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Byzantine
Byzantine

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The art of the Byzantine Empire, dating from 330 AD with the transfer of the Roman capitol from Rome to Constantinople. It reached its peak in the 6th century with the first of the “Golden Ages”, and marked the primary division of the Eastern and Western artistic styles that were borne of the Empire. This encapsulates a huge time-frame of European art, as the second Golden Period of the Byzantium occurred roughly at the end of the 10th century and the third is dated between the years 1261 and 1435.
While the Western regions of the Empire were gradually being conquered by the Barbarians from the north, and its Hellenistic roots subsequently dissimilating in Syria, Alexandria and Sinai, the East saw a radical revival of artistic endeavors, propagated for the most part by the Emperor Justinian I [who ruled from 527 to 565 AD] in his attempt to recreate the capital of Constantinople into a sight of pure majesty. This new style, that gave expression to the dark, ritualistic sobriety of unified state and church government, eventually made its way through the entire region, from Europe and the Middle East down to South Italy, and through the Balkan countries into Russia.

The first Golden Period is characterized with as much abundance and richness as befitted the establishment of a political capitol. The best example of this can be seen in the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople that involved the employment of thousands of builders and artisans. In the San Vitala Church in Ravenna each floor is decorated with another spectacular mosaic, the walls are covered in marble and lined with gold, every available space and ceiling is adorned and dressed. As in all Byzantine art there is no use of three dimensional perception and all surface areas remain flat.

In 1204 the capitol was conquered and pillaged by the Latin Crusaders; this was the fourth wave of Crusaders, zealously intending to deliver the Holy Places from Mohammedan tyranny. Their reign was both brief and violent, but the time saw a revival of devout Christianity for the second time. This period is referred to as the Second Golden Age. Money was again being deferred to artistic propaganda and churches through Eastern Europe were repaired to their former glory. This was the era of the Macedonian Dynasty; a time of flourishing literature and education. Of this period remains the Dormition Monastery in Delphi, several miles from Athens.

The 13th, 14th and 15th centuries continued on in this vein until the third of the Golden Ages. In the 13th century fresco painting was preferred over the expensive and arduously obtained mosaics, the style became less severe and anemic-looking. Religion was still the main theme of all artistic mediums, but a freer style was now allowed, and experimented with. In the 15th century Constantinople was again conquered, this time by the Turks, and the Western cultures no longer took their inspiration from this legacy of Rome and Greece. Only further east, in the Balkans and in Russia, did this style persist.


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