Byzantine Art

Byzantine art

6th to 15th century.

  • Hagia Sophia Constantinople 532-537.
  • Justinian and wife Theodora. Byzantine Emperors. Constantine Justinian I (527-565)
  • Heraclius I (610-641) – important as he beat the Persians
  • Leo III (717-741), the Isaurian – first iconoclast
  • Constantine V (741-775), Kopronymus
  • Leo IV (775-780)
  • Constantine VI (780-797)
  • Irene (797-802) – brought images back
  • Nicephorus I (802-811)
  • Stauracius (811)
  • Michael I (811-813),
  • Rhangabe – end of iconoclasm


  • 1 Theodosian Dynasty
  • 2 Justinian Dynasty
  • 3 Heraclian Dynasty
  • 4 Isaurian Dynasty
  • 5 Amorian (Phrygian) Dynasty
  • 6 Macedonian Dynasty
  • 7 Proto-Comnenan Dynasty
  • 8 Comnenan Dynasty
  • 9 Angelan Dynasty
  • 10 Lascaran Dynasty (in exile as the Empire of Nicaea)
  • 11 Palaeologan Dynasty (restored at Constantinople)

Hagia Sophia – Holy Wisdom Hold Peace In East churches are squarer and in West more rectangular. Incredibly daring building, dome collapsed shortly after it was built but essentially it has survived in an earthquake zone since then. Riot in city and previous church was burnt down. Wife told him to get a grip and he did not flee but built this church in just five years. After iconoclasm the image of the Virgin in the apse was created. Patriarch (Pope of the East) at the time spoke about the image using classical forms of language. He spoke about Virgin looking into eyes of child but she is not. So why did he say it? Note subtle use of mosaic in close-up of face also small month and almond shaped eyes. Also note mosaic of Jesus with two medallions (about 900).

Leo married four times which at the time was completely unacceptable. Leo married his mistress and had one son. He was banned from church but later accepted back. The emperors (in fact everyone) bowed before images of Christ.

Image of Virgin with Justinian and Constantine as you come into the Narthex. Virgin is known as Mother of God. Upstairs there are images of Christ and Constantine and his wife Zoé. Zoé was very beautiful and very vain. The face in the mosaic has been changed and may be an earlier husband. Gold mosaic’s are made of gold leaf behind glass.

1261 Constantinople was retaken. There was an image put up about 1265- a much more refined image, Duccio is seen as taking a more Byzantine approach. Eucebius – biographer of Constantine – quote showing that even in 4th Century some were against images. In what sense could you worship on image? Story is Caligula replaced head of statue of Zeus with his own portrait and it is said the statue laughed. Illustrates idea of statues having a life.

Leo III – idea of images came to a head. By 8th Century Islamic coins had no image. Islam had been incredibly successful. So Emperor was worried if images should be used. Monasteries were very powerful and had a lot of control over the people, They were also very rich and powerful. Many had icons and a woman might, for example, sleep in front of an icon to conceive. The changes were signified by the icon of the Virgin (about 1400; now in BM) being taken down. A woman fought the soldiers taking it down and was killed and became a saint. Includes Theodora Regent to her son Michael.

lcon painted by El Greco of St. Luke. El Greco was an icon painter before he moved to west. BM holds a large icon collection. Strong Byzantine influence in Sicily. Manuscript showing how to bow in front of an icon (mother and daughters) and how to treat an icon. lcon in Greek means image but we usually use it to mean a panel covered in linen which is sized, covered in gesso and then painted in caustic, and later tempera.

Councils of iconoclasts were destroyed-we have records of the iconophiles (Council of Nicea for example). During iconoclasts period it is likely the artists moved west. One church was put 740 during iconoclasm Hagia Eirene (Holy Peace). Traces can be seen of where images were replaced by symbols (crosses etc.). See Theodore Psalter in BM. Illustrations in margins are a commentary on the text. Picture of bad patriarch who is whitewashing an image of Christ. Also picture of a good patriarch holding an icon. Also a scene of Orpheus playing his lyre to the animals. Miriam is shown playing castanets.

Sacra Parallela is written in upper case Greek letters. It was done intentionally to hark back to archaic times when upper case was used. This was during the Macedonian Renaissance.

Late 9th century Basil 1 (a stable boy) became the emperor through wilily ways. He married well and then killed the emperor. The Paris Psalter has full page illustrations. David is playing a musical instrument next to the muse of music with the river god at the bottom. Harks back to classical images. It was based on copying a series of images. Also see the picture of Moses and the crossing of the Red Sea.

The Paris Psalter is an important work from the 10th Century. Joshua Roll tells a story as a sequence of events. It could be a pattern book. The same scenes are also on the ivory panels in the Metropolitan. See the Veroli casket in the V&A (called rosette caskets) on a wooden base, Bellophorus – cupids having fun, the rape of Europa.

10th Century includes stories from classical times. We do not know what the box was used for but it seems secular rather than religious. Pantokrator (image off the mature Christ) is usually shown in the top of the main dome. Annunciation is used on the (?). The main scenes were always shown in standard positions. The rest of the church is covered in saints. Hosios Loukas.

Pantokrator. A church named after the image of Christ. In Constantinople. Story (homily) of the life of the Virgin before she conceived Christ. Horses- thought to be in Hippodrome in Constantinople were Greek or Roman statues taken to Venice. Chalice of Emperor Romanos – covered in enamel. Kariye Caami – “Karia Jami” – (Chora monestry) is now a mosque. Layers of bricks and stone on the outside. Image of Theodore Metochites 14th Century. Late Byzantine mosaics are small and delicate. Konesis (?) Virgin “going to sleep”. Panel of Virgin and child. Outer Narthex has saucer domes with the life of Christ, the census, note Kamelavkion – a cylindrical hat (?) hat of bamboo that was worn at the time. Pumpkin domes covered in scenes of the life of the Virgin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.