From Byzantine Art to the High Renaissance (c.330-1600)
BYZANTINE MOSAIC - Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy
Detail of 'Christ Dressed as a Byzantine Emperor', 6th century
Byzantine Art developed when Constantine the Great relocated the capital of the Roman Empire to the Greek city of Byzantium in AD 330. Byzantium, later known as Constantinople and more recently as Istanbul, was the gateway between Asia and Europe.
As a consequence of its location, Byzantine art evolved as a cultural mix of styles from the east and west. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire after the conversion of Constantine and it was the duty of the Emperor to unite the faith across the empire by bringing the various heretical groups into line and standardizing Christian teaching. Therefore the form of Byzantine art was strictly controlled to eliminate any personalized or unorthodox interpretation of its imagery. Its fixed conventions were a reflection of the unalterable nature of Christian teaching.
The three main forms of Byzantine art were the large scale mosaics used to decorate the walls and interior domes of Byzantine churches, the smaller scale religious icons which were portable panel paintings of Christ and the Blessed Virgin, and the illuminated manuscripts from the Gospels and other religious texts. Byzantine figures were stylized in a frontal and symbolic format, inviting spiritual worship and offering protection to the devout.
The Byzantine empire lasted until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 and marks the end of the Roman Empire.