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Byzantine Architecture Byzantine Art & Architecture

World History to 1500 AD


C. DeLong

Architecture was based on their Roman legacy, yet there was a Hellenistic influence as well. The Byzantines built on their Roman heritage. Arches and domes are characteristic of Byzantium style.

Byzantine Art
Art was focused along the three aspects of Byzantine culture:
Holy figures of the Christian faith (Christ, Virgin Mary, the saints and the apostles) Core of the Political structure was the emperor, who was believed to be divinely sanctioned by God Classical heritage reflected in personifications of virtues and use of cherubs, mythological heroes, gods and goddesses

What Byzantine Art Reveals about Byzantine Civilization


The power and expressiveness of the figures portrayed in the art suggest the vitality and strength of Byzantine traditions, which have outlasted the fall of the empire. The richness of the materials, especially the lavish use of gold, indicates wealth. The great variety in the subject matter, media and types of art attests to the taste and sophistication of the society that commissioned it and to the remarkable artistic skill of the craftsmen who created it.

Human figures were portrayed in two styles


Face the viewer, focus is on the eyes Figures in action, poses of hands and arms make visual ideas such as blessing and teaching

What Byzantine Art Reveals about Byzantine Civilization


The continuing portrayal of classical themes and idealized human figures are visual reminders of the importance of the Greco-Roman heritage in Byzantine thought. In style and subject matter the arts of people as near as Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Bulgaria, and as far away as western Europe and the Middle East show the vast expanse of Byzantine cultural and artistic contacts.

Hagia Sophia
Istanbul, Turkey
The most important church in Christianity for 1000 years

Emperor Constantius built the original church in 360 AD. It had a rectangular floor plan and circular apse (the sanctuary at the end of a church). It was destroyed in 404 AD by a riotous mob. Theodosius II built a new church in its place in 415 AD. The design was of the basilica style with a covered roof. The church was destroyed again during the Nika Revolt in 532 AD. Emperor Justinian set rebuilding the church as a priority. The design would be different and more impressive. Justinian spared no expense in the building of this new church. Construction was completed in less than six years. The Hagia Sophia is the fourth largest church in the world. The central dome is 107 feet across and 160 feet from the ground.

Arches and Domes are characteristics of the Byzantium style. This can be seen here inside the Hagia Sophia.

In this mosaic, Justinian presents a model of the Hagia Sophia to Christ. This mosaic is found inside the Hagia Sophia. Mosaics were an important Byzantine art style.

Frescos became an important art type in the late period of the Byzantine Empire. Notice again the large use of icons.

Mosaics of Peter and Paul at the Chora Church in Istanbul

Empress Theodora Justinian s wife This mosaic here was finished only months before she died of cancer. Theodora was an actress before marrying Justinian. As Empress, she did many things to advance the causes of women.

Illuminated Manuscripts are an excellent example of Byzantine Art.

Jewelry was very popular and they wore a lot of it: belts, chains, necklaces (also worn in hair), rings, anklets, armlets. Men wore jewelry as well: belts, armlets, bracelets, rings, and military cloaks (popular for civilians). Earrings and pendants were a favorite adornment of women. Mosaics show us how people dressed, especially the imperial and high court families.

Silk was the major Byzantine industry after 550 AD.

Weaving Silk

Some cocoons are allowed to hatch to preserve the line of silk worms

Bags of
Justinian had silk worms smuggled out of China to make the silk that had long been desired in the Mediterranean and passed along the Silk Road.

Silk Cocoons

The worm must be extracted from the cocoon. The cocoons are soaked in warm water, then a brush is run across the top to pick up the ends of the silk. Literally miles of silk come from one single cocoon. Silk is also one of the strongest natural materials in the world.

The silk strands are they woven together.

Natural dyes, indigo above

Russian Architecture was greatly influenced by Byzantium.

Islamic architecture was also greatly influenced by the Byzantines.

Discussion Questions
What is the difference between divine powers and human powers? How can an artist show something that is spiritual and immaterial? What does the great variety of subject matter reveal about the Byzantine court and church? Byzantine civilization greatly influenced neighboring cultures, even those that were far away. In modern times, the culture of one nation can influence others. In what ways does the culture of the United States influence other cultures, even in nations that are far away, such as Japan and the Russian Federation? In what ways do other cultures influence our diverse society in the United States?

What are the two characteristics of Byzantine architectural style? What feature did the artists use to convey that the subject was holy or sacred? What became the major Byzantine industry after the reign of Justinian? What is a mosaic? What is the best example of Byzantine architecture (name of the building)? Where could one find the influence of Byzantine culture today?

What does art tell us about a culture? What kind of clues about a culture can art tell us? Who was Theodora? What is an illuminated manuscript? Describe jewelry in the Byzantine Empire. Bonus: What does Hagia Sophia mean?