology
Kariye Camii: Restoring Byzantium

The Kariye Camii in Istanbul
and the Byzantine Institute Restoration

Tuesday, 13 April–Saturday, 12 June 2004

Next spring the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery will present an exhibition featuring the scholarly rediscovery and restoration of one of the most impressive Byzantine monuments to survive in the modern city of Istanbul: the church of the so-called Chora Monastery, better known by its Turkish name Kariye Camii. Founded probably as early as the sixth century, rebuilt in the late eleventh and early twelfth century, and splendidly restored by the Byzantine humanist, poet, and later prime minister Theodore Metochites between 1316 and 1321, the church of the Chora Monastery is today considered an 'icon' of Late Byzantine art and architecture. While the Kariye Camii was already known as the 'Mosaic Mosque' during the nineteenth century, the fame of the church's rich interior decoration rests by and large on an extensive restoration campaign initiated by Thomas Whittemore, director of the Byzantine Institute of America in the late 1940s. Previously he had undertaken the cleaning and conservation of the mosaics of Hagia Sophia. After Whittemore's untimely death, the conservation of the Kariye Camii's architecture, mosaics and frescoes was continued into the late 1950s by Paul Underwood and the Dumbarton Oaks Field Committee. Restoring Byzantium will feature not only this first American-sponsored restoration campaign of a major Late Byzantine monument through archival documents, photographs, and archaeological finds, but allow visitors to explore the architectural and scholarly history of the Kariye Camii through a variety of artifacts, early printed books, and multi-media programs developed by Columbia's Media Center for Art History and Archaeology. Visitors will be able to situate the art of the Kariye Camii in the wider cultural context of the Late Byzantine Empire by exploring the blockbuster exhibition Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557), concurrently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. An international symposium on Late Byzantine art is scheduled to be held jointly at the Metropolitan Museum and Columbia's Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America on April 16 and 17. Speakers will include Robin Cormack, Sharon Gerstel, Holger Klein, Paul Magdalino, Robert Ousterhout and others.


Columbia University in the City of New York