The History of Art Survey
Middle and Later Byzantine Art
Gardner 343- 357
B Middle Byzantine Art 843- 1204
C Later Byzantine Art 1204- 1453 +
Style Period: Middle Byzantine Art 843- 1204
16 Virgin (Theotokos) and Child Enthroned, apse Hagia Sophia, ded. 867
17 Monastery churches at Hosios Loukas Phocis
18 Katholikon (c 1011-1021) and Church of Theotokos (10th c), Hosios Loukas
* Domes on pendentives and squinches
19 Kotholikon, interior, Hosios Loukas
20 The Crucifixion, monastery church, 1090-1100 Daphne
* Christ, Pantocrator, monastery church, 1090-1100 Daphne
21 St. Mark’s Cathedral, aerial view, 1063- Venice
* St. Mark’s Cathedral, plan Venice
22 St. Mark’s Cathedral, interior, 1063 Venice
23 Anastasis, west vault St. Marks, c 1180 Venice
24 The Pantocrator, with the Virgin, Angels, and Saints, 1180-1190 Monreale
* Monreale Cathedral nave interior
25 Empress Irene, det of Pala d’Oro, Saint Mark’s Venice
26 Christ enthroned with Saints, Harbaville Triptych, c 950
27 Lamentation over the dead Christ, St. Pantaleimon, 1164 Nerezi
28 David Composing the Psalms, Paris Psalter, c 960
29 The Vladimir Madonna, 11th - early 12th c
Style Period: Later Byzantine Art 1204- 1453 +
30 Church of St. Catherine, c 1280 Thessaloniki
31 Anastasis The Harrowing of Hell, apse of Church of Chora, 1310-20 Istanbul
32 Christ as Savior of Souls, icon from Church of St. Clement, early 14th, Ohrid
33 Annunciation, from Church of St. Clement, c 1350 Ohrid
34 The Old Testament Trinity Prefiguring the Incarnation, Andrei Rublyev, c 1410
35 Large sakkos of Photius, c 1417, Moscow
Middle Byzantine art marks the period between the renewal of art at the end of the Iconoclastic Period and the destruction and conquest of the city by the Frankish armies of the 4th Crusade. Organized to retake Jerusalem and the Christian holy land from the Muslim kings who had conquered the region in the mid 7th century, the failed crusade, turned to the richest alternative target of convenience, the capital of the Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the Byzantine Empire. Being Christian was no defense. This was also the period in which the western, Latin, Catholic church of Rome had split with the eastern, Greek, Orthodox church of Byzantium. The Orthodox Christians were apparently no more respectable to the Roman Catholic Franks than the Muslim Arabs they originally set out to plunder. For it seems that if they could not have the pious glory of rescuing god’s holy land from non-Christians, then plunder and conquest of other Christians was reward enough for their trouble.
In 843 it was determined that icons weren’t heretical, but the destruction of icons was, and figurative imagery was welcomed back into the cultural fold. Historians call the period the great renovation. A new dynasty the Macedonians, was inaugurated by Basil the 1st in 867, denouncing the former dynasty as Frankish Carolingian usurpers from the West. Basil claimed the only true Roman Emperors were the rulers of Constantinople. The rulers in Rome were “kings of the Germans,” who were then in charge of the city. Greek speaking figurative artists who had fled westward with the Iconoclasm, now swarmed back to the Byzantine Empire, bringing much Italian culture with them.
Style Period: Middle Byzantine Art 843- 1204
Now we come to the point when Christianity can be taken out of a pure “Western” representation, and divided between an officially “Western” religion, the Christianity of the West, and an “Eastern” form. Byzantium is portrayed, in our hegemonic text, as an archetypal “Eastern” civilization. We all know the continuing English language connotation of the adjective Byzantine: convoluted, stagnant, mysterious, decadent: Eastern!
And from the beginning what was the difference between the eastern and western halves of the Roman empire? In the time of Byzantium’s development and throughout its separation from the other parts of the Christian world, Byzantium and the Orthodox church is the separation between the Latin world of Roman Catholicism and the Greek language and culture of Byzantium. It is the fact of being Greek that defines the Eastern element in the contrast this time.
Orthodox icons are usually small portraits of particular saints or the Christ child or the Theotokos. From early on particular icons were believed to be associated with miracles and received particular devotional treatment on that basis. It was largely this treatment that was identified by some as idolatry and lead to the ban on figurative image use of all sorts, as sins against the Second Commandment of the Old Testament.
It is clear from the lack of Jewish art over the centuries that Jews have held similar suspicions. Muslims have followed the same injunction and avoided figurative art in association with their faith.
In 754 the Patriarch banned all image use in the church and vast amounts of imagery were destroyed. And even more scrupulous denuding of Hagia Sophia of its imagery than undertaken by the Ottomans, left not a shred of earlier figurative decoration there.
Having sat in Orthodox churches in Athens, and through services there as well, I was certainly impressed with the sort of personal attention paid to particular icons. Touching is almost mandatory for many worshippers on entering the church, and kissing is very common. It seems emotionally and physically little different from the uninhibited idol worship of Hindus in India, or that of some Christians in India as well. The Roman Catholic church also posses a number of objects that receive different, but quite impressive devotion.
Architecture & Mosaics
16 Virgin (Theotokos) and Child enthroned, apse mosaic, Hagia Sophia, Constantinople, ded. 867
One of their first acts of the Macedonian emperor was to refurbish the iconoclastically stripped monuments, bringing new apse mosaics to Hagia Sophia. This is the most standard Byzantine apse half-dome figure of the Theotokos seated on a throne with the baby Jesus in her lap. The piece is 16 feet, but dwarfed in the great expanse of the giant hall. “An accompanying inscription now fragmentary, announced that “pious emperors” (the Macedonians) had commissioned the mosaic to replace one the “impostors” (the iconoclasts) had destroyed.”
The work is strictly formal. Mary wears the standard blue garment, and faces full front. The Christ child is as frontal. A little perspective enters the scene with the shading of the platform beneath her feet. The shading of the Christ child’s drapery folds is highly abstract.
This work sits in the usual place of the Theotokos in Orthodox churches, high on the apse above the altar. The example at Hagia Sophia was plastered over, with a number of other mosaics, when the Ottomans turned the church into a mosque. Whoever was responsible for removing Christian iconography from the structure had some interest in the art if not the Christian symbolism and managed to save some work, which was found during restorations in the mid-20th century when the government of Turkey turned the structure into a museum.
17 The Katholikon, 1st quarter 11th c and
Church of the Theotokos, 10 th c, Hosios Loukas
The Katholikon is one of a pair of conjoined churches within the Monastery of Hosios Loukas (Holy Luke), not far from the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. There weren’t many major churches built in the first century after the end of the iconoclasm. There was no lack of churches in existence. But there was then a flowering that lasted from 10th through the 12th, which has come to be called the Second Golden Age of Byzantine art. The standard form was a variation on the domed central plan. On the exterior one sees a tall cubic structure with a dome rising over a circular or multi-faceted drum. These are “small, vertical, high shouldered, and unlike earlier Byzantine buildings have exterior wall surfaces with vivid decorative patterns, probably reflecting the impact of Islamic architecture.” (344)
The exteriors structures of both churches were composed in decorative combination of stone set in beds surrounded by brick in what has been called the “cloisonné” technique.1
On the facade and side of the Katholikon, and the basement level of the rear, are incorporated large stone blocks taken from a previous structure. On the upper stories of rear and on the drum of the dome the cloisonné work is carefully layered into handsome registers of stripes. The roofs are terracotta tiles.
The exterior elevation is based upon two monumental stories of blind arches containing smaller inner arches (three stories at the rear). These are finished in their innermost recesses with finely sculpt stone frames and details around the windows. The windows themselves are composed of vertical rows of small round panes, framed by this finely cut stonework. Most are formed in pairs or trios of narrow vertical screens, each beneath its own narrow arch.2
Verticality thus accents each wall, with some particularly deep set-backs within the blind arches to mark the upper reaches. There is some mural painting on the inner arch of the upper story of the Katholikon’s entrance bay. The cube is dominated by a sixteen sided drum, with a narrow window in each face under a low tile dome, nine meters in diameter.
When one considers the plaster finish upon which the surviving fragments of painting is set, and the use of plaster to finish other exteriors and interiors of the complex, it becomes apparent that the church may well have been finished in plaster, and that the strikingly picturesque nature of the current exterior was not that originally intended, but only the result of weathering and wear. Comparing the plaster denuded interior of the Theotokos’ interior with the intact interior of the Katholikon reveals the same relationship in reverse. Once again, we need to remember, as Gardner’s authors may have forgotten, that we are looking at the skeletons of surviving imagery, not designs as they stood at their origination.
18 The Katholikon and Church of the Theotokos, plans
It is believed that the Church of the Theotokos is the earlier of the pair, by a quarter of a century or more, and distinctly simpler. It shows the basic model of both in its domed, Greek-cross-in-a-square plan, with equal arms reaching out on the cardinal sides of the domed central space, facing three altars ahead, and preceded by a two-bayed entrance narthex behind.
The layout of the Katholikon is a much more complicated version of the same basic forms. It Greek cross is abridged with arms of somewhat irregular proportions and a number of internal adjustments, resulting in a set of inner chambers and an elongated of its square into a rectangle.
The plan in our book regularizes to right angles what is actually more irregular plan. And it has the further complication, in the Katholikon, of giving the upper story in the grayer half and the lower story in the rest. The plan also reveals other typical aspects of the style, such as the angular geometry on the exterior of the round apses and the division of the apse ends into the triple chambered forms, suited to the Orthodox ritual. The side chapels of the Katholikon don’t have the exterior apses of the Theotokos. The two are connected by interior passageways
19 Katholikon, interior Hosios Loukas
The verticality seen on the exterior is even more striking on the interior, where the space feels compressed from side to side and the eyes of the forced upward into the vaults and the dome. “Like earlier Byzantine buildings, the church creates a mystery out of space, surface, light, and dark. High and narrow, it forces one’s gaze to rise and revolve. The eye is drawn upward toward the dome, but much can distract it in the interplay of flat walls and concave recesses; wide and narrow openings; groin and barrel vaults; single, double, and triple windows; and illuminated and dark spaces.” (345)
Entering the church one passes dramatically from the daylight into an interior lit only through strategically placed windows and a few equally strategic candelabrum. Entering the narthex one finds oneself in a dark, narrow, horizontal space that spreads out on both sides, with a glimpse of the well lit altar ahead. As your eyes adjust from the exterior light to the interior gloom, you become ever more aware of the gold ground of the mosaic panels that cover the shoulders and ceilings of the narthex. The walls below are paneled in richly dark marble. Above Christ, the apostles and saints look down while around the sides the narratives spread from Christ washing his deciples’ feet and the Crucifixion on your left to the carrying the cross and the doubting touch of Thomas on your right.
It is a dark room where the worshipper’s eyes adjust slowly, surrounded by dark walls punctuated by the light coming in through narrow windows and glistening off the golden, otherworldly ground of the mosaics, and their brightly outlined images of the holy beings.
Straight ahead is the face of Christ over the doorway to the light of the hall that is focused, by the light of the windows and architectural forms, on the region of the altar beneath the apse. As you step into the hall you find yourself in a space bounded by dark marble paneling that rises to bright paint and glittering mosaic imagery pierced by the direct light of the windows, set amid a tracery of piers and pillars rising to arches, vaults and domes. At the peak of this crescendo of light and form one sees the Virgin and Child in the half dome of the apse, overlooked by a dome carrying the Apostles gathered around the holy spirit, preceded by the great dome over the crossing, where Christ the Pantocrator looks down from the halo of the domes circle of windows.
As our text puts it so eloquently, entering the hall our eyes are drawn upward into the heavens. But then they come back down to the iconostasis, the screen that separates the main altar from view, hung with bright icons and flanked by the side chapels for the ritual. As the ritual proceeds the eye and the mind are free to roam back and forth from the heights of the heavens to the iconostasis and the priests.
This is combination of architectural forms and representations of the court of heaven on earth is standard. This particular working out of the standard is an exceptionally fine survival. The full design is set up around the priests who will occupy the center of the hall during the Mass while the lay community clusters around the edges below and above, as the bishop conduct the mystery behind the curtains of the iconostasis, emerging to share first the gospels and then the host with the congregation.
* (p. 232) Domes on pendentives and squinches
A view up into the domes that provide the heavenward focus of the interiors shows us the two most common methods carrying the circular body of the dome over the square of the structure below. The dome on the Theotokos is carried on pendentives, the smooth domical triangles rising from the four piers of the crossing, to the circular base of the dome’s drum. The drum of the Katholikon’s drum is carried over a set of miniature pendentives that grow out of a set of squinches, quarter domes that rise from the crossing piers.
These elements of architectural geometry demonstrate the optical rationality of the interior by diagramming the actual structural dynamics by which the weight of the dome is connected to the supporting piers of the structure.
20 The Crucifixion, Church of the Dormition, c 1090-1100, Daphne
The mosaics of Church of the Dormition at Daphne, within modern Athens, are particularly admired. The Pantocrator, Christ of the Last Judgment in the dome, and the Crucifixion are both well reproduced. The pictorial style of the image is standard. The figures are set out within strongly linear profiles and interior drawing, against a gold ground, indicating their heavenly or visionary location. A symbolic depth is created by a ground line and a few props, the mound from which the cross rises, symmetrical clumps of lilies and symmetrically placed figures of Mary and Saint John. A skull sits before the cross, signifying the hill of Golgotha (the place of skulls).
Figures are outlined and articulated with the clarity of linearity that mosaic stresses so well: the anatomy of Christ’s body, the folds of his garment, each finger separated from the hand, the spurt of blood from the wound in his side. Christ is shown as a mature, bearded man, with a painful expression. The halo behind is a flat dish with cross inscribed upon it.
Mary and Saint John are symmetrically posed to either side. Each has a mournful expression while gesturing toward the crucified lord. Their halos are outlined, to stand out from the surrounding ground of gold, hers in red his in blue. She wears the standard deep blue robe with golden borders, that identifies her throughout the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
As classical naturalism has been slowly eliminated from the imagery over the centuries, we can trace a gradual strengthening of the emotional expression. The figures surrounding Justinian and Theodora stare blankly (12-11 & 12-12) as do those around the transfigured Christ at Mount Sinai (12-13) of the 6th century. But the angels unlike Saints flanking Virgin and Child of the 7th century (12-15)seem to be coming more alive emotionally. This Mary and this Saint John dramatize their emotions with their gestures and their facial expressions.
* Christ Pantocrator, c 1090-1100, Daphne
This developing expressionism can be seen in the Pantocrator, the Christ of the Last Judgment, that looks down from the dome at Daphne, as he does from the height of nearly every central-planned Byzantine church. The hands grasping the bible and the gesturing toward it stand out in their accentuated stiffness. The jaw is grimly set, the eyes look sternly to one side. Two locks of hair trouble the brow. This is a god of unwavering judgment and power.
Our text quotes “Nicholas Mesarites, who visited the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople around the year 1200” and left a description of the dome Pantocrator there, by the famous artist Eulalios. “His eyes are joyful and welcoming to those who are not reproached by their conscience, but to those who are condemned by their own judgment, they are wrathful and hostile...The right hand blesses those who follow a straight path, while it admonishes those who do not and, as it were, checks them and turns them back from their disorderly course. The left hand with its fingers spread far apart as possible, supports the Gospel. Though we don’t have a reproduction of that image to see, we are told how well it compares with the images at Hosios Loukas, Monreale, and Daphne.
An important aspect of the art here is that the description is adequate to describe all these different images. In the traditional culture of Byzantine ritual art, there was a uniformity of imagery that we find quite striking today, in our quite anti-traditional bourgeois culture. The description of one image can well fit another.
Mesarites’ statement offers us his Orthodox Christian worshiper’s response to the imagery as much as it does a description of it.
In an attempt reveal how the artist of the same painting, we are also given a quotation from Nicephorus Callistus, “an early-fourteenth-century poet, historian , and author of saints’ lives, was so struck by Eulalios’s portrayal of Christ that he speculated the painter had actually seen the Pantocrator.” (346) Callistus wrote, “Either Christ himself came down from heaven and show the exact traits of his face to [the painter] or else the famous Eulalios mounted up to the very skies to paint with his skilled hand Christ’s exact appearance.”
The quotation speaks of the viewer’s desire to see a compelling image as if it were a particularly authentic reproduction of god himself. Though, as we see in comparing traditional images they all look distinctly similar. This should bring out to us the fact that in all the similarity of traditional imagery, there was some room for one to stand out from another for those who looked carefully, or those who wanted and needed an image to stand out.
Byzantine art in Italy
Between the mid-seventh and mid-eighth century Arab armies swept across north Africa and up the Iberian peninsula as far as southern France. They took the greater part of the Byzantine Empire, including the Jerusalem and Syria and much of Anatolia. In the Mediterranean they took all the great Islands, including Sicily. At the same time barbarian, non-Italian armies like the Lombards and Franks were conquering the Italian peninsula. Rome maintained its independence, but Constantinople and the Orthodox patriarchy was to have great effect on the western church. In the world of the arts and literature large numbers of Greek speaking and trained clergy and artisans fled Constantinople and Syria for the relatively safer and more economically powerful Italian region. Byzantine style mosaics show up in a number of Roman churches at this time.
More significantly, Orthodox liturgical and theological forms are also on hand, as witnessed in the adoption of Byzantine motifs in the iconographic programs and layouts in a number of churches of the period. It was not until 1054 that the official break between the institutions of the Orthodox Patriarchate and the Roman Catholic See was declared. The various regions of the great churches continued to share a great deal.
21 St. Mark’s Cathedral, aerial view, 1063- Venice
After the Lombards conquest of northern Italy in 751 from the Byzantine empire, Venice, 80 miles north of Ravenna was the city in Italy most closely connected to the Byzantine world, centered in Constantinople. Venice was an independent city state with an economy, founded by Greeks, with an economy based upon maritime trade with the Greek-speaking eastern Mediterranean and particularly Constantinople. When the rulers of the city decided to build a church to house the city’s most revered relics in 1063, they turned to Byzantine designers and artisans.
The structure of the church was intended to be modeled after the Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople, built in Justinian’s time. Though that church no longer exists, its “key” elements were those of the central-planned Byzantine model we have seen: a cruciform plan with a dome over the crossing and, in this case, domes over each of the arms. On the exterior the five domes are strikingly amplified by tall wooden “sheathing” covered in gilded coper, of somewhat bulbous shape that reach skyward. There has been so much addition and decoration to the exterior of the church that its original form is now totally hidden.
* St. Mark’s Cathedral, plan Venice
The original plan of Saint Mark’s, since greatly enlarged, was a simple Greek cross, with a great dome over each arm and the central crossing. The churches altar apse is located in the eastern arm.
22 St. Mark’s Cathedral, interior Venice
The interior of the church reveals its Byzantine spirit. Light filters down through the windows encircling each of the domes, to gleam and sparkle off walls completely covered by shimmering golden mosaics. All the walls, vaults and domes are covered in gold, from which figures of apostles, and saints and narrative scenes stand out. There is some 40,000 square feet of mosaic and thousands of figures.
The central dome is 42 feet in diameter, rising 80 feet over the floor. It is filled by Christ with Mary, the Four Evangelists, and personifications of Christian virtues. The arches framing the central dome carry the story of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection
This is in many ways a scene very difficult to contemplate, without being taken away by the mind boggling effect of the brilliance. I’ve been there twice. The first time I was so lost I couldn’t tell exactly where I was much of the time, and though I could recognize some of the stories, I was mainly dazzled by the sight and searching for a place to stand. The second time I came with more preparation, from doing what a course like this offers. I had read up a bit on Byzantine churches in general and looked at the plan of this one and some of the mosaics reproduced in books to have a better idea of where I was going and what I was going to see.
That preparation helped a great deal in my being able to rationalize my experience. I was still dazzled, but I could tell where I was in the structure and I could focus on particular narrative panels to observe their style and enjoy beauty.
That was, of course, a very academic viewing by an interested spectator, who was not a Christian, and certainly not seeking a religious experience. Worshippers of Christ, and particularly those coming with an interest in the relics of Saint Mark, would have been able to swim into the dazlement of the ritual setting without my interest in rationalizing the structure and the art. Indeed they could have taken advantage of the release from academic intellectualizations to more fully release their emotions to enhance their spiritual experience.
23 Anastasis, west vault, St. Mark’s, c 1180 Venice
The Anastasis panel tells the story of Christ’s resurrection of the righteous who have preceded his mission. “Between his death and Resurrection, Christ, bearing his cross, has descended into Limbo, where he tramples Satan and receives the supplication of the faithful at the left and the witness of Saint John the Baptist and the prophets at the right. He has come to liberate the righteous who had died before his coming.”
Our text tells the story from the point of view of an intended Christian readers.
We see Christ trampling on Satan and reaching down to grasp the hand of Adam. Eve and other Old Testament figures reach hopefully toward him. The poses are agitated and the draperies covering the figures are intensely patterned, in swirls that vibrate the eye as much as they describe the anatomy they cover. The scene includes labels, in Greek above and Latin below, to make its message unmistakably clear. Our book calls the result “a masterpiece of emotional, as well as hieratic, abstraction, revealing the mysteries of the Christian Church.” (348)
“The iconography is Byzantine” the text tells us, but the work is Venetian, not that “of a Byzantine Greek.” By this it is intended to point out the limits of the Byzantine influence. The selection of the subject, like its architectural frame comes from the Orthodox model of the Eastern Church, but the actual depiction is in a style that is already well known in Venice.
We have already seen linear, drawing stressed in the Early Byzantine style. The style of the Second Golden Age is more dramatically contrasting with thick dark lines dominating the image in richly repetitious patterning in closed compartments.
24 The Pantocrator, with the Virgin (Theotokos) and Child, Angels,
and Saints, apse mosaic, Monreale, c 1180-1190
* Monreale Cathedral nave interior
The Norman (French) knights drove the Arab rulers out of Sicily and took over rule there, in a location that gave them access to the Mediterranean sea trade. The church the Norman king, William II, sponsored at Monreale rivaled Saint Marks as a center of Middle Byzantine art. On the interior of Monreale Cathedral too, the walls’ golden mosaic tiles create an otherworldly background for the scenes that play across them and for the living rituals that go on within them. In one image the king has himself shown standing next to Christ, who is crowning him. In another he has himself shown presenting the model of the Church to the Virgin Mary. “As in the Ravenna church, the mosaic program commemorates both the piety and power of the ruler who reigns with divine authority.” (348)
Or we might say, if we were a bit more attuned to the patrons voice speaking through the artists he hired to expound upon his authority: the program in which the Island’s conqueror has himself depicted as if he ruled with divine authority. Without questioning the king’s piety we must recognize how secular authority in the Medieval world used the splendor of the church and their control over institutional church authority to legitimize their rule. I say Medieval world here, as this was not a matter restricted to the Byzantine Orthodox church, but just as true of the Roman Catholic church and Islamic traditions of the time. It was a true of the contemporaneous Brahmanical art of India and Buddhist art of Japan and Tibet.
The apse semi-dome mosaic at Monreale has a striking image of Christ Pantocrator, the ruler and judge of earth and heaven. Our text sees him “loom[ing] menacingly in the vault, a colossal allusion to William’s kingly power and a challenge to all who would dispute the royal right.” (348)
In central-planned Orthodox monastic churches, as we have seen, the Pantocrator occupies the height of the dome. But this, and a number of contemporary Medieval churches with Middle Byzantine decorations in Sicily, were longitudinal basilican structures with timber roofs, built for a wider public use and glorification of the monarchs.
This was, as our text says “the Western tradition.” (348) Since the Christian church is now divided into distinct and self-identified Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) traditions now, we can use the terms without the quotation marks I have maintained up to this point.
The semi-dome of the apse is the only vault present for the Pantocrator in this layout. As we would expect from the Byzantine programs we have seen, the Theotokos appears next, between the Pantocrator and the altar. She is shown flanked by the archangels and the twelve Apostles. Bishops and saints appear below.
Monreale was created at a moment when the French, Normans, were struggling to dominate the Island. It was built over the ruins of the Greek Orthodox church that served the Greek speaking population of Palermo during the period of Arab rule (mid 7th to mid-11th). The pillars and capitals of the nave and the adjoining cloister were constructed by French artisans. The mosaics were the work of Greeks, the church itself was under the authority of Rome, while the Normans were particularly fond of Byzantine cultural forms and modeled much of their court on them.
25 Empress Irene, detail of the Pala d’Oro, Saint Mark’s,
7”, c 1105
The Pala d’Oro (Golden altarpiece) of Saint Mark’s is the product of several reconstructions. The gold cloisonné portrait of Empress Irene, inlaid with precious gems is a work of around 1105. Cloisonné is a process of enameling between raised metal borders. The image of the Empress is frontal and thoroughly dominated by the star and lozenge patterns of her garments
The so-called luxury arts, are included in the chapter because their richness seems and the numbers to survive seem characteristic of the period. The institutions of the church and those of the palace were both controlled by the royal elite and used as a means of expressing their taste and power as well as their piety.
26 Christ enthroned with Saints (Harbaville Triptych), c
The ivory diptych of the Early Byzantine period was replaced after the Iconoclasm with a three part triptych, as can be seen in the Harbaville Triptych, a portable, miniature altarpiece. It was a luxury altar, to be opened up for private prayer. On the inside of the wings are figures and medallions of saints. The main scene has the enthroned Christ at its center with John the Baptist and the Theotokos as intercessors praying for the user of the piece above five apostles.
The usual “hieratic formality and solemnity” of the Byzantine is not here. Still the figures stand stiffly and frontally (all but two), most on miniature pedestals. A somewhat classicizing spirit was one “stylistic current” in the Middle Byzantine.
The point here. There was a more naturalistic classicizing current along since the more prominent stylized “hieratic” style.
27 Lamentation over the dead Christ, St. Pantaleimon, Nerezi,
The paintings of Saint Pantaleimon in the Balkans were completed in 1164. The image of the Lamentation is only a sample. The figures are posed stiffly against a very abstract brown earthen background and a dark blue sky. Angels flit above, while Christ’s closest associates mourn his body, taken down from the cross. Mary presses her cheek to his. Saint John holds his left hand, Peter and the disciple Nicodemus kneel at his feet. The drawing is compartmentalized and the painting reinforces it. The three main figures have plate flat halos. The bodies have no integration into the setting. They are like one cut-out next to another, with internal modeling in intense whorls.
The result is intensity of design stylization and intensity of emotional expression, in the awkward gestures and faces. Our text sees this as part of the less hieratic style. We might see in half way between the extreme hieratic and the more casual classical.
28 David Composing the Psalms, Paris Psalter, c 950-970 BCE,
1’ 2 1/8”
The classicizing style can be seen in painting in the David composing the Psalms, from the Paris Psalter. The mid-tenth century saw a renewed interest in Hellenistic naturalism called the “Macedonian Renaissance.” We see David surrounded by sheep, goats and his dog, playing his harp in a rocky landscape, composing psalms. The overall composition reminds the specialist of Pompeiian murals of Orpheus, the Greek hero, who could charm with his music. The work is filed with allegorical figures: Melody looks over his shoulder, Echo peeks from behind a pillar. The figure in the lower corner points to an inscription that identifies him as representing the mountain of Bethlehem. There are no allegorical figures in the Bible, so the supposition of specialists is that these figures were “translated” into the Byzantine picture from a work of the late antique.
29 The Vladimir Madonna, 11th - early 12th c, 2’ 6”
The Vladimir Madonna is an example of the iconic tradition after the iconoclasm. Churches now began to display in hieratic orders from Christ to the Theotokos, John the Baptist and then the saints. Here is an example of relatively strong Middle Byzantine style. Striking abstraction and naturalism-shattering-stylizations are commanding. The Virgin is dressed in her usual dark blue robe with golden decorative touches everywhere. Mary’s head is too small for the proportions of her body. She tilts her head slightly toward the baby. Christ is in a golden swaddling witn a blue sash, with strongly contrasting linear patterning. His head is way too small for the body or for his mother’s enjoyment. Both faces verge upon caricatures that will last a thousand years. The work is largely original at its center, but fairly repainted everywhere else.
The work was thought to have wonder working powers. In 1395 it was taken to Moscow to protect the city from the Mongols. It was believed to have saved the city of Kazan later.
For me this is an example of how insignificant esthetics can be for the importance of a work of art. There are a great many icons surviving from the period of the Macedonian dynasty, and this one is, on the merits of its design not exceptionally interesting or attractive or emotionally compelling. What it is esthetically, visually, is relatively awkward, unbalanced and misshapen. But culturally it is indelibly associated with historical events of great importance, and this association has welded its familiarity to a national consciousness. It is an object of such great importance, its design its overcome, like the flag or battleship that has survived a memorable battle.
Style Period: Later Byzantine Art 1204 - 1453, and after
In 1054 the political-theological break between the Orthodox Patriarchate and the Church of Rome was acknowledged as total, sundering further its cultural tie with the Latin, Christian world. The Christian Crusades to retake Jerusalem and the surrounding region from the Arab Muslims was a Latin, Western European effort tha never engaged the interests, spiritual or material, of the Byzantine, or indeed any of the Orthodox Christian world. In 1073 the Seljuk Turks captured most of Anatolia —or what the Christians called Asia Minor and we today call Turkey— reducing the scope of Byzantine power to Constantinople and a very small bit of the surrounding region. The economic survival of Constantinople was from that point on dependent entirely on commercial trade. It could not feed itself from its own fields. “The Crusaders passing through Constantinople “marveled at its wealth its wealth and magnificence,” but considered the Greek speaking Orthodox believing people it found there to be heretics.
In 1204, when the Fourth Crusade met failure in quest to conquer Jerusalem , it turned their weapons on the riches of Constantinople and sacked and raped that city instead. The carnage was so great that it is remembered with horror by the Greek speaking people’s to this day. Our text quotes Nicetas Choniartes, a contemorary historian. “The accursed Latins would plunder our wealth and wipe out our race...Between us there can be only an unbridgeable gulf of hatred...They bear the Cross of Christ on their shoulders, but even the Saracens are kinder.” (352)
Our text gives special credit to the Venetians, who were the commercial rivals of the Byzantines, for trade in the eastern Mediterranean. The point that is clear is that this was a war of one powerful elite against another, not a struggle between peoples or religions. The politics of plunder in the Medieval world used religion as a flag and a wedge in that day as effectively than it does today. But plunder was the issue, not theology.
Latins now ruled Byzantium, which they divided among themselves into three separate provinces. Constantinople was reduced to being the capital of little more than itself. It survived as a brilliant commercial entrepôt for the next two-and-a-half centuries only because of the armies it could pay for. Over that time the Ottoman Turks conquered not only Anatolia but the Balkans and much of southeastern Europe, completely surrounding them. And in 1453 they took Constantinople itself, renaming it Istanbul,
The art historian’s division between Middle and Later Byzantine art is not esthetically driven but political. “Late Byzantine architecture did not depart radically from the characteristic plans and elevations of Middle Byzantine architecture.” The developments of the 11th and 12th centuries went on without a major break into the 13th and 14th. What changed most significantly was the diminution of patronage do the shrinking of the power and wealth of the Byzantine state.
30 Church of St. Catherine, c 1280, Thessaloniki
In the churches of the period the centralized plan was maintained. The number of drums and domes increased making the exteriors more dramatic, and lighting the interiors more effectively. Elevations became more vertical on the outside. Spaces became more compartmentalized in the interior. “Wall and drum arcades were more deeply cut back into overlapping arches. The eaves curved rhythmically and varied brick patterns ornamented the external walls.”
The church of Saint Catherine in Thesoloniki, the second most powerful city of the region, is a good example of this development. The church layout is central-planned, with drum-raised domes in each corner, and a doubly raised drum over the main hall. The drums are, like that over the Theotokos at Hosios Loukas, are octagons composed of arches, covered with a shallow vault. This renders the exterior of these churches into attractive crescendo’s of window-filled cupolas, over walls articulated richly into niches, windows and piers.
It should be noted that the shallowness of the Byzantine domes is what offers their inner surfaces’ as such effective locations for Pantocrator murals in paint or mosaic. If they were as deeply rounded as the domes favored in Italian and later European construction, they would not be offer as wide a surface for large-scale imagery.
31 Anastasis (Harrowing of Hell), parakklesion,
Church of Christ in Chora, c 1310-1320, Istanbul
The most finely preserved interior of the period is found in Constantinople’s (now Istanbul’s) Church of Christ in Chora (now the Kariye Museum), which preserves a large number amount of its originally all encompassing painted mural decoration. These paintings have been preserved, despite the fact that the church was converted by the Ottomans into a mosque, the Kariye Djami. Whoever was concerned with the conversion chose to cover the paintings over with care, rather than removing them, as the iconoclasts had done 8th century. In the twentieth century, the mosque was turned into a museum e because instead of removing them, they were carefully covered over. Our example is the half-dome apse decoration of the parakklesion (side chapel) used for funerary services.
The Anastasis is the scene of Christ’s venturing into Limbo to scourge the devil and resurrect the virtuous. We have seen an Middle Byzantine version at Saint Marks in Venice (12-23). Here again we see Christ trampling over Satan as he lifts Adam and Eve from their tombs. John the Baptist, King David and King Solomon look on, from the viewer’s left, while Saint Stephen looks on from the right with the martyrs of the Old Dispensation. Christ here is surrounded by a mandorla (full body halo) reaching out to draw up the ancestors from their tombs. The style of the painting is much more elaborate, detailed and subtle than the mosaic at Saint Mark’s, in part because it is much larger and in part because it is painted in fresco rather than assembled in mosaic. But there is also the issue of the development of style between the Middle and Later Byzantine.
Because this is an apse painting, symmetry is important, as Christ looks out toward the congregation facing the altar below. The hands that reach out toward Adam and Eve also reach out toward the congregation. The theme of resurrection is peculiarly important here, of course, because this is a chapel with particular focus on funerary rituals. As Christ resurrects the first humans to pass away, he promises the same to the faithful gathered before him. Modeling of the figures here is more subtle than that found in the Saint Marks mosaic, and more naturalistic than the jagged linearity that was the hall mark of the previous period.
In an example of what we might call survey myopia, our text sums up: “The jagged abstractions of drapery found in the Saint Mark’s figures are gone in a return to the fluent delineation of drapery characteristic of the long tradition of classical illusionism.” (353) Survey myopia? Any distinct approach to culture may develop its own particular vulnerability, based in its particular strengths. One of the survey‘s most useful characteristics is its ability to illuminate long term development, such as the trend we have seen away from illusionistic art in the Medieval period. A vulnerability of this characteristic is the corollary tendency to attribute to long term trends effects that have no real connections with them.
The long continuity of classicism is rightfully one of our volumes major themes. But the attribution of all illusionism to classicism is misleading. All art is not a matter of classicism or not. There is no particular reference in anything here to the classical world of the Greco-Roman antique. The illusionism here is merely a continuing traditional forms of modeling. The angularity and compartmentalization of the individual elements of the composition here—in figures, objects and setting—is more subtle than the recent past, but shows no return to the distant past or binary choice between what is “classic” or not.
Our text goes on to compare the Anastasis to the Early Byzantine Transfiguration of Jesus at Mount Sinai of 556 (12-13) “Throughout its history, Byzantine art looked back to its antecedents, Greco-Roman illusionism as transformed in the age of Justinian. Like their Orthodox religion, Byzantine artists were suspicious of any real innovation, especially that imported from outside the Byzantine cultural sphere. They drew their images from a persistent and conventionalized vision of a spiritual world unsusceptible to change. Byzantine art was not concerned with the systematic observation of material nature as the source of its imaging of the eternal.”
Here are all the stereotypes established earlier in the text to mark out the eternal differences between the permanent “East” and the permanent “West.” There is a great deal in common between the Transfiguration at Mount Sinai and the Anastasis of Constantinople, as there is between the relief styles in our text’s 14th century Castle of Love and knights jousting (18-38) and the arch of Trajan (Plato’s Cave) or Saint Michael diptych (12-2) or between the classical Greek temple (e.g. the Parthenon, 5-32) and La Madeleine in Paris, some 23 centuries later (28-20). But it is only the artists of the “East” who are called “suspicious of any real innovation, especially that imported from outside [of their cultural sphere]. It is never the “West” which continues to employ the same New Testament codified in the third century that is accused of drawing “their images from a persistent and conventionalized vision of a spiritual world unsusceptible to change.”
Though it appears as one quite small, and unobtrusive comment in vast document, the simple sentence at the end of the comparison sums up and repeats for yet again the generalization we began to read in the chapter on Egypt. “Byzantine art was not concerned with the systematic observation of material nature as the source of its imaging of the eternal.” That is, it was not scientific and progressive, as we in the hegemonic “West” are instructed to see ourselves.
“in the Late Byzantine period the Early Byzantine low chancel screen separating the church sanctuary from its main area developed into an iconostasis (icon stand), a high screen with doors. As its name implies, the iconostasis supported tiers of painted devotional images.” (354) We’ve seen such a screen at Hosios Loukas (Plato’s Cave); in our book, one can be made out at Saint Marks (12-22). These were increasingly hung with icons in the later periods
32 Christ as Savior of Souls, Church of Saint Clement, Ohrid, early 14th c, 3’, tempera
Here is a typical icon, painted in tempera on linen and silver against a wooden frame. The profuse use of silver indicates the desire to make the depiction as precious as possible. “The Ohrid Christ, consistent with Byzantine art’s conservative nature, adhered to an iconographic and stylistic tradition that went back tot he earliest icons from the monastery at Mount Sinai. The artist chose not only the standard presentation of the Savior holding a bejeweled Bible in his left hand while he blesses the faithful with his right hand but also painted the image in the eclectic style familiar to Byzantium. Note especially the juxtaposition of Christ’s fully modeled head and neck, which reveal the Byzantine painter’s Greco-Roman heritage, with the schematic linear folds of Christ’s garment which do not envelop the figure but rather seem to be placed in front of it.” (354)
One could mention the originality of invading the conventional rectangle of the painted panel with metal element that includes a repoussé, sculptural, characteristics as well as paint. Such transformation of the purely painted surface is a more radical departure than most anything seen in European panel painting before the late twentieth century. But the hegemonic ideology is more interested in reproducing the stereotype of Byzantium as the model for the conservatism modern western European and American culture has defined itself against.
Or one could consider—as those who go on to study the art of thirteenth century Italy will—that the art of Italy at this time was hardly any different in its mixture of carefully modeled faces and distinctly less modeled clothing (19-1, 19-5, 19-6). But the point of our books selection of images is to reaffirm the established role of the East, as peculiarly retrogressive.
This is a fairly conservative work from a distinctly conservative tradition. But just how conservative Byzantine traditions were in comparison with those of the selected “West” of the same chronological moment is never going to be discussed in our hegemonic text. Nor will the meaning of the crucifixes worn by dozens of students reading this text at this moment, five centuries later, which look very much like those of that time. What appears to be a demonstration of the extreme nature of conservatism in Byzantine art is actually a demonstration of our text’s interest in demonstrating the “Western” conviction that Byzantine culture was peculiarly conservative.
33 Annunciation (reverse of 32), early 14th c, 3’
Here is another icon from Saint Clement’s in Ohrid, representing the Annunciation. We see the Virgin seated in a throne gesturing back toward the Angel Gabriel, who is announcing that she is to become the mother of god. “The gestures and attitudes of the figures are again conventional. Like the highly simplified architectural props that have a long history in Byzantine art” (356)
When we get to Gardner’s treatment of 14th century Italian painting in Chapter 19 and after, there is a concerted attempt to demonstrate how much more progressive it is than these Byzantine works, as they step in the direction of the Renaissance. And this theme does contribute greatly to our understanding of how progressive bourgeois culture developed out of the religious traditional cultures that preceded it. The problem I have intended to highlight here is the reduction of the splendid art of Byzantine culture to a stereotypical straw man contrast of universal conservatism as opposed to the universal progressivism we are going to get for the “West.” There really was a good deal of creative and interesting, and even unusual art created in Byzantine culture. But this has been omitted here to create a foil to prove “Western superiority.”
34 Old Testament Trinity Prefiguring the Incarnation,
Andrei Rublyev, c 1410, 4’ 8”
Andrei Rublyev is one of the icon painters who’s work has stood out most saliently for the Western critics and art market. And we can see in the Old Testament Trinity just why. Rublyev takes the stereotypical statement of the repeated icon tradition and gives them a particular vibrancy in his rendition. It is like hearing a master violinist play a familiar piece. In the hands of a master the worn patterns one has passed through myriad times before take on startlingly fresh and powerful meaning.
Think of how many times you have heard Amazing Grace, or watched a point guard heading toward the basket with a trio of defenders in her way, when a perfection you never expected emerged and you were transported by an artist.
The three angels, in faces hands and feet that here hardly emerge above their absolutely flattened draperies, are given the usually angled heads, that in this case strike the most piquant of notes. Playing off their golden wings and the few props of tree branch, bowl and background village, these figures are curved and delineated in some special sort of perfection. These barely developed faces, these almost invisible staffs, these invisible white halos against the gold background, join together to define the very idea of elegance.
As one reads the loving description in our text we may wonder if there was not something as positive to say about the three previous paintings, which were have been cited for their apparently conservative nature, qualities that are found in the Rublyev as well.
35 Large sakkos of Photius, c 1417, 4’ 5”
A large sakkos is tunic or outer robe. This one comes from Photius, an early-fifteenth-century Metropolitan, an Orthodox Russian bishop. It is woven in satin, with silken embroidery including gold and sliver thread, colorful silk appliqué, and pearls. A plethora of Biblical scenes are found here, along with portraits of the reigning Prince of Moscow and his wife (labeled in Russian), and the reigning Byzantine Emperor and his queen (labeled in Greek). The garment was apparently created for the Emperor to send to Photius as a gift.
“[A]s in sixth-century Ravenna, the rulers of Byzantium, as the vicars of God on earth, joined the clergy in celebration of the liturgy of the Christian Church.” (357)
An inseparable part of the Christian mass and indeed the liturgy of every religion has been its ceremonial garb. In the case of the Byzantine church some very handsome and sumptuous robes have survived.
It will be remembered that the Orthodox ritual led to the creation of a chamber, the prothesis, in each layout for the storing of the priests vestments opposite the chamber for storing the elements of the Eucharist. There is a parallel structure in the Catholic and Protestant church called a vestry.
“With the passing of Byzantium, [with the fall of Constantinople to the Muslim, Ottoman Turks] Russia became the self-appointed heir and the defender of Christendom against the infidel.” Saint Petersburg was declared the “Third Rome” and the kings of Russia called themselves Czars, after Rome’s caesuras.
Our chapter then ends on its favorite note: “the world’s of the caesuras of Old Rome, New Rome, and Third Rome were a continuum, where artistic change was slow and the old ways never really died.” (357)
Some concluding thoughts on “easts” and “wests”
Some concluding thoughts on the discussing the Christian arts of the Mediterranean world as if they were, like the institutional churches, divided into an eastern and a western. The fact is, with Diocletian’s division of the Roman Empire between an official East and West and Constantine’s shifting of his capital from Italy to Constantinople, created a genuine division of power between the Greek and Latin regions of the empire that ruled the entire region. The continuing development of Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches stamped the two regions even more saliently. In place of the many regions of the Empire and its opponents that existed previously around the Mediterranean, there now grew up a genuine massively shared recognition of two great contrasting and somewhat opposed Latin and Greek cultures. Now we can speak of an east and a west acknowledged throughout the Mediterranean-centered Christian world. As churches chose their liturgy and the ordination as well as orientation of their clergy, so they aligned themselves politically and socially between the two. I
In the arts this split is measured by the power of the two great capital cities with their vast patronage and so their vast workshops and their distinctions between the styles practiced and celebrated in each. Artists are trained in particular traditions and work largely within the frameworks of those traditions as writers and speakers work within the confines of their languages.
Still, we must recognize that artists are thinking, striving human beings as well as followers of established traditions. They cannot be confined to reproducing established patterns. They continually search for new variations, large as well as small on the patterns that they have been trained to follow. New opportunities and necessities constantly emerge calling forth new solutions. And living artists, particularly those living in the major cultural centers are constantly made aware of many traditions. They live among the monuments of the past, which may always suggest new ideas for the future. They see the latest work of not only their neighbors but those of even far away places. Many travel looking for work and wealth. They bring their ideas to new places and bring back what they have seen to their original homes. Roman artists remained as aware of Byzantine art as Orthodox theologians and bankers did of Roman catholic theology and Florentine and Venetian trading practices. The contrasting esthetic traditions were cultural treasuries that continually traded elements, not locked vaults that hid their riches away.